I really love this new string of 70’s-revival occultist metal, but a lot of it leans a bit too far towards the “rock” end of the scale. Although groups like Witchcraft, Ghost and The Devil’s Blood write some of my favorite music and put on phenomenal shows, they don’t really sound all that heavy. The riffs have great grooves and are plenty catchy, and the Satanic themes are about as overt as you can possibly get, but the music itself just doesn’t crush with the same Wagnerian bombast that metal demands. It’s the kind of feeling where you’re so overwhelmed by the pulverizing nature of the music that you can’t help but juice the invisible oranges and bang your head in a riff-induced trance. I can’t fault them for sticking true to the style they practice, but can’t they make their music just a bit more monstrous? They could really take a page or two from contemporaries like Blood Ceremony, Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats, or the USA’s long-running Hour of 13. Merging an expert ear for catchy hooks with beefy heaviness, their most recent offering 333 is a killer example of how to make traditionalist heavy metal still pack plenty of punch in an age where metal’s become more and more extreme by the minute.
The head-nodding grooves and killer hooks of the choicest cuts on the album call back to the heavier bands responsible for metal’s birth. One can’t help but recall the blues-beholden pentatonic riffs and ominous dirges of the mighty Black Sabbath and early Judas Priest – the dueling guitar leads have all but prostrated themselves before the idols of Tipton and Downing, and it certainly helps that vocalist Phil Swanson at his best is almost a dead ringer for Rob Halford’s lower register. With catchy groovefests like “Who’s To Blame?” and “Rites of Samhain,” the band demonstrates that they’re easily able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other giants of this nascent subgenre, but these moments of greatness are marred by a bit of a tendency to drag here and there. Opening cut “Deny The Cross” has a few absolute monster riffs nestled within its prog-inspired bloat, and there’s really not much to recommend the incredibly forgettable “Spiral Vacuum” at all. They pull it off more often than not, though, as songs like “The Burning” and the closer “Lucky Bones” twist and turn through a wide menagerie of tempo changes and intricate riffing that leave the listener immensely satisfied.
Overall, 333 is a pretty consistently enjoyable release, especially if you’re into both the metal greats from the 70s and the new wave of bands who can’t help but stand upon those giants’ shoulders. Hour of 13 deliver a solid helping of classic heavy metal with deliciously doomy overtones on their third LP, and if they trimmed off a bit of the fat it could be even greater. But as it is right now, it’s already an exemplary work – what I look for in every album I listen to is perfection, but I’m always willing to settle for mere excellence.