Hellhound are another of those Japanese acts who take the roots of thrash and traditional heavy metal from the late 70s and early through mid 80s, mash them together and simply serve as concrete, humorous reinforcement to their proliferation and survival. They are hardly the first of their kind, as the great bands Abigail, Barbatos and Metalucifer had already been established by 2002 and cruising along into cult status for a sizable number of diehards; but still, Hellhound are pretty good at this, if you can shut down your expectations and desire nothing more than a headbanging good time that reverts you back to 1984 before you heard Master of Puppets or Reign in Blood and everything suddenly got more serious.
The Welcome to Metal Zone EP was their first honest to goodness recording, and though it previews some of the charm of their full-lengths Tokyo Flying V Massacre and Metal Fire from Hell, it could not be counted as among their strongest material. The band basically starts with a sound similar to Accept and Judas Priest and just runs with it. In fact, most of the songs here sound like some combination of "Fast as a Shark" and Ram It Down era Priest, veering ever so slightly into speed/thrash terrain, but not enough to make a difference. Vocalist Crossfire has one of those Brian Johnson/Udo Dirkschneider voices, but far more annoying, almost as if being performed as a caricature. Fortunately, unlike many other bands that pull this maneuver, you do get used to him. Another nice touch are the leads, which generally stand out from the very average riffing content that surround them. They're hardly original or mind bending solos, but one gets the impression that with better packaging they might be a force to be reckoned with.
The EP features five tracks, only two of which have the word 'metal' in the actual title, a practice this band will expand upon in the future. "Metal Zone" moves at a fast clip, like Accept with a seasoning of early Rage, gang shouts in the chorus and a pick and play, utterly simple set of riffs. "Flight of the Demon" is essentially a ripoff of "Balls to the Wall" with slightly paraphrased guitar lines, rather blatant about it. "Deathrider" is insanely Judas Priest, with simple NWOBHM chord patterns that flirt with speed metal, and Crossfire switching to a cleaner, lower register to offset his screaming. "Stormtrooper" is decent heavy/speed metal with some bluesy, burning guitars, and "Heavy Metal Generation" is another too familiar track, mixing in elements of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "Blitzkrieg" among others.
Without good vocals or good ideas musically, Welcome to Metal Zone quickly expires from the realm of curiosity. If it's meant to serve as a tribute or exclamation that these Japanese gentlemen enjoy classic metal of taste, well then it certainly delivers on that. The problem then lies in just what Hellhound are going to DO with these tastes, and this debut EP simply doesn't have an answer. Songs were written or stolen, laid out in some studio and then the band had something to gig on. Down the line, this band does manage to tighten their ideas and improve in the songwriting department, but in 2004 they were just not worth hearing yet, and they were surprisingly void of too much excess Engrish, expressing themselves clearly through most of the lyrics. Boo!
Verdict: Fail [4.75/10] (you're just a tribute for the ruler of the night)