Sunday, June 28, 2015

Brutal Hand - Brual Hand / Unchain The World / Purgatory's Rage

I had originally written reviews for all three of Brutal Hand's albums to be posted on Contaminated Tones and, with sincere hope, guide some fans to this American Heavy Metal band. The problem was that I wrote those reviews literally a year ago after the generous donation of Jimmy Herrera sending me their two early albums. After listening over and over to all three of the albums - Metal on Metal offered Purgatory's Rage to me via download and I went ahead and bought the killer release after a few months of listening to rid myself of those god damn voice overs they were putting on their promos way back when (no longer apparently) - I've been won over not only by the material present but by the persistence of the band. Jimmy implied that though there has been little information provided as to the current situation that there will hopefully be more material coming in the future. I get the impression that there is a rumbling amongst these guys creatively that forces them to keep coming back to put material out, albeit in a slow decisive manner.

While I hope this is the case, I can't provide proof and so a rumor begins amongst the few that care for progressive underground metal where the bands don't rhyme with 'ween easier' or 'blowpeth'. I am in desperate hope, however, that the rumor proves true. Listening to the self titled debut, Brutal Hand, is a rare experience in the metal annals. With equal mixture of hard rock, heavy metal, and progressive elements, it's carries the weight of a record to be listened to over and over for a long period of time while at the same time retaining the essence of underground sensibility and local production. You could see this band at a local show, not knowing who or where they came from, and be amazed. And yet, ironically, it is true that bands such as Brutal Hand are forgotten almost as quickly as they are downloaded into the mental labyrinth of our brains and the digital structure of our hard drives. They deserve more. Brutal Hand's style may cause ennui up front so hold out on making an immediate judgement. Their brand of metal is similar to the 90's era of Fates Warning in that it skirts metal and progressive rock at many junction points. Brutal Hand is essentially a giant open-palmed hold-yer-horses type of listening experience when you get down to it.

Looking back at my hand written review (my notes essentially for this article) of Brutal Hand's Purgatory's Rage, I declared that Brutal Hand elicited the inquisitive listening experience I reserve for exactly this type of material. Is it Power Metal? Doom Metal? Could it be best described as plain ole Heavy metal? It's really somewhere between all of these and yet Brutal Hand sounds like none of these. I blame this conundrum on their penchant for hard rock mentality. In my review of Brutal Hand's debut I even claimed that the excellent "Room to Breathe" was Mr. Big-esque and I described their sound as skirting arena rock, - likely to be taken as a deterrent by many brainwashed genre-hugging metalheads - Heavy Metal, and Modern Metal. The albums are eclectic, wide open, and often subtly temporal. Whatever the facts are in regards to Brutal hand's music, the simplest characterization is that their three albums are a kick-ass rocking force. Take that for whatever you want. Prepare yourself for strong melodies, ballads with a sense of tragedy, and some unbelievable musicianship.

One of the keys to Brutal Hand's material which appears across all three albums is the penchant for not sitting on riffs when they don't have to and riding riffs perfectly when they can. "Focus" off their debut is a perfect example. The verses combine a steady bass-guitar beat with strong memorable vocals. The same vibe appears on Purgatory's Rage in highlight track "Dying Sun,"  and it was here when I started to hear Hagar era Van Halen influences which made me reexamine at the entirety of the material again. Initially it was Freddy Ferell's vocals which drew this comparison but I started to hear more similarities over the listening span. While Brutal Hand's material doesn't offer the killer production of 5150, the quality is just as top-notch writing wise. "Best of Both Worlds" is similar to the previously mentioned  "Room to Breathe." The ability to ride strong riffs is further emphasized with "Darkness" off Unchain The World in which the introductory bass riff repeates for most of a minute, and in which the verse is precisely monitored and breaks into a killer keyboard-led bridge after thirty second segments. The comparison really indicates a single noteworthy characteristic: maturity.

