It's strange and bittersweet to be reviewing this sophomore album posthumously, because at the time this one dropped, Hell had top-of-the-world potential, and they could do no wrong unless massively fucking up, which Curse & Chapter does not. While I might not have been a worshiper on the same levels as others I know, I still really enjoyed the amount of effort they put into the production and personality of their debut Human Remains. The fact that it was a reincarnated NWOBHM band, being given a fresh kickstart by a huge fan (in Andy Sneap) whose own legendary band Sabbat were pretty much the only one pimping this group through their own career, is just icing on the cake. Glorious.
As I hinted, Curse & Chapter does not disappoint, even if it doesn't possess quite the perfect set-up as its predecessor. Insane, operatically-informed heavy metal which infuses whatever aesthetics of power and thrash it desires, the material relies heavily on the vocal strength of David Bower, who just owns it once again. His frilly, shrieking, manic sounding voice is once again an instant win for the amount of character he gives it. He can snarl, growl, and freak out, then just belt out something more powerful and sustained effortlessly, and he is always bending his lines to keep each fresh and fearsome. He can also do some nice counter vocals with the backups, or the deeper sort of guttural narrative that we all know Martin Walkyier probably would have used had he stuck with the Hell reunion. Apart from his performance, the twin guitar attack of Sneap and Kev Bower is formidable, bringing a good degree of variance, between choppy and powerful chords, to acoustics, wild leads, and it all sounds fresh and modern like a lot of Sneap's studio work.
As usual, the theatrics and orchestration play an important role, used to great strength in tracks like in "The Disposer Supreme" or "Darkhangel" before they clobber you over the head with the heavy-ass, thrashing riffs, and then shift again into an almost Maiden-esque vocal harmony. This was pompous, adventurous, unapologetic heavy metal which, while carried over into the live performance, wouldn't even have required costumes because it just rubs off so well on the studio recording. Another thing I really dug about this album is that at times it reminded me of a British Nevermore...Bower's delivery is in some ways reminiscent of the great Warrell Dane, and certainly some of the more involved riffs, which is probably no surprise since Sneap worked on a lot of the Americans' albums from 2000-2011.
Curse & Chapter isn't always extremely catchy or memorable, but it's timelessness comes from how it takes command of you from the operatic opener and holds your attention as it transports you into its world of occult revelations and clerical conspiracies (see what I did there?), with a brazen, polished production and a level of identity you just weren't going to find in the old geezer British metal bands of the time. If I were Iron Maiden coming off The Final Frontier, or Judas Priest scraping together the lukewarm Redeemer of Souls, I'd be pissing down my leg when I heard this fucking band, because it might have made them irrelevant if they hadn't gotten their shit together (which, to be fair, they did). Exciting compositions, bewildering musicianship, and just the right amount of controlled chaos, it's a bloody shame that in hindsight this would be their last studio album. History repeated itself. We never got enough Hell in its original incarnation, and while they hung on for some years after touring off this material, we never enough in this one. Resquiescat in pace.
Verdict: Win [8.25/10]