posted on 3/2012 By:
Austria’s Hellsaw is the highly melodic black metal project of Horned Almighty guitarist Aries, and with its fourth album Trist, the band has perfected a pleasant but wholly inoffensive type of Goldilocks black metal: everything in moderation. This results in a smooth, balanced album, but one which is sorely lacking any real sense of spontaneity or meanness. Hellsaw wants its attack to be ferocious, but there’s too much sheen on the whole package to make the pious run for cover.
Trist is never mopey or tortured enough for the depressive black metal crowd, nor does it ever rage hard enough for the “puke yr guts for Satan” contingent. With its big, clean, undeniably modern production (they are on Napalm, after all), Trist treads a little too closely to an ultra-polished and watered-down Watain (minus all the interesting Dissection-isms). Still, this is far from a trainwreck, with the album’s first half in particular demonstrating real promise. The tremolo-picked melody of “Doom Pervades Nightmares” is stirring, even though the majority of the song plays like a tidied-up recitation of the De Mysteriis dom Sathanas playbook. The song closes with a very interesting acoustic section, making for a nice transition into “The Forerunner of the Apocalypse,” whose crisp, dry drive makes a run for modern Kataonia territory with a chorus that’s closer to Amon Amarth or Dark Tranquillity than anything rightly blackened.
But things are far from perfect. For every well-executed flourish there is a bit of clunky songwriting here or completely drab track there. Aries’s vocals are notable in that they sound uncannily like Martin van Drunen singing black metal, but where van Drunen’s sandpaper scraping has done wonders for countless bands over the years, the two-toned snarl here sounds forced, and never quite hits from deep enough in the gut. The drumming is well-produced and extremely tight, but also rather one-dimensional, and while the overall production has a professional gleam, it’s almost entirely bloodless. Furthermore, transitions between sections are never well telegraphed, and thus feel hastily stitched-together, as with the chorus-verse transition in “The Forerunner…” and the slowed-down sections of “Sorrow is Horror,” which already come across like the blander moments of late ‘90s melodic black metal outfits like Naglfar or Old Man’s Child.
The album’s middle drags terribly with a trio of labored yet uneventful songs (“Death Bells” through “A Winter Cold”), and although “Beldam.1450” regains some lost momentum with the frantic drumming and deep double-tracked vocals of its conclusion, closing track “Silence” winds things down disappointingly, with its interesting tremolo arpeggios buried too far down in the mix while triggered drums blast away like there’s no tomorrow, no yesterday, no today -- only a record of a clipped snare, skipping forever. Still, when taken as a whole, Trist satisfies, in a way. Its ambitions never outpace its abilities, and while very little on the album absolutely demands to be heard, there’s also nothing outrageously deficient or embarrassing. Not too hot, and not too cold, but that doesn’t necessarily mean just right.
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