I vaguely remember hearing a joke years ago about how it's probably high time to end band practice for the night when your drummer suggests trying one of his songs for a change. Well, I think it's a safe bet that whoever came up with that one hadn't played with Joe Hasselvander. Known primarily for pounding the skins with US doom metal cult sensation Pentagram and then NWOBHM greats Raven (and briefly UK doom metallers Cathedral), the man has proven himself plenty versatile via his drumming alone, proving equally at home delivering the slow-brewed sonic sludge of Pentagram as he is Raven's early blueprints for speed and thrash metal. But as anyone who has heard Pentagram's "Review Your Choices" or his previous Hounds of Hasselvander material knows, he can also play a little guitar – and write some pretty damn solid tunes with it too.
The second full-length (and third overall) release for the Hounds, "The Ninth Hour" finds Hasselvander augmenting what has basically been a one-man band on record with two new recruits: keyboardist Paolo Apollo Negri and former Pentagram/ Death Row cohort Martin Swaney on bass. Our man Joe handles guitar and vocal duties in addition to his usual tubs, and does so in totally appropriate, Sabbath-approved doom fashion.
Opening with a lumbering, dark and ugly twelve-minute title track may scare off the fainthearted, but for those who brave this long death trudge will find it is actually pretty damn enjoyable, and more easily digestible goodies quickly arrive in the form of the menacing "Heavier Than Thou" and the likeable lowlife sludge of "Suburban Witch." The beautifully morose and melancholy "Restless Soul," "Salem" and epic closer "Coming of the King" are long, dark and ugly in a manner similar to "The Ninth Hour," but in a way that is always, at minimum, engaging and at its best, downright captivating, leaving the listener hypnotized by its deceptively slothy presentation. I particularly enjoy the moments when Hasselvander manages to lace his doom-laden riffing with tasty, melodic guitar work, such as the elegant (but not overly polished) lead lines in the aforementioned "Coming of the King." And so appropriate is the inclusion of Mountain's "Don't Look Around" that it took me a minute to realize it was a cover tune when I first heard it, despite being familiar with the original version!
All in all, quite solid, with even the longest tracks managing to steer clear of boredom-inducing levels of sloth. Hasselvander's vocals have a cool vibe to them as well, often showing a vaguely Ozzy-esque quality that suits the material well, while adding some Lemmy-like grit on "Suburban Witch." And while he's no Yngwie, his guitar work is certainly up to the task at hand, lending a raw and occasionally rough touch that only adds to the feeling that this is the coolest "side project"-type-thing you're likely to hear this year – like hearing some really cool, home-made demos by a talented friend tinkering around with a four-track and their guitar, just for the fun of it. Only better.
About this Writer: Vinaya Saksena // Vinaya is either a writer who dabbles in guitar playing, or a guitar player who dabbles in writing. A Maximum Metal staffer since 2004, he has also served as a reporter for several newspapers in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Although his obsession with music is such that it does not allow time for much else by way of hobbies, he also enjoys traveling, trivia, photography, British comedy and the occasional A-Team re-run.
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