Curse & Chapter (2013) is the second full-length studio album by UK heavy metal act Hell. Hell were a band that were originally around in the eighties and included as part of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, although I do believe that I read somewhere that Hell tend to distance themselves from the movement. Their early career spawned a few demo releases but ultimately ended in 1987, following which frontman Dave G. Halliday committed suicide. Hell was resurrected by the surviving members in 2008 and eventually went on to release their debut full-length album Human Remains in 2011, almost thirty years after their initial formation with the line-up completed by David Bower (vocals) and Andy Sneap (guitars). It was always unclear to me at the time whether Human Remains would ultimately be the band's only release; it was made up entirely of their old material, but given how good it was I for one am glad that the guys have stuck with it and produced Curse & Chapter.
Although it was released in 2011 and had the benefit of a modern sound production and a major record label behind it, Human Remains always struck me as an album that, had it been released in the late eighties, would have been before it's time. It was theatrical, occasionally progressive, and epic all the way. It was also heavy on the narration, which was the only aspect of the album which didn't sit quite right with me. Curse & Chapter is once again all of these things, except that Hell has cut their narration parts down to a minimum as well as seeming to have upped the progressive qualities in their songs, the back to back pairing of The Disposer Supreme and Darkangel being the most prime examples.
The album picks up where Human Remains left off, quite literally, with a reprise of the debut's closing narration before launching into the introductory instrumental Gehennae Incendiis and lead single The Age of Nefarious. It doesn't take any more than this to put to rest any doubts over whether Human Remains was just the work of a band relying on their old songs to see them through. A few older songs from their demo days have made their way onto Curse & Chapter, but for the most part the album represents Hell fully integrating themselves with the present day metal scene, and it's to wondrous results as well as no doubt teaching said scene something about metal along the way. The music is absolutely furious traditional heavy metal, with no room for playing nice and tame and The Age of Nefarious in particular is an instant arse-kicker.
Special mention must be given to David Bower, whose theatrical yet aggressive vocal style fits perfectly over the riff-driven music, which in itself has a nod here and there to a number of different metal genres; pretty much anything you like from symphonic to extreme metal. Bower did somewhat strike me as an acquired taste on Human Remains but that's not a vibe I get from his performance on Curse & Chapter. Instead there's an air that this is a man who knows how to put on a show, even when that show is a studio album, and more to the point knows that he's good at it. There's no doubt in my mind that David Bower gave the male vocal performance of the year on this album.
And the album simply does not allow itself to relent on even a single aspect of what makes it so great from start to finish. I had previously proclaimed the debut album of Hell's label-mates Ashes of Ares as the best traditional heavy metal release of 2013 but it seems I am now going to have to retract that statement and instead apply it to Curse & Chapter. This is simply not to be missed if you are a fan of heavy metal in any shape or form. It betters Human Remains by the fact that the songs aren't too drawn out with narration, allowing them to get to the point hell of a lot quicker with no falloff between them. The material is faithful to their sound on Human Remains, but sounds honed by experience in comparison. Saying it is powerful doesn't even begin to cover it. With this they firmly cement their reputation as a top tier band and a five star range rating is easily deserved for Curse & Chapter.
(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/hell-curse-chapter-t3287.html)