A brutal, record-setting heat wave has been scorching my area of residence (Midwest, USA) for the last two weeks, and the longer it stretches on the more I realize that the dog days of summer provide much of the same imagery as the darkest, most hopeless days of winter. The heat has crippled the plant life, transformed vibrant green into lifeless brown, and left the normally busy streets deserted except for the few brave enough to journey outside. Observing this, I thought that some chilly new Black Metal such as HELLSAW’s 2012 release “Trist,” would be strangely appropriate. So I cranked the AC, turned up the stereo, and let the sounds of frigid Austrian winters wash over me…
I’ll say this about my taste in Black Metal: I like the genre tremendously, but an album has to have more than just blast beats, tremolo picking and nature samples to keep me interested. I don’t think it’s unfair to expect a fairly high level of creativity and songwriting prowess if a band wants to stand out in a saturated genre, which is why I can be pretty harsh when it comes to evaluating albums I feel are just total rehashes of everything that has been done to death for the last 15 years.
Fortunately, HELLSAW seem not to care about the limitations of typical Black Metal. “Trist” finds them exploring a large range of sounds, dipping their feet into many corners of the Black Metal genre and bringing back bits and pieces of the sounds they like. The album opens with “The Devil is Calling My Name,” which showcases HELLSAW’s ability to slowly build melody and atmosphere before breaking out into the ferocious riffing and breakneck pace you’d expect to hear on a Black Metal album. Between “Forerunner of the Apocalypse,” “Doom Pervades Nightmare,” and the opening track, this is a shockingly catchy album at times. Yet there is another side to the sound, where agony and despair can be found in high supply; “Death Bells” is particularly drenched in depression, and there are many moments on the album where I was fooled into thinking I was listening to Depressive Black Metal, or even Doom.
The production warrants a mention, because it’s pretty good by any standard. And I don’t mean to imply “Trist” is a polished, squeaky-clean album; it’s anything but. What I mean is that the riffs that should stand out do, the bass playing is audible and distinctive (*gasp*), and the atmosphere is made large exactly when it should be, but pushed to the backseat when necessary. No bells and whistles, just good music made better by proper handling. These are things that are lost when you record with a four-track in the woods.
In the end, it’s HELLSAW’s ability to incorporate different aspects of Metal into their sound that puts this album a rung higher than most Black Metal I’ve been listening to lately. The feel of this album is constantly shifting, and the atmosphere with it; “Trist” is simultaneously melodic and ferocious, catchy and depressing, somber and harsh. Finding a firm ground in tradition but branching out all the while, “Trist” is recommended for just about any fan of Black Metal.
(Online August 19, 2012)