Since releasing a teaser comprised of 3 studio tracks in 2007 and a busy touring schedule with Manowar, I have been anticipating the long-awaited debut album from these U.S metallers for some time now. It has taken the band 4 years to release a full-length album so my expectations were quite high.
'Wings of Light' opens the album in traditional mid-paced fashion - a powerful song with an uplifting chorus. The guitar riffs are immediately likable, backed by some pleasant keyboards. This sets the tone for an atmospheric listening experience and classically trained vocalist Maria Breon's epic singing style is compelling. With a charging rhythm attack, guitarist Joe Stump's neo-classical influences shine throughout the solo.
The second track follows on in the same vein, again, the song sweeps you away from the moment the riff hits your ears and the chorus is catchy as Hell. Here is where it dawns on me; a slight change in musical style in comparison to HolyHell's EP release. The semi-progressive/opera elements which are somewhat prominent on the EP seem almost absent on the new songs. The EP tracks I'm referring to are 'Apocalypse' and 'Resurrection' and they are also included on the debut album. The rest of the album moves along mostly in the slow/plodding, and mainly mid-paced direction.
Biblical reference with gothic overtones is the general theme with HolyHell. The struggle between good and evil, heaven and hell, darkness and light is the main concept throughout the album, and where the first two tracks on the album introduced the lighter side, the third track on the album 'Revelations' with its haunting melody begins to draw in on the darker themes, followed by 'Eclipse'. Both are great tracks and the latter is simply ear candy.
With the ballad 'The Fall' I'm reminded for some reason of Amanda Somerville (Avantasia) with it's easy listening nature. It appears strange at first to hear such a soft ballad following Eclipse (which isn't that heavy anyway), but Maria's emotionally charged vocals are really remarkable and she demonstrates just how versatile her voice is. The song is so well crafted that I'm once again sucked into an atmosphere, this time of beauty, and believe this to be possibly the best song on the album.
It's time for doom and destruction at track six as we are heralded by 'Angel of Darkenss'. This one reminds me a little of the EP with the epic keyboards, dramatic opera influences and a slight progressive touch. Not one of the best tracks on the album but definitely not a filler either. Thankfully the following track 'Holy Water' makes a splash with some fine riffing and sweeping hooks.
If there's one song that could have been left off the album it would have to be the instrumental 'Mephisto'. With a nice piano introduction followed by epic keyboards, the song is then plunged into Neo-classical Hell. This is a song I would have preferred to hear on one of Joe Stump's solo albums instead.
It's also noteworthy to mention that without including Mephisto, we really only recieve NINE new songs from HolyHell, as the three tracks following the brilliant 'Gates of Hell' were taken from the band's 'Apocalypse' EP. Style-wise, the EP tracks did seem out of place on the record and I found myself skipping them to hear the final track 'Armageddon'. Perhaps I was just too eager to familiarize myself with the new material. But all in all, the album contains thirteen tracks, which should please those who had not picked up the EP and is interested in buying the album.
Armageddon is a nice way to close the album, with the lyrical theme honing in on the end of the world; the song is actually so vibrant and full of life it's comical.
Production on the album is clean and solid, however, it seemed the guitars needed a stronger and sharper edge as they just didn't sound heavy enough nor grab me completely, and it felt at times that the album 'required' that little extra crunch. A powerful album regardless. All the musicians get a decent chance to shine on the album and the effort put into the songwriting really shows.
The CD packaging is unique in itself - the band's logo is pressed on the actual CD case and the song titles are likewise pressed on the back - and totally covered in darkness.