Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hexenhaus - The Edge of Eternity (1990)

I truly enjoyed the Hexenhaus debut A Tribute to Insanity from the year 1988. Not only was it one of the best examples of a thrash and power hybrid from Sweden in that decade, and a well-composed, cruel romp in the vein of a Metal Church or Savatage with the heavy turned up, but it was also Mike Wead's best work outside of material with Mercyful Fate & King Diamond. When I discovered the project would be returning for a sophomore effort, my expectations were severely elevated, even though the debut had only recently arrived through the Metal Blade reissue, and it remains their most visible work (all of the subsequent offerings were so obscure that many did not know of their existence).

The Edge of Eternity continues along the path set by the debut, though the band have slightly undergone a progressive renewal, or rather an increase in the technical thrash elements that weren't really present before, while the band hammered out should have been classics like "Eaten Alive". It's impressive that the band has remained this loyal, though, because the three members of Manninya Blade left the band after A Tribute to Insanity. In fact, the entire lineup on this sophomore has been replaced with the exception of Mike Wead himself. Vocalist Tommy Agrippa steps in for Nick Johanssen and does a fairly smash up job of it, with a tone just as cruel as Nick's, while the inclusion of Fifth Reason members Marco Nicosia and Marty Marteen provided a more competent counterbalance to Wead's twisted, diabolic riffing, all anchored with Billy St. John's effective kit crashing.

The trade off here is that the increased competence comes at the expense of the debut's very dark atmosphere. This isn't exactly bright as daisies, mind you, but while the honest, direct studio recording here is a more polished presentation, it lacks for some of the crushing weight heard earlier. Thankfully, the compositions are still quite good, Wead sailing across the frets with a number of stellar leads and biting thrash riffs in "The House of Lies", "The Eternal Nightmare" and "Prime Evil". Often the band will remind me heavily of their near neighbors Artillery, not ever achieving the level of perfect technical fluency that the brothers manifested on By Inheritance, but quite close to the riffing of a Terror Squad. There's not really a bad song among this bunch, and the two instrumental briefs are pretty nice, while the epic finale "At the Edge of Eternity", which clocks in at over 13 minutes, is quite deft at perking the listener's attention and never falling into the sinkhole of ennui that most overblown, long winded metal compositions are guilty of perpetuating.

Its easiest to categorize The Edge of Eternity as a thrash metal record, because for the largest fraction of its playtime it delivers powerful muted rhythms and fairly complex composition, but I think it might also hold an appeal to fans of darker, late 80s/90s power or progressive metal. Without sounding quite like any one band, the Hexenhaus crew channel a choice blend of Mercyful Fate, Artillery, Savatage, Heathen and Metal Church which is still a delight after 20 years. Its not the equal of the debut based solely on the fact it has less songs that burn their way straight to your mind, but its still worth a listen if you've never been exposed to their sound in the past. Its unfortunate this band never made the splash it could have, because all four of their albums are high quality despite the numerous lineup shifts, and they certainly deserved some recognition amidst the bailing masses of weak willed 'thrash' bands who abandoned ship completely to start funk, grunge, nu-metal and college indie rock outfits.

Verdict: Win [8/10] (I am the captor forever to be)

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