Well now, here’s a record that really surprised me! For the uninitiated amongst you, Hooded Menace are a Finnish death/doom band in the time-honoured Finnish tradition, who have been going since 2007. Two albums and a steady flow of 7”s have accompanied a globe-trotting tour schedule, and now they have signed to Relapse and offered us their third album, Effigies of Evil. And it’s their best by a long shot. Thing is, I remember liking the demo/7” when I got it, but after many months of drooling over Putrid’s amazing “Blind Dead” inspired artwork (which graced their first two albums), the content of their debut left me a bit nonplussed, not because any of the songs were bad (it was a pretty consistent effort), but because it felt like the album outstayed its welcome. In other words, it was too sodding long for an album so monotonously bloody-minded! However, that first record was like an itch I had to scratch, and I found myself coming back to it again and again, the breadth and scope of the album becoming more palatable with each listen. I kept up with their splits, not least because they have shared wax with pretty much exclusively BRILLIANT bands, from death metal Gods Asphyx to prog supremos Anima Morte (Goblin fans TAKE NOTE!). I bought their second album; much like the first, I was initially a little put off by the length, considering the lack of change in tempo throughout, but again, it grew on me.
I had serious doubts, however, that lightning would strike thrice, but Lasse Pyykkö and co. seem to have seen me coming. From the initial howling winds to the final plodding bludgeon, opener “Vortex Macabre” is the best track this band have ever written and is about as perfect as death metal gets. The trump card that the band have finally decided to play is that of variety. Gone is the single-minded zombie crawl of their work to date, and in comes a far better-written and well structured work. The first riffs sound like a mournful church bell, with the rest of the song running the gamut from that signature Finnish school of death metal to pounding speed and melodic (!)solos – has Lasse been digging out his Maiden records again recently? Sterling work, either way; this opener probably contains more progression than all their previous releases put together!
The title track “Effigies of Evil” pushes things firmly into “Like an Everflowing Stream” territory (at least to my ears), with that same sense of chugging malice and epic reach that makes all lovers of death metal go batshit crazy for that classic. After a sample from “Twins of Evil”, “In the Dead We Dwell” rips through the listener’s blistered ears, more in the style of their first few records, harking back to the first Cathedral album and early Candlemass. “Curses Scribed in Gore” (my favourite song title on the album!) sounds like a lost Deceased cut being played at the wrong speed, and is a definite high point of the album! The same can’t be said for “Crumbling Insanity” and “Summoned in Euphoric Madness” (despite the former sampling a line from one of my favourite Corman films), which despite both boasting heavy riffs and excellent playing, failed to capture my imagination like the opening quartet of tracks did. Thankfully, the album ends on a high note, with “Evoken Vulgarity” having the developed sense of space and structure that the first four tracks demonstrate. And then (of course) there’s the obligatory morbid outro, something this band have always excelled in!
So overall, a really good album; lags a bit in the middle, but that’s probably just me being picky, and I doubt it will hamper the experience for people who’ve followed this band up ‘til now. What does sour things somewhat is the collector-baiting, limited “deluxe” edition which promises two extra tracks (Witchfinder General and Eternal Darkness covers) – to complicate things further, there’s even a Goblin cover bundled in if you buy the album on itunes. Am I alone in wishing bands/labels would just stick to ONE tracklist across the board? I know that gimmicks are what sell records these days (God/Satan/chemical chance forbid it should be the music), but enough is enough! Anyway, irritating marketing strategies aside, this record is an excellent and very rewarding surprise – perfectly produced and graced with jaw-droppingly gorgeous artwork from the exceptionally talented David D’Andrea, this is liable to make heads bang and claws rise.
[bandcamp album=1973097282 bgcol=FFFFFF linkcol=970026 size=venti]
Scribed by: Saúl Do Caixão