Demon Bitch - Hellfriends - (9.5/10)
Published on May 19, 2016
Slithering around the forgotten tombs of the classic metal comeback movement and shrouded in an otherworldly fog comes the secretive cult that is Michigan’s Demon Bitch. They play a speed-inflected take on power metal, bereft of the streamlined anime/video game soundtrack approach that is typical of the modern-European sound but instead reach back into the genre’s murkier American origins. The end result is full of youthful furor and an off kilter eccentricity that when combined with its tape rip level production make it sound like something that could’ve come from as far back as 1985. A general overview of this sound would be along the lines of the high speed lethality of Agent Steel (especially vocally), the pulp and melancholy of Angel Witch, and the muscular delivery of USPM legends Omen with pinches of Brocas Helm and Borrowed Time here and there although these are all best understood as general references. While experienced listeners will be able to pick out the various deities and demigods they worship, they would take well to note that this is a beast of its own self-realization.
While Demon Bitch’s music is far from proggy, it’s very competently played and showcases not only a familiarity with the building blocks of classic metal but an unrestrained creativity bleeds through. Set at a pacing not unlike that of Agent Steel circa Skeptics Apocalypse where even the midpaced moments are bustling in their liveliness, Hellfriends rips through a little over half an hour of their signature material (and one minute of a nice classical guitar interlude). Fast single string riffing abounds but they’re never one to let their rhythms get too complacent with leads dancing like flashes of lightning, bursting out before any rhythm can get too comfortable. These abrupt switches in direction keep the album fresh and varied in a way that almost reminds of the madcap anything goes approach of oddities like Manilla Road and Slauter Xstroyes. Even on the longer tracks they never quite feel particularly winding of stretched out with how unsatisfied they are with sticking to easy patterns. Listen to “Beneath the Ice Caves” and its topsy turvy riffing progressions connected by changes in tempo and drumming that in spite of their abrupt nature flow into one another with a liquid fluidity. By the time it hits the extravagant solo at four and a half minutes it’s already gone through a rollercoaster of emotional and technical mayhem but they know when to come to simple yet satisfyingly resolute conclusions. The only thing holding this back however is the stifled, tape-reminiscent production. The album is simply put rather quiet sounding with its riffing becoming rather muddled and percussion like taps on a table. While I can understand the appeal and implicit “atmospheric” approach, I do think they could’ve chosen something that wouldn’t forcefully tone it down so much.
Did I mention the lead technique and singing by the way? While no member of the band is slacking, it’s arguable that the main draw is either of the two. Lord Mars and D.B. Cooper on one end of the spectrum fill their songs with rapidfire shredding that wouldn’t be out of place on some Shrapnel Records release, at times dipping into the dimensions neoclassical in nature. In conjunction with their agile riffing the leads never become showboating, acting as flourishes of taste and flavour that build on the manic pulse of their backing rhythms but with additional layers of complexity. Suffice to say you may be rewinding repeatedly during the solos when they unleash their full fury but also do a great job of breaking up songs. They’re like high energy fight scenes in action movies; a fireworks display of coordinated intensity but they detonate the tension built up and send us careening right into the next portion.
They’re the perfect accompaniment to an arguably more maddening element; the microphone hysterics of Logon. His eardrum puncturing wail dips and twists, turning and flailing, akin to Agent Steel’s John Cyriis but perhaps subtly tinged with a bit of Fates Warning’s John Arch in how his melody lines operate partially independent of the guitars. In overall execution he’s closer to the former singer and he captures that sense of youthful energy and loose finesse, his pitch wildly fluctuating like a possessed schizophrenic on the flip of a coin or stretching out his lines to stress a particular harmony, both of which are displayed well on “Devil Love”. Slightly nasally, he’s definitely going to be a hard sell to audiences versed moreso in Dickinson, Dio, Hansi Kursch, and Halford. However for those able to understand the particular needs of their style, there’s few choices better than a singer whose wildly unhinged approach in all its terribly melodramatic delivery often matches the chaos surrounding it.
Classic American style power metal might not be roaring back into metal world and some might argue that thanks to thrash, it never really did. However it’s clear that both fans and musicians are increasingly well acquainted with one of the hidden armies of the 80’s. Regardless of the classification however, Hellfriends is refreshingly diverse and insightful both into the strange minds of its craftsmen and the still not yet fully mapped depths of classic heavy metal. I’ve said in the past that it’s more difficult to create a distinct sound out of familiar parts than going the fully avant-garde route but more and more bands are making it clear that finding a voice for oneself while honouring the predecessors isn’t as impossible as it seems. With the an approach that authentically captures the anarchy of the earlier melodic metal underground but refines it with the knowledge of those looking back at how far we have come, Demon Bitch have produced one of the year’s finest. A bold statement against the half-hearted worship that plagues much of their compatriots and a challenge to the masters they now stand amongst, it’s safe to say that another classic metal superpower has asserted itself upon the field of war.