Review: HELL:ON “Shaman” [Archivist Records]

Review: HELL:ON “Shaman” [Archivist Records]

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I never thought I would say that but I miss the pandemic times. We believed that the world goes straight to hell but we had no idea how we were wrong. Anyway, new music was released even during the COVID times, when we were sitting at our homes and there were no concerts, even the smallest local ones. There were a couple of really stunning albums back there and one of them was the Scythian Stamm from Ukrainians HELL:ON. Released in the end of 2020, it managed to get to a lot of top-10 albums of the year, even with the poor promotion. Masterful mix of brutal death metal and tribal was highly acclaimed by fans and critics as well and it was more or less clear how exactly the band will evolve.

Four years later HELL:ON release their next opus named Shaman. “This album had to be released two years ago, but a full-scale invasion of Ukraine by russia has put our entire life on hold. Nowadays, due to our Armed Forces, we try to go on living and creating. I am sure that the spirit of this struggle was reflected in this work. It is hidden somewhere among the strings of the guitars, in the echoes of shamanic tribal vocals and flashes of ritual fires” states the band. Their native city Zaporizhzhia is half ruined with russian bombs and rockets, the members were used to relocate and it’s a miracle that this album was released at all.

Anyway, here it is and just like it was expected, musically and lyrically Shaman is the continuation of ideas, which laid in the previous album but this time HELL:ON take it to another, higher level. We can already hear it in the opening track “What Steppes Dream About”, where the brutal riffs and machine gun-like double pedal interwoven with tribal instruments and throat singing. These contrary elements are greatly balanced and the song captivates you immediately; stunning track and a great start of the album. “When The Wild Wind And The Soul Of Fire Meet” (man, it’s a long name), the first single from this album, reduces the tempo, becoming a mid-paced death metal with a lot of groove elements, which make this track really interesting. It is also less tribal instruments here, than in the previous song but the vargan can be heard here very well. Another single from this album is “He With The Horse’s Head”, where the music is focusing more on death metal, than on tribal motives. However, there are some middle eastern or I’d dare to say Mongolian melodies but they played somewhere on a background. Yes, it’s tough and brutal but in my opinion these two single are less represent the album than the opening song.

“Preparation For The Ritual” in its turn puts the tribal aspect of the music to the front. Choirs over blast beats, other tribal instruments over meaty riffs and the whole mix of brutality and tribal melody mesmerize you easily and cause you to listen to this song over and over just to hear the smallest details. Vargan adds some mystic atmosphere to the music too. “I Am The Path” is also the incredibly catchy: songwriting here is top notch and the skillful use of pauses with another bunch of great riffs and stunning drumming.

The album ends with self-titled, seven minutes long “Shaman”: monotonic guitars and drums with vocals and throat singing put you in a trance and captivate you. Maybe it’s the less brutal song in the album but it’s definitely the best ending for the album like this. It’s a quintessence of the mystical, occult atmosphere.

Like I said earlier, the mix of death metal brutality and mesmerizing tribal elements is not something new for HELL:ON but it was never that dense like in Shaman. And it was never that mesmerizing. This is not just another album; it’s a guide to the dark mystic worlds. It’s a shame that this album won’t be played live soon, at least in Europe (as far as I know, there will be a presentation in Kyiv) but I’m glad that HELL:ON is still able to evolve, to create and to record their new music, even when surrounding reality is darker than your darkest fear.

I wish HELL:ON and all the brave people of Ukraine all the best as they defend their homeland and I hope that the darkness will gone with the dawn. The sooner, the better. Слава Україні!

Shaman will be released on May, 17th via Archivist Records.

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