Vancouver’s West of Hell have a firm grip on the past while sounding current as well. All the things that make great heavy metal, well, great are there. Powerhouse vocals? Check. Twin guitar attack? Check. Locked in rhythm section? Check and check! So let’s get into their debut disc, Spiral Empire, and see what we can see.
Opener “Father of Lies” wastes no time with a “Where Eagles Dare” type of gallop, and then Chris “The Heathen” Valagao opens up the can o’ vocal whup ass that doesn’t let up for a minute. This guy can howl for sure! “Water of Sorcery” turns up the heat, as is often the job for an album’s second song. Clearly they are students of the game. Driving riffs, jackhammer drums, this tune has it all, and was my second favorite, right behind “Faceless the Droids”. Talk about a song that was made for drag racing, this is it. I defy anyone to drive the speed limit to this one. Not gonna happen.
The guitar on “Unworthy” is thick and hearty, and the drums and bass are crisp and clean. You can hear every subtle nuance, especially here. Something about the production on this album really stands out compared to some other releases I’ve heard as of late. “Singularity” also shows off the tightness of the band, drummer Andrew Hulme and bassist Jordan Kemp in full lockstep with the guitar intricacies of Sean Parkinson and Ivan Vrdoljak. The dual harmony solo is without a doubt one of the highlights of the album.
Kemp is front and center to start “To War” with Hulme laying down a thunderous backbeat while those guitars come back in for some more sweet harmonizing before riffing away over a double bass drum reminiscent of Judas Priest’s “Hell Patrol”. The three minute mark is where things get REALLY interesting, though. There’s a 30 second scramble with everyone playing furiously, and then The Heathen unleashes some Banshee-like wails that’ll make you go “Hell yeah!” in a big hurry.
“Soul Taker” is a near-perfect blend of thrash and power complete with a big chest-puffing intro, and closer “Onslaught” is all speed all the time, save for the breaks which are more pummeling double bass. Title track “Spiral Empire” features some outstanding solos as well, and has a terrific gang vocal. This was another winner for me. I love it when a band’s debut doesn’t SOUND like a debut. West of Hell sound like they’ve been making great records for years, and I hope that there’s a lot more where this came from. If you’re looking for something new with a taste of the old, then look no further.
STANDOUT TRACKS: “Water of Sorcery”, “Faceless the Droids”, Singularity”, “To War”, “Soul Taker”