Crawler - Hell Sweet Hell

Crawler Hell Sweet Hell cover
Hell Sweet Hell
Valery Records
Majestically carving a shimmering swath of sophisticated, symphonic bad-assery out of Cremona/Lombardy Italy is the seasoned power metal quintet Crawler, which on May 31st released its monster twelve track opus of a sophomore full-length, “Hell Sweet Hell”, on digital format under Valery Records. Game of Thrones adepts will surely revel in the inherently related mystical and mythical themes/lyrical content while rocking out to a compelling overflow of catchy, awe-inspiring guitar riffs and vulpine solos to the backdrop of a disciplined and mercurial battery, the lot grippingly narrated by a convincing vocalist and frontman, who readily sounds like a soul inhabited, cawing raven in search of shiny things, which abound at every turn in the form of hard-driving, at times upbeat, glittering musicianship.
The epic synthesizer infused, one hundred second long intro, “Drakarys”, suitably lays the foundation for “Winter is Coming”, the only other track spawning less than five minutes, which brings to mind Trivium with its urgent neo-classical bent and oracular flair, enhanced as it is by Claudio Cesari’s soaring verses, Blaze Bailey style crooning and dramatic pitch alterations; of note, he sounds like a castrated Middle-Ages choir boy when squawking: “Darkest Rising” at 02:20 right before the accelerated and squealing bridge riff gives way to a super mellifluous and volatile lead break followed by a dramatic return to form i.e. main riff and archaic guitar harmony.
It’s not all mawkish succour though as a couple of tracks in particular veer off the highway of tears and forcibly swing the hammer down while forging serious fyre. “Dhampyre” kicks off with a rib-cage rattling drum beat and a snarky, tuck & roll style, crunchy guitar riff, which folds on itself like a demonic origami. The twin guitars of Filippo Severgnini and Matteo Cattaneo do a fine job of complimenting each other whether they’re trading off rhythmic riffs or backing up each other’s fancy touch and go leads. On “Dhampyre”, the first and last solo are almost vocal, heavily wah-drenched wang-ers whilst the second readily hits home (Hell?) with its orphic reverb-laden bounce – its unassuming spontaneity and contrast also provide a breath of fresh air to an otherwise straightforward track. The other raucous rocker I’m referring to is “No Pain”, as it opens with a confidant yet coy bass line giving way to a festive, romp & stomp guitar riff which compels me to throw my glad rags on and embark on an all-out terpsichorean frenzy. Mind you, the background vocals are a mite trite but you’ve got to love the pregnant pauses scattered throughout which only serve to ratchet the tension; the rhythm section here is much flashier too – Daniele Mulatieri’s bass jangles and lurches out at you with gleeful abandon, while Nicola Martiniella’s plastering drum fills supply the impetus for the gluey albeit heavy-hitting guitar riffs.
The album credits and line-up fail to mention who’s responsible for the spectacular keys, from an enchanting synth intro on “The Power of Magic”, which is also harmoniously mimicked by the guitars, to the dainty but wistful and transporting piano notes underlying the heart-warming, if not outright romantic, ode which is “I Wait for My Siren”. This last also includes some sweet female backing vocals and a wicked, if not cruelly short, hi-hat and small splash cymbal beat at 02:10 which further embellishes this beautiful, versatile number. What’s more, half-way through the song a gloriously expressive solo sleekly churns before poignantly taking flight with its highly original phrasing. I too want in on some Siren action!
Admittedly, “Hell Sweet Hell” is a bit long at just under seventy minutes and while “The Dark and the Eyes” reverts to the same eldritch power metal epic-ness, as “Winter is Coming”, it fails to stir me a similar manner this late in the game (pun not intended). The same goes for the ridiculously titled “The Lair of the Smoking Dragon”, with its somewhat “Detroit Rock City”ish (Kiss, eh?) guitar riff, trite (late) Crystal Viper style vocal blandishments and Excalibur evoking keys. Mind you, the lead parts are rock solid as usual, if not a little kitsch at times. Now, in spite of its upbeat pop bent and happy melody – from the major keyed instrumentation to Claudio’s fairy-like laissez-aller – “Neverland” oddly wrangles itself in the number five slot; for a concept album of this nature, it’s an apropos inclusion which alleviates some of the overtly permeating darkness. That said, I can’t help but feel joyously overwhelmed by the spirited, whirling leads like the Pollyannaish twirling “Bubble Witch” on my laptop so go hard – guffaw away!
Moving along now, the soporific, easy-listening acoustic bauble which is “Seven Days” is nevertheless appropriately infernal; the vocals adhere to a heavy rock formula whilst the instrumentation and augural keys are on par with Crawler’s fiercer brethren. By now it’s safe to say the lead guitars are likely the album/band’s highpoint, as they shred and tear at every turn, and on every track, as they do once more on “Seven Days”; this alone is worth sticking around for. “Hell Sweet Hell” proper, however late, is a sure-fire highlight alongside “Dhampyre”, “I Wait for My Siren” and “No Pain” although for different reasons. For one thing, Cesari’s cries are much more caustic, laid-back and raw than before whilst the riffing style adheres to the kind of dirty groove championed by bands such as A Perfect Murder and Rabid Bitch of the North, for example. The flamboyant fret-running leads and melodies notwithstanding, the title track’s gritty demeanor stands tall amidst its rather storied companions. Alternatively, the closer (and longest cut at over eight minutes), “Akhenaton”, is imbued with a Middle-Eastern vibe akin to Arrayan Path’s “Dawn of Genesis” released last month. To its credit it strikingly cruises by without a second glance, which is fortuitous considering “Hell Sweet Hell”’s extensive running time. On top of its byzantine power chord arrangements, the lead guitar does a stellar job of juxtaposing a veritable flurry of exotic harmonies as well as atmospheric acoustic touches which further enhance this marathon finale.
On first listen, I thought Crawler’s “Hell Sweet Hell” was a strong contender for my album of the month because of the tight musicianship and intriguing developments. That is, until I stumbled upon “The Dark and the Eyes”, as well as “The Lair of the Smoking Dragon”, two tracks which unceremoniously water down an already somewhat convoluted and overdrawn production. Regardless, it will make a great, snug stocking stuffer for any self-respecting power or traditional heavy metal fan (Santa won’t be the only one “crawling” down the chimney this year! Hohoho!)…