Picture the scene. It’s a slate grey sky and a howling wind. It’s a Saturday lunchtime and you have a hangover straight out of the lower reaches of Hades. Going to watch a band might be the last thing on your mind. But this is what I’m doing at the UK Hammerfest Festival in North Wales. And what a great decision this was. The band in question were Hang The Bastard who proceeded to tear me and all the lucky souls who had clambered out of their sleep pits a proverbial new one, rip our collective faces off and send our hangovers back to their sulphuric origins. Marvellous stuff.
It’s these fond memories of face-ripping and adrenaline surges that preface the listening of this new opus and this fledgling band’s second full length album. The charmingly monikered Sex in the Seventh Circle (SOAR/Century Media) is as pumped up as a steroid doping muscleman, as gnarly as an old tree branch and full of gusto and effervescent promise. If you wanted a decent example of what heavy metal sounds like today then you could do much worse than land here.
Sex in the Seventh Circle is respectful of its heavy metal lineage but not to the extent that it is a mere facsimile of a Black Sabbath album; on the contrary, there are more riffs here than you can shake a particularly sticky stick at; riffs that Crowbar or Down would be very pleased to call their own but there’s loads more going on than praying at the Iommi altar.
On the opening track ‘Keeping Vigil’, the band conjur such a spectacular cacophony of noise and bludgeoning intent that you worry that by throwing everything, including (if you listen hard enough) the kitchen sink, into four minutes of throat grabbing attention that they won’t have anything left for the rest of the album.
Ye of little faith, listener. Whilst ‘…Vigil’ is a serious statement of intent, it is by no means the high point of the record. The aural swampy stew that is ‘The Majestic Gathering of Goetia’ wears its New Orleans sludge like a freshly inked tattoo whilst I dare you – I absolutely double and triple dare you – not to headbang during the glorious title track. There, I can see you doing it already.
It would not be responsible of me to pass up this review without making comment on Tomas Hubbard’s astonishing vocal performance. To say it is marmite is an understatement. It is probably the defining sound of the record but also the element that will enrage as many as it delights. From guttural roar through to black metal-esque screeching, one can be in little doubt that there are not many bands that sound like this. To these ears, that is part of this band’s charm. It would be really easy to put together a record with plenty of clean singing, big choruses and so forth but then Hang The Bastard would end up sounding like every other band around who have a copy of Never Say Die.
It is testimony to their self-belief and their ambition that they have created a record that sounds this distinctive and so self-evidently contentious. It’s clear that Hang The Bastard want to sound like one band only- and that’s Hang the Bastard. ‘Sex in the Seventh Circle’ has echoes of stoner, doom, sludge and classic metal easing through its grooves- so what? At the end of the day ‘Sex in the Seventh Circle’ is, labels aside, proper, heavy, grown up fun.