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Hela : Death May Die

Hela''s sophomore does a fine job of presenting a deliciously dark human-centric experience dressed in occult trappings.

So, from the "Oh God, I really should have written this up long ago" pile of stuff on my desk, here's Spanish band Hela. I mean, seriously, no excuse: since springing for the Discos Macarras deluxe limited edition digi with album-artworked mug, every time I pour myself a coffee, the sumptuous 'Death May Die' print gives me a guilty twinge... That said, I can maybe rebrand my tardiness in a slightly more favourable light by pointing out that particular package is still available on Bandcamp, so this is probably a good time to issue a post-release reminder now the initial coverage has died down. Phew, might have got away with that...

I'd like to say Hela are most famous for appearing on our own MDB tribute album, with their sensuously grimy, grungy Stoner version of 'For My Fallen Angel', but that's - erm - basically, not true at all. They're actually most famous for setting out their particular stall on 2013 debut 'Broken Cross', underwriting a style that continues into 'Death May Die' (and it was from the recording sessions for the latter that our track was laid down). You're probably best off ignoring the immediate suggestion of Lovecraftian aspects when assessing that. Yes, I know - the title's a quote, the intro piece features excerpts from 'The Nameless City', and the artwork's a very cultish 'Shining Trapezohedron' kind of deal. But bands regularly die in a ditch over trying to convey H.P. in music, so it's just as well that's only a minor part of what Hela's female-fronted, retro-occult stance covers.

Instead, I'd pick the "sensuously grimy" aspect as what really sits front of centre of their sound. It's guitar-led, musically, but neither especially aggressive and ultra-distorted nor especially drifting and echoey. Instead, it takes a little of both of those and weaves it, via a somewhat deliberately indistinct and blurred mix, into something more like Black Moth's '90s throwback feel, via some Soundgarden grunginess. The sensuous side of the equation is supplied by the vocals - not quite as overtly sexually charged as bands like Finland's Mansion, or sister act Rosy Finch, but Mireia Porto nonetheless injects a certain physical tension and urgency into the distinctly earthier-than-Lovecraft lyrics that form the bulk of the album. More direct, and less abstract, than the female presence of many of the contemporary bands that'd acquire a similar label - Windhand, say - her voice paints the self-focussed views of carnality, pain, death and deviltry with shades that vary from an edgy rasp to a disturbingly seductive crooning. (As an aside, it'll be interesting to see how the band deal with replacing her, as of this year - her contribution crystallised Hela's direction on this album in a way that previous vocalist Isabel Sierras never quite managed to achieve).

Anyway, all of that makes it a little difficult to pin it down to any particular comparison, or timeline. It just kinda is what it is - something that can conveniently be pinned under the retro-female-occult-Stoner umbrella but is actually pretty much doing its own thing with a commendable degree of pride and enthusiasm. I wouldn't put it at the very top of any particular tree - partly because I can't think of any tree it fully fits into - in that respect, but it's certainly doing a fine job of welding a whole bunch of disparate influences into a believable whole. I'd have to mangle up a few metaphors to come up with anything really believable as a descriptor, starting with The Deviants' 'Half Price Drinks' as one of the earliest similarly sleazy, hopeless windows on human experience (well, that's at least a retro '70s touchstone dealt with...), a dash of the groove-infested miserable mortality and nihilism of Hangman's Chair, some of the aforementioned Black Moth's psychosexual confrontation, all wrapped in a somewhat nebulous and non-specific externalised occultism, that, frankly, doesn't have enough specificity to nail down to any influence beyond orthodox dualism.

So, forget any thoughts of Lovecraft and overarching consistent mysticism, and enjoy this deliciously dark experience for what it is - a raw, human-centric slab of dark, relentless Stoner with mystic overtones that can plug a disturbing wire direct into some of your more primitive response centres. And, for bonus points, you can muse over how much of it is intended to seriously "reach out and touch the face of God" (or his Adversary), and how much is simply putting the human condition into an external context, every time you want another coffee... Recommended, sure, but not to an immediately obvious audience.

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Reviewer's rating: 8/10


Tracklist :
1. The Gateway
2. Mother Of Monsters
3. Touched By Evil
4. Dark Passenger
5. Repulsion
6. Bodies In Hell

Duration : Approx. 44 minutes

Visit the Hela bandpage.

Reviewed on 2018-05-29 by Mike Liassides
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