In a recent interview with Hooded Menace’s main menace, guitarist and bassist Lasse Pyykkö, he pointedly shied away from discussing not only the meaning of title of this, his band’s sixth album, but just how much the lyrical/thematic content of this record has shifted away from the Blind Dead series of horror films. He revealed that a mere one or two of the new album’s tracks concerns the reanimated Knights Templar monks. This, in stark contrast to the days when the zombified former holy men were an all-encompassing concern. Whether this apparent maneuver away from the eyeless menaces is the result of running the well dry or a greater, deliberate (or completely inadvertent) move is something to debate over a table full of beers. Overall, however, The Tritonus Bell makes the argument for a progressive shift forward an easy one.
Although, we should point out that the use of the word progressive is a bit of a misnomer. That’s because The Tritonus Bell makes its expansion utilizing ‘80s metal as source material. On this newest album, the Finnish freaks heap conglomerate stacks of sound straight outta a pair of sock-stuffed spandex, drawing from the Sunset Strip and wherever Hanoi Rocks were popular as much as it does the mean streets of Copenhagen and the backrooms of British pubs.
Photo by Mikko Saastamoinen
As an album intro, “Chthonic Exordium” essentially lays out a dual red carpet for the album to come as it could be a riff/melody combination taken from Candlemass’ Epicus Doomicus Metallicus or Def Leppard’s Pyromania. Take your pick. First track proper, “Chime Diabolicus” is home to a miserably uppity crawl in the vein of Paradise Lost’s Gothic seasoned with re-jigged melodies nabbed from King Diamond’s Abigail. Full-on, noisy Mustaine/Peace Sells-era leads with a noticeable tempo variety jumps elevate the song from out from under the soupy confines of strict slowpoke doom/death to align more with the energy of Dream Death.
On that note, “Blood Ornaments” starts with a hop and skip like it’s trying to avoid stepping on the broken glass remnants of a NWOBHM-era pub brawl before some Peaceville Three worship via an appropriately eerie tritone riff and vocalist Harri Kuokkanen’s ability to inject his burly growl with hooky phrasing. The song’s structure initially holds tradition close to its chest, but a brief and furious lead, a double bridge built off a clean sequence followed by some more tempo back and forth, including a creepy "For Whom the Bell Tolls" sounding outro makes this deceptively maze-like without being senselessly meandering.
Speaking of bells, now would be as good a time as any to make mention of the album’s cover. What we’re assuming is a Knights Templar monk plays skull-shaped bellringer, its sonic clang depicted as fetid dense fog heading out from its source to infect the public. It’s a neat little slice of artistry, partway between Heavy Metal (the magazine) and underground death metal comic art with some gauzy ‘80s color schemes. But, when combined with the knowledge of how the tritone was once banned for its (however unlikely) devilish and dark side associations and its copious place in Hooded Menace’s sonic salad, it’s an eye-catching piece of connect-the-dots symbolism which we hope everyone who ends up picking up a physical copy takes some time to appreciate.
Continuing on with Cliff Burton's favourite riff, “Those Who Absorb the Night” gets into the same epic neighborhood with layered guitars, a humbly morose air and ripping leads providing more energy and excitement in its six minutes than 20 doom/death albums worth. Similarly, “Corpus Asunder” gallops like thrash riding into the Bay Area on the fattest of the Four Horsemen’s horses before getting ridiculously elegiac and gothically mournful.
There’s a slight stumble with “Scattered into Dark” which exists as the album’s nearest brush with doom/death traditionalism in terms of stripped down molasses tempos and descending riff theory. Still, despite bits of flaccidity, there are still robust melodies and scorching solos to push the song beyond being another gloomy exercise in slow and low. This is evidenced by the ritualistic spoken word wrist slitting and “The Call of Ktulu” worthy guitar bending towards the song’s end.
And if none of the above worked to convince of how big a role ‘80s metal has played in The Tritonus Bell, the album’s ‘big in Japan’ bonus track is a W.A.S.P. cover of “The Torture Never Stops.” To us, it’s good to see metal’s customary dance with past being respected and admired, but also put to enlightened use.