Review

Review

Hour of 13: '333' – CD Review [NSFW]

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After suffering through a fairly awful weekend, I spent some quality time searching through my new music files in search of a sound evil enough to cleanse my brain with unholy fire. Thankfully I found just the ticket, in the form of the latest release from North Carolina-based “occult doom” unit Hour of 13. The follow-up to the excellent 2010 release The Ritualist, their third full-length record 333 finds core members Phil Swanson and Chad Davis plumbing the depths of old-school deep & dark rock in the mode of Black Sabbath, Pentagram, Saint Vitus, Cathedral, Witchfinder General and the like, but infusing it with enough tasty hooks to lift it out of the low-frequency sonic swamp. My own taste for classic-era doom was recently given a boost, thanks to last month's release of God Curse Us by mighty UK unit Witchsorrow (check out the review here), so I was ready for another go-round in the black pit of drop-tuned despair... and I came back happy as a crow. Read on for a track-by-track review of 333, as well as a sample song and some slightly NSFW promo art.
 
 
While 333 is a relatively brief album – just seven tracks, clocking in at around 45 minutes – it's refreshingly fat-free for a doom metal record, allowing enough of the low and slow heaviness to set up the atmosphere, then clearing the way for some solid and catchy vintage-style melodic riffage in the mode of Mercyful Fate. Frontman Swanson, who has dabbled in multiple bands over the years, also brings a nostalgic touch to the vocals, which at times reach the power of Ozzy's silvery tenor, though with a rougher and more melancholy edge. The monolithic opening riff of “Deny the Cross” launches the album with a balance of dark, ritualistic atmosphere and early '80s melodic hooks, sweet harmonized guitar leads and varied rhythms that remains in place for the duration; the following track “The Burning” adds some chunky chugging to that formula, giving it an energetic kick in the ass. 
 
Swanson's intense delivery shines brightest in “Rite of Samhain,” which also sports some classic Iron Maiden-style lead guitar work from Davis. “Spiral Vacuum” wallows in the fuzz-heavy warm bath of guitar murk that characterizes most doom and stoner metal, but it's got an infectious, more modern rhythm with a memorably beefy riff. “Who's to Blame?” drives the band fully into Sabbath territory again, but it's so vigorous and varied for a doom track that it never comes across as a knock-off; instead, it's actually one of the most representative cuts on the album, capturing all of the band's many strengths. However, “Sea of Trees” is not nearly as memorable, and seems a bit thick and meandering, even for a doom track. Thankfully, the record ends on an epic and energetic note with “Lucky Bones,” where the band briefly cast aside the cloak of darkness and kick in the '80s arena-rock vibe. It's a surprising departure from the tried-and-true formula, but it's still a helluva lot of fun.
 
 
Sure, it seems odd using the word "fun" to describe a doom-rock album... but somehow these cats manage to summon that certain infectious energy, with an emotional range that's sorely lacking in a lot of modern doom acts. If you're new to the whole genre, but love old-school metal in general, Hour of 13 might be an ideal band to get your toes wet before plunging head-on into the evil black depths the bands I mentioned at the beginning of this article (all of which you really should give a listen... but only when you're ready, young grasshopper), and 333 has plenty of catchy retro riffs to make the transition a smooth one. Fans of occult-themed vintage metal will also find a treasure trove in the ominous satanic lyrics and soaring melodies that weave through the dark landscape, and that's where Swanson, Davis and crew really get the job done. 
 
Oh yeah, and they have a semi-naked witch in their promos, so there's that.
 
 
There, I feel better already! Hopefully you will too, when you check out the wicked track “Who's to Blame?” below...
 

 

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