Hour of 13 | ’333′
Ever since their incredible headline show at the Dublin Doom Day a couple of years back, we have here in Ireland, in some unspoken way, claimed Hour of 13 as one of our own. The magic floating through the venue that night was undeniably felt by both band and audience alike.
Yeah, they’re ours alright. Or maybe we are theirs.
Their self-titled debut was an instant hit among fans of traditional doom and heavy metal that mixed the pumping corner-boy hard rock of 70s Judas Priest with the heavy metal might of 80s Manilla Road, stirring up the resulting potion in a cauldron of witchery stamped with the spooky darkness of Mercyful Fate.
Follow up, ‘The Ritualist’, had its moments no doubt but lacked a bit of the fire that made the debut so exhilarating, at least to these ears.
Far from terrible, there was a sense that the band was slipping into comfort zone territory. Maybe it had something to do with the on again/off again relationship between arch-brain Chad Davis and singer Phil Swanson but either way the results were a little patchy.
Two years on, with their turbulent relationship having just about made it through the ringer in one piece, we are presented with seven new tracks of dark & doomy heavy metal that offer no alterations whatsoever to their formula.
That is no jibe either, as this is an absolute master-class in hard rocking heavy metal. Tougher, darker and more menacing than 99% of the current crop of denim vested wannabes, ’333′ absolutely fucking seethes with menace and kicks seven or eight shades of shit out of its predecessor.
If ‘The Ritualist’ slumped here and there then the opposite is true of this one. It manages to reach new peaks with each passing track, making it pretty difficult to cherry-pick highlights but the mid-album triumvirate of ‘Rites of Samhain’, the Voodoo-ish ‘Spiral Vacuum’ and then ‘Who’s to Blame’ really manage to get the blood rushing to dizzying levels.
Swanson’s vocals have in the past been likened to a young Ozzy but here we find him closer in tone to Mark Shelton of Manilla Road. His sneering, snarling approach bringing a darkness that adds so much to the overall aura of the music. He really is on top form throughout.
Riff-wise Chad Davis is absolutely on the ball, too. The man is a fucking wizard, I’m sure of it. The reference points are clear for all to see but he stamps his own authority on each note, weaving sonic spells with sublime ease. His work on every song here is nothing short of staggering, often taking a familiar formula yet breathing new noxious life into all that he touches.
He has an intuition that simply cannot be faked, always knowing when to either hold back or let rip, and wow, can the man rip. Just check out the neck-destroying riffage of ‘Who’s to Blame’ for stone cold proof.
Opener ‘Deny the Cross’ and closer ‘Lucky Bones’ gather the storm clouds in much the same way as the, now legendary, ‘Missing Girl’ that closed the debut on such a twisted and eerie note. Spooky, creepy and sinister delights, bookending the album with these gems was a stroke of genius.
There is very little here to fault. The production, much like the song-writing itself, will be familiar to anyone who has been following the band’s progress. It stands back and pushes the songs to the fore; the secret to a great production, it doesn’t encroach on the music one jot. Rather, it subtly leads you through the songs, allowing every razorblade riff to penetrate your submissive body.
The artwork is the only slightly weak point. We get a skull hovering above an Enneagram (nine pointed star) on a purple background with ’333′ engraved on its forehead. No doubt brimming with Occult meaning that ties in to the lyrical subject matter, visually it seems a bit blunt. Hopefully when scaled up for LP it will come to life a little more.
Still, this album does everything you could possibly hope for on a musical front. It rocks hard, its miasma grows like a chilly graveyard fog and its songs tangle themselves around your brain cells like a sticky spider web.
If you are currently banging your head to the likes of In Solitude and Portrait, or even the new Angel Witch, you need to hear this immediately.
Submit to the real masters of nowadays heavy metal.
4.5 / 5 ::: Andrew Cunningham ::: 16/05/12