Hellvetron- Death Scroll of Seven Hells and it's Infernal Majesties
If there is one big positive we can take from the revival of Old School Death Metal over the last seven years(give or take), it would have to be the birth of "Occult Death Metal." Influenced heavily by New York legends Incantation and Immolation, as well as a diverse group of Death and Black Metal bands from the early and mid 90's, "Occult Death Metal" remains somewhat of an enigma: it's not really a genre, and the bands who often fall under the label are very diverse stylistically. The ties that bind these modern acts together are esoteric and misty, but one word always appears in every bio, blurb and review for these acts: atmosphere. Specifically, a primary focus on atmosphere and emotional intensity over "riff-salads" and guitar solos. The music these artists create is often lo-fi and organic, in an effort to invoke the old, rotten spirits of the Earth. And that's exactly what Hellvetron are attempting to do on Death Scrolls of Seven Hells and it's Infernal Majesties: summon the unknown into the light, so that it may devour willing and unwilling souls alike. Hailing from Texas, Hellvetron fit about as perfectly into the "Occult Death Metal" movement as any artist I have heard. So much so in fact, that Death Scrolls might just be the birth of a genre: the first real Occult Death Metal album, sans quotation marks.
That's not to say that Death Scrolls is massively different then anything you might have heard before. The specters of Incantation, Imprecation and Beherit loom over the entire recording, and modern acts such as Grave Upheaval, Antediluvian, Sonne Adam and Muknal have also touched on many of the dark, twisted themes that Death Scrolls does. Yet this album does have a claim on being the first true Occult Death Metal album, because the focus is 100% on atmosphere and texture: pulling individual riffs and sections from this light-devouring void of madness defeats the purpose of the compositions, which are built from the ground up to evoke specific emotions of dread and demonic possession. After a dozen spins of Death Scrolls, I never once found myself even lightly bobbing my head or commenting under my breath about "nice riffs." That's not to say that the album doesn't have them, or that it's rhythmically spastic, only that everything about the album is nefariously designed to be atmospheric and textured. The riffs and drums are buried under a mile of reverb, while the tempos remain slow and hypnotically focused. The compositions are also dense and busy, featuring loud, powerful vocals and extensive use of ambient keyboards and noises, while the bass is overwhelming with it's low-end intensity. The ambient sounds in particular are my favorite aspect of the album, and with more and more bands making use of them, they still stand out here because they are used appropriately and only for maximum effect. Death Scrolls is an album meant to be experienced more then merely listened to, which is partly why I don't find it quite as awe-inspiring as many of the albums released by Hellvetron's peers.
Hellvetron have taken the ratio of "pure insanity" and "listenable" and thrown it completely in the direction of screaming nightmares. Which is not a bad thing, it merely makes Death Scrolls an album with a time and a place to be enjoyed. If you plan on summoning some ancient atrocity against God in your dank, smelly bathroom, I could not think of a more appropriate album to have ominously proliferating shadows in the swell of incantations and smoke, but beyond these moments(we've all been there), Death Scrolls is just not every day listening. It's an album that demands being started and finished all in one sitting to really make any impact, so just casually picking out a single track to play for a friend or to throw on a play list is utterly pointless.
Death Scrolls is a fine album regardless of it's limited use: it fits all my personal desires for Death Metal, as it is nihilistic, atmospheric, fresh and strongly rooted in it's thematic purpose. And no doubt fans of the "Occult Death Metal" movement will greatly enjoy this album. The atmosphere is effortless, the intensity is sky-high and the evil simply overwhelming. Hellvetron achieves every single goal it set for itself on Death Scrolls, and my future forays into the unknown in the search for ancient secrets will have a new soundtrack.