Unchain The World and Brutal Hand are the rarer of the trio of records and, in my opinion, contain better individual songs. Brutal Hand leads off with the doomy "March of the Condemned," a sluggish trek to the gallows. While the early songs on the release are strong - "1314" has moments and The Tenant" as well and fourth track "Brutal Hands" is, as previously mentioned, killer material, it's at seventh track that the trio of "Brutal Hands", "Red Lightning", and "To Hell In A Limousine" leave the largest impact, especially for those looking for those lost Heavy Fucking Metal tracks to throw a loop in so called connoisseurs claims they know everything out there. "Brutal Hands" is the gateway track to the album for me as I picked up on it first, and it leaves the feeling of gritty southern rock and hard rock. Brad Bowles' vocals are awesome and after the mediocre "In The Heart of the Young," he runs rampant on "Red Lightning," which is the fastest track here. It's a let-loose Heavy Metal track. The same could be said for "To Hell in a Limousine," one of the more evocative images I've seen in a song title in quite a while, which borrows a lot of stylings from Judas Priest's Stained Class era to my ears. Final track "Focus" has great moments, such as the Maidenesque chorus section, mizzled throughout an otherwise dull culmination.

Unchain The World, though, was a huge step forward for Brutal Hand in terms of writing and overall sound. The production on the debut was amateurish compared to the mixing of Unchain The World. It's immediate from the first rung of the ladder that Unchain The World is a different beast. The overall vibe is somehow darker and there is a fine atmosphere lingering beneath Joe Hendrick's bass-heavy rhtyhms and Ed Herrera's guitar playing. It's difficult to pinpoint but it's the combination of distantly mixed drums provided by JImmy Herrera and wispy keyboard flourishes that open a tap of unique fluidity that floods the tracks. Starting with "Heart of Stone," the album starts off strong but the first glimpse of the power weilded is "Darkness," which yields a driving and persistent mass. "Out of Time" would fit well on Crimson Thunder if Hammerfall were just slightly more downtrodden and, well... not Hammerfall. "Burning Sea" is another powerful ballad with Ferrell mimicking Bruce Dickinson's proclamatory vocal style rather well. The top track here though is the title track, "Unchain The World," which is about as anthemic as Manowar riding horses made of sewn-together parts of random deathcore musicians into heaven to do battle with God.

Purgatory's Rage is a different beast of a record compared to the previous two aided by the strength of Metal on Metal records and the experience of the two previous records. As usual, excellent artwork from Jowita Kaminska and well presented booklet compared to the foldout design of Unchain the World and Brutal Hand. Once again there is a paradox with this record. The loudest instrument is the bass - which is fine with me as a bassist, especially considering the really great playing of Joe Hendricks - which provides most of the driving force of the record compared to a rather oppressed guitar tone. The keys often end up with a similar timbre to the crash and splash cymbals which on poor speakers and systems could be a confusing jumble. Listening on headphones here is ideal, as separations in mixing become more noticeable. Purgatory's Rage is a very consistent album, more-so than the eponymous record and Unchain The World. The middle run of tracks is very strong in it's pacing beginning with "Dying Sun" and ending with "Earth."

Front to back this is a great listening experience. "Dying Sun" as previously mentioned is definitely the highlight here for me though "Karma" is powerful as well. Even now listening back as I finish this review up I'm discovering stuff I've not noticed before such as the killer lead guitar work and Deep Purple styled keyboard flair in "Stand on It". "Sandra" acts as an excellent ballad mid-way through the album. "Blame" channels Iron Maiden with a big chugging gallop throughout the song's instrumental section. "Earth" is a super tense track and makes the best use of the dense atmosphere Brutal Hand have summoned. I'm not a big fan of "Fire Son" because of the over-zealous usage of the keyboard theme. "Metal Rules" is a fun track but nothing to gawk about.

At this point in time it's going to be tough to find the first two albums anywhere. I wouldn't spend a whole paycheck on them but they're worth a Jackson (while he's still on the bill) if you get the chance. Used bin prices are definitely worth spending on them and I wouldn't let either of them pass by in that situation. Purgatory's Rage is a decent addition to an order from Metal on Metal but you'd probably want to sample a few tracks previously. No one wants to find themselves up the wrong alley. This is music for seasoned listeners looking for a new and unique sounding release to dwell on. The accolades you'll reap from Brutal Hand won't be from some friend exploring your record collection and being amazed that you have them; you'll be rewarded from a more solitary listening experience with these underrated records.

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