West Of Hell - Blood Of The Infidel - (9.5/10)
Published on March 17, 2019
Genre:Progressive Groove / Thrash / Heavy Metal
Now this is how you overcome the sophomore album blues! For almost 7 years, Canadian outfit West Of Hell have kept relatively silent after their (admittedly impressive) 2012 debut Spiral Empire. But they’ve returned with a fucking vengeance to blow that album out of the water. Blood Of The Infidels enhances every aspect of their previous effort, upping the technical wizardry; improving the songwriting; trimming the fat and generally crafting one of the best albums of 2019. I’m not even kidding, this record keeps me coming back for more and more – and providing something new with every listen.
Of course, such a masterpiece could not be if all parties involved were not performing at the top of their game. The magic happening on the fretboards is blindingly good – effortlessly hammering on and pulling off without losing a shred of composure. The bass often carries its own line, occasionally shining through with moments of brilliance. Paul Drummond’s sorcery behind the kit makes me gape with awe at how he can settle into amazingly addictive grooves whilst still filling all over the place like a lunatic. Lastly, Chris Valagao’s vocal performance is nothing less than stellar. Upon first listen, I thought he reminded me of the vocalist from Zimmer’s Hole. Lo and behold, it is he! On Blood Of The Infidel he outshines every previous display of his talents. What an utterly insane range this guy has! Compare the low, wholesome growls on “Mankind Commands” with the last chorus of “The Dark Turn” or the 4:55 mark of “Infidels”. That latter example is one of the greatest vocal stunts I’ve ever heard on disc. Just wow. Bat shit crazy.
This is a beautifully structured album. Each track lasts between 5 and 9 minutes, contains a wealth of ideas, and each one is developed properly thanks to the Canadians’ penchant for progressive songwriting. It doesn’t outstay its welcome, and leaves the listener thoroughly satisfied. After the memorable hooks of “Hammer & Hand”, the speedier, more technical “Chrome Eternal” provides some amazing riff work (especially at 2:59, love that part!). Then, after the multi-faceted epic “Dying Tomorrow” both melts you and soothes you with equal parts fury and acoustic ambience, it’s up to “The Dark Turn” and “Mankind Commands” to let things grow to a dramatic climax. This journey is nicely encapsulated in a concise 45-minute package, making the replay value 100%. It’s also mixed perfectly. No mud, just crystal clear production with plenty of texture and power.
Where West Of Hell really shine is in their use of technical writing to appeal to music nerds like myself, but not too technical as to alienate audiences. It’s that certain level of tech that makes you really pleased when you finally understand a certain complicated rhythm. My personal favourite is how they play with the time signature at the 3:04 mark of “Hammer & Hand”. Listen to the whole record, and you’ll pick out so many individual highlights like that which you’ll want to come back to, figure out, then enjoy all the more. Blood Of The Infidels has been the most pleasing surprise of 2019, and it surely must be set as a dark horse album for year-end lists. This is something special and begs to be heard by fans of Metallica and Meshuggah alike. It’s always rewarding when an artist’s sub-genre is difficult to pinpoint – so I hereby dub these guys: Progressive Heavy Technical Melodic Groovethrash. I’m not a hipster, you are.