After my more than positive experience with Arkona (three albums reviewed, December 2008), I’ve started looking for eastern and Russian bands. This journey into the Slavic realms of metal started out with the Neoheresy album by solo-act Hellveto (November, 2008), and I’m not sure I’m able to stop again. The continuation has a very simple reason: I have yet to be disappointed. This also holds true for the latest eastern releases to hit my stereo: Two re-issues of what is apparently a legendary band in the Czech Rebublic.
Hell Symphony is the second album of Root, and was originally thrown into the headbanger’s fray as far back as 1991.
Root displays a purely Satanic position, based on LaVeyan foundations – the lead singer, Big Boss, actually founded the Czech branch of the Church of Satan. The band utilizes their views in both lyrics and in the theme of Hell Symphony. The first nine tracks are named after diverse entities of evil and/or chaos – four of which is used as names for the four main chapters in The Satanic Bible (Big Boss is the official Czech translator of this work). The remaining five titles are names mentioned in the list of Infernal Names in chapter four. The number “9” is also the number of Satanic Statements – the LaVeyan equivalent to the ten commandments. Thus remains three tracks which is connected chronologically: “The Prayer”, “The Oath” and “Satan’s March”.
The use of such a strict theme seems to work in two opposite ways. Firstly it creates a coherent – and thereby more complete – experience for the listener. This is where the “Symphony” part comes in. Just like in classical music, this album creates a collected mind picture. It inspires a meditative trance, because the brain is satisfied by repetition and recognizable symbols – be it music or TV commercials. Secondly it’s a risky business, because metalheads tends to like speed, aggression and versatility. The narrowness of the Satanic subject could easily handicap the creative process. Artists regularly blind themselves, trying to find the proverbial forest behind all the trees. This however is not the case with Hell Symphony, and I salute Root for picking a fight with the concept of conceptualism!
So, what weapons does Root bring to this fight? Guitar riffs ranging from the primitive to the elaborate – from the dual-accord-style of early black metal to the complexity of melodic doom. Elements of classical guitar-music abounds. The drums create the background – shifting between slow blast beats, grind and tough – though jazzy – part, penetrating the strings with a melody of their own.
The primary instrument, however, is the voice of Big Boss. Its hypnotic, deep and thunderous, no matter if he growls, sings or talks. He plays it, like a massive instrument, much in the same way as King Diamond, but without the piercing screams. It’s simply marvelous.
If I should compare this to anything I would say: A mixture of Venom and Bathory, but in contrast to those two bands, the lead singer of Root is brilliant.
The Book was initially released in 1999, and the band has clearly evolved a lot in those eight years.
The production quality is far better than on Hell Symphony, and Big Boss’ vocals has transformed from a raw and grubby heavy rock, albeit technically supreme, voice into something else. The serpent of Eden couldn’t possess a more beguiling or spellbinding tune. A German general couldn’t sound more intimidating. This is what melodic metal is supposed to sound like! I guess it’s true – the Devil has all the best tunes.
The conceptual overlay on The Book is less obvious than on Hell Symphony, and if I went into the details, this would look more like a conspiracy theory than a review. The LaVeyan line is kept in place, and the symphonic basics are left in. The Book has the repetitive refrains and the musical pattern is there. But so is a new, almost operatic, set of highlights. It’s far more dramatic – in the positive sense of the word.
The application of classical instruments, like cellos and violins – which was a rather new thing to metal in the late nineties, compared to the vivid overuse of it today – helps the metal along. Root makes them work together – many other bands just applies non-metal instrument “on top” of the music (the worst example: Metallica S/M – you really had to be a masochist to appreciate that one!).
All in all The Book is better than Hell Symphony, but not much. It’s a matter of which you like better: Progressive Rock n’ Metal a la Venom/Bathory with great vocals or progressive Doom/heavy a la Venom/Bathory with virtuoso vocals.
To mention of the few bad things about these reissued albums, I would like to point your attention to the foolery of putting “bonus” tracks on such re-releases. The original Hell Symphony and The Book albums didn’t have the live-takes or alternate versions (see the track lists below), and I would have preferred that for a number of reasons:
First of all, they are pointless. Just pointless. The tracks are on the albums already! These are rotten takes, by the way, and they do not pay credit to the band at all. Root deserves better. They also interrupt the progression of the “story” – a very important part of concept-albums, I should think. They are like false endings, bastard parasites sucking the blood out of otherwise excellent works of art. This is like drawing a moustache on Mona Lisa.
If reissues absolutely have to contain extra material put something relevant on it. Something that broadens the visage of the band.
Big Boss makes a guest appearance on the Ezkaton EP by renowned Polish black/death outfit Behemoth – an EP that I rated 95/100 in December. Big Boss delivers the lyrics of the Master’s Hammer cover “Jama Pekel”, and he does it very well. They could have put that on one of the albums, for example. That would make sense and be respectful. Big Boss and Root deserve that.