Paper is a deceptive medium. It always has been. Insidiously, paper sits idly by and lets people scrawl out visions that look like can’t miss propositions until they get into planning and ultimately, execution. Paper never voices an opinion or contrarian voice – it never gives any indication that the information encoded on it might be faulty or without merit. So when From Hell, a band composed of members of Nevermore, Slayer and Death Angel slides across the desk, promising a semi-concept album full of crafted horror stories, it seems like a great idea…on paper.
From Hell, led by headman and vocalist George Anderson, seeks to take a page out of the Autopsy playbook for their new album “Ascent from Hell” by attempting to craft visceral imagery of psychosis and terror. To add another layer on, Anderson tells these stories with something resembling the natural gravity and affect of early-era King Diamond, using the pitch and timbre of his voice to try and impart suspense and dread into the narrative. It’s not that Anderson’s voice so resembles the King, but merely that the manner and context of his delivery is patterned after the master. Where From Hell succeeds is in tying the supernatural into the more believable, hence the duality of consecutive songs like “Eyes of My Dead” and “Nun With a Gun.”
The band is additionally backed by the throaty bass of veteran Damien Sisson, the lead guitar of Steve Smyth and the ever-present drums of do-it-all percussionist Paul Bostaph. These experienced players display promising moments like the rumble of opener “Standing at the Mouth of Hell.” There’s a strain of hostility threaded through the constructions that’s hard to falsify.
By and large though, the music of From Hell is messy and uninspired. While Autopsy’s music is so strung out and bled dry as to help conjure the mental picture of a blasted, hellish world, From Hell’s music lies in no-man’s land. Their technicality isn’t put on display to the point where it’s truly laudable, but neither is the arrangement so far askew as to be artistic or academically compelling. Neither do they take the Behemoth route and attempt to devise such an impregnable wall of sounds that the sheer volume of it is intimidating. So what’s left is a sort of middle-of-the-road slurry for cuts like “Soul Crusher” that sound angry enough, but after minutes of repetition comes off as milquetoast, a so-so vehicle for the lyrics of Anderson.
Speaking of repetition, it’s worth noting that the selections on “Ascent from Hell” are almost universally too long. There’s a point at which the songs have made their point and roll on directionless, meandering through more measures of what essentially amounts to the same music. There’s not a lot of variation within each track, and so making a song like “Psycho Killer” eclipse the eight minute mark seems a questionable decision when the same song could have been written in six. Nearly all the cuts could have been reduced or tightened up by ten percent, making for more impactful or at least more insistent and suspenseful storytelling.
The From Hell concept is so laden with promise that it’s hard to believe it falls so short. Each musicians involved in this project is much more talented than this album would lead you to believe, so there’s always hope that any subsequent From Hell albums might hit closer to the mark. In the meantime, “Ascent from Hell” is a pass.