Hour Of 13
posted on 10/2012 By:
Hour of 13 seemed to be a band on the rise following the release of its last album, 2010’s The Ritualist. On the strength of that release the band was signed to Earache Records, which re-issued The Ritualist, giving it wider distribution. However, singer Phil Swanson’s departure (for the second time) in 2011 cast a bit of a shadow on the band’s future. Swanson was replaced by Beaten Back to Pure vocalist Ben Hogg, and while Hogg was a capable singer, he just wasn’t Swanson. Swanson has a presence that is not easily replicable. Thankfully, late last year, Swanson returned to Hour of 13 (again), to lend his voice to the occult, doom/traditional metal created by multi-instrumentalist Chad Davis. Thus was born Hour of 13’s third album, 333, and it’s a motherfucker.
333 opens with “Deny the Cross”, undoubtedly the best song on the record and probably Hour of 13’s best song, period. This seven minute tour de force displays the full scope of the band’s talent. The track begins with the slow haunting doom that is Hour of 13’s bread and butter. Chad Davis moves effortlessly from somber to sinister, alternating clean passages with muscular riffing and diabolical melodies. This first half of the song serves primarily to build tension, which is released in the second half when the doom is swapped for a trad metal gallop, and Swanson finally delivers a chorus, one well worth waiting for. Hour of 13 has dabbled in up-tempo riffs before, but they play a more prominent role on this record, and the material is all the better for it.
Track two, “The Burning”, is similar to “Deny the Cross” in length, structure and quality. The track starts with bruising, mid-paced doom and picks up the tempo significantly in the second half, with a “Children of the Grave” styled rumble. Davis employs some Maiden-esque harmonies to compliment another excellent chorus. The band mellows out in the closing minutes, and Davis floats some sweet, bluesy soloing over a soothing melodic vamp.
“Rites of Samhain” is simpler, and more compact than the preceding tracks, bouncing along at a steady mid-paced clip for a comparatively brief five minutes. While the music is excellent, Swanson steals the spotlight here, with a positively majestic chorus. Hour of 13’s intent might be to evoke the atmosphere of a demonic ritual, but when Swanson adds the high harmony vocals, to the tracks chorus, the effect is divine.
After a spectacularly strong start, the album hits a bit of a lull: The next three tracks are solid doom songs, but they are overshadowed by their more dynamic predecessors. “Spiral Vacuum” is a short (for this album) hypnotic piece that would make a fine melodic respite if placed between two more energetic tracks, but instead Hour of 13 follows it with another comparatively mellow track, “Who’s to Blame?”. The track has its moments: The pre-solo section features some smooth melodies and the solo itself injects some needed energy, but, in all, the song just does not need to be seven minutes long. Finally comes “Sea of Trees”, which is a fine, slow, traditional doom track, but placed where it is on 333, it is another momentum killer. Thankfully, 333 recovers from this mid-section drag and finishes strong with “Lucky Bones”, another lengthy, multifaceted piece, on par and pace with the album’s first three tracks.
Though 333 has some track placement problems, it is nonetheless a masterful album. Even on the lesser songs, the band's performance is impeccable. Phil Swanson puts his inimitable stamp on every song, and his voice is so crucial to the album’s atmosphere that it is difficult to imagine anyone else doing this material justice. For his part, in addition to solid drum and bass work, Chad Davis is a guitar chameleon, channeling Tony Iommi, Murray / Smitth, Tipton / Downing, and Sherman / Denner, sometimes all within the same song. So tasteful is Davis’ playing that even in eight- and nine-minute songs, he always leaves you wanting more.
333 has about it the feel of a classic. There are genuine anthems on this album that I expect to be singing and banging my head to for years to come. Hour of 13 was already a damn good band, but 333 puts the duo on another level. Buy this thing; it’s a motherfucker.
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