Lasse Pyykkö has by now proven himself more than the match of Sweden's 'Rogga' Johansson; that is a single individual involving himself in a number of old school revival projects, many of which are teeming with quality. Having now listened through this album about a dozen times, it's difficult not to think of 'Leper Messiah' Pyykkö as the very best of his breed, because Hooded Menace is most likely the best of these revival works which channel the crushing sounds of 90s forebears into a tidier, modern mortuary of goddamn death and doom.
Fulfill the Curse was a fairly amazing album when it was released in 2008, but Lasse appears to have surpassed that record with a more melodic effort that maintains all of the rigors and even manages to inject a stronger feel of creativity into a few of the riffs. To take a long stagnant genre like death/doom and not only invigorate it, but make it fun to listen to is no simple feat, and I'm sure the band's campy horror lyrical themes might turn some old codgers away, but I've learned not to bite the the hand that feeds, especially when its gouging me on a sound I've rarely enjoyed in 15 years at least.
It's all here: the crushing force of bands like Asphyx or Runemagick in their most doomed of days, with a dash of the even earlier charisma of Autopsy, or My Dying Bride and Paradise Lost at their most loathsome, ichor bleeding hearts. But Never Cross the Dead doesn't just end there. It's not merely a tribute. The band have sharpened their scalpels and dissected precisely what makes one of these songs effective, and honed each of the seven original compositions here into a perfect, solemn force spinning tales of morbid, classic horror. Rarely does an album flow with such determination, and I can hardly think of a single riff across the first 48 minutes which doesn't seriously kick ass. "Rituals of Mortal Cremation" crushes with its huge, haunted melodic lamentations, and the "The House of Hammer" carves an epitaph into the tomb of the beloved film institution.
Unlike many albums of its type, however, Never Cross the Dead does not simply settle for slower, boring material through its entirely, very often picking up to a rousing mid paced crushing rhythm (as in "Never Cross the Dead" or "Night of the Deathcult") that induces immediate headbanging alongside Lasse's masterful, massive grinding vocals. He's got to be one of the most consistent vocalists of this genre. Despite a lack of real range, each line is delivered with enough inflection to taunt the listener away from the sterile monotony of the average growler. Really the only weaker moment here is the metallic instrumental take on "Theme from Return of the Evil Dead", but it's not bad, it's just that the rest of the album is so potent.
I would have thought myself tired of this style after Fulfill the Curse had Hooded Menace simply decided to phone in a sequel, but it's clear a great care has been placed into just about every festering, necrotic second of this record. It's one of the best albums I've heard lately, one of the best of its style to date (I'm not kidding), and well worth the investment whether you're an old hand at the cemetery or you just started digging up graves.
Highlights: there will be a buffet after this funeral, and you're all invited.
Verdict: Epic Win [9.5/10]