Here’s a question: Is it possible for death-doom to be fun? One word describes dying and demise, while the other suggests condemnation through acts of destruction, rack and ruin. While it’s not exactly an upbeat descriptor, it does appear to track for an extreme metal subgenre that takes pride in a morose funeral aesthetic and riffage that feels glacial and lugubrious.
Finnish outfit Hooded Menace know this fact all too well. The press release for their sixth album, The Tritonus Bell, goes to great lengths to comfort devoted fans and hardcore aficionados of the death-doom sound, insisting that the band has not ‘lost their way’: the record is described as “up-tempo (but never fast),” with strong influences from “early Candlemass and Cathedral,” alongside “Paradise Lost, Autopsy, Asphyx, and Winter.”
So far, so good. But here’s the thing: That glorious album cover almost gives away the ghost. With painted artwork from legendary artist Wes Benscoter (AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Slayer), The Tritonus Bell looks like something ripped straight from He-Man and Masters of the Universe: bright, electric hues of lapis lazuli, spectral trails of captured souls, the grimmest of grim reapers, and a giant cartoonish greyskull-come-bell with missing teeth.
Another quick look at that press release makes the band’s intent all-too clear: “harsh death metal fuelled outbursts and exquisite melodic melancholy” thrown together with “classic ‘80s heavy metal, such as King Diamond and Mercyful Fate,” making for their “catchiest song material to date.”
Now, some may raise an eyebrow or two at the pairing of “catchy” and death doom but rest assured, it’s entirely deliberate here. On LP#6, Hooded Menace make death-doom as exuberant and entertaining as possible. This isn’t some bleak, sorrowful elegy. It’s a collection of electrifying ragers played at rumbling half-speed, suffused with an atmosphere of macabre fantasy and skeletal horror.
Opener “Chthonic Exordium” runs for barely a minute but it’s more than enough to act as a fitting mood piece. The title conjures up thoughts of some excavated subterranean lair, unearthed for the first time and ready to reveal long-hidden secrets. Sonically, however, Lasse Pyykkö’s delicate solo licks radiate out into the dark of night with clean guitar lines cast against pouring rain and rolling thunder. Squint really hard and it’s almost like you’re listening to Ride The Lightning.
That is, of course, until guttural chants announce “Chime Diabolicus,” a lumbering, chugging behemoth bolstered by Pyykkö’s Carcass-adjacent riffage and the pummeling rhythms of guitarist Teemu Hannonen and drummer Pekka Koskelo.
When vocalist Harri Kuokkanen finally arrives with a throaty bellow and demonic shriek, his performance lands like a heavy and hell-raising sermon: “A dismal epitaph/ Across the wind/ For doom the bell tolls/ Echoes from the other side.”
Lead single “Blood Ornaments” and the colossal “Scattered Into Dark” easily cross the nine-minute mark, flirting with moments of washed-out ambience, bludgeoning double-kick cavalcades, and throttled tempo shifts that gallop in and out with a decidedly headbang flair.
On “Corpus Asunder,” Kuokkanen leans right into gothic theatricality, reciting an opening lamentation for “asphyxiated dreams,” before dropping right back into a morbid roar that echoes the cyclical fate of cosmic insignificance and “celestial bodies” ground forever into dust.
Offering up midnight ruminations on curses and the “carnal disguise” of the afterlife, “Those Who Absorb The Night” is guided along by serpentine lead passages and wavering bends before pitching into a stomping finale that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dio record, backed by soaring harmonies and eerie melodic undercurrents. Instrumental closer “Instruments of Somber Finality” works to bring everything full circle, linking back to the heavy metal inspirations of the album’s opener.
And, if you needed any further convincing that the ‘80s were front and centre for Hooded Menace when creating The Tritonus Bell, the album release also contains a cover of W.A.S.P.’s “The Torture Never Stops,” which was—regrettably—admitted from this reviewer’s advance copy. Nonetheless, and despite this absence, it likely rocks too.
Much like 2018’s Ossuarium Silhouettes Unhallowed, Hooded Menace’s latest record has the cavernous guitar tone and grim riffage one expects from a standard death-doom entry. And yet, by design, The Tritonus Bell also hits different to previous efforts. Pyykkö’s quicksilver leads are more playful and dexterous here, while producer and engineer Andy LaRocque lends the record a dynamic sheen that feels rich and vibrant.
Somehow managing to balance this stylistic shift while also retaining their penchant for sludgy morass, Hooded Menace have figured out how to do death-doom with honest-to-Elder Gods hooks, and it fits them like an executioner’s glove.
Pre-order The Tritonus Bell here.