December 7, 2009

Hellsongs - Hymns in the Key of 666

Cover albums run the gamut from fantastic to hideous abominations with most falling somewhere in between. I cannot say that I have ever been able to come up with a formula as to what makes one good and one bad. It is much like movie remakes, on one hand we want the creative team to bring a unique and different vision to the familiar material but at the same time we want them to be slavish to the source with any deviation seen as a great sin. If you can come up with a formula of how to combat this (aside from saying "don't do remakes/covers" as we all know that is not going to happen, ever) let me know.

That brings me to the album at hand. It is a cover album by a group that goes by the name Hellsongs. They have taken some very recognizable metal and rock songs and completely deconstructed them and rebuilt them from the ground up into folky lounge style tunes with acoustic guitar, piano, and strings. Musically most of them are unrecognizable as their original incarnations. A melody here and there is all sometimes all that is kept, in addition to their lyrics. The final result is an album that is a breath of fresh air in the cover market.

It seems every band has a cover album or two floating around, either covers by them or of them by the likes if the ubiquitous Stringed Quartet or some random collection of up and coming taken covering songs of their heroes. How this particular project came about, I am not sure. I am just glad that it did and that I have had the opportunity to experience it.


As I look at the list of songs, I have to wonder how they went about deciding which songs to set there deconstructive sights on. I say this because the album it besides being an out there idea, the songs selected are an eclectic bunch. Covered artists include Iron Maiden, Europe, Slayer, Metallca, Twisted Sister, and Saxon. It is not exactly a line up you would ever expect to see all in one place, not on the same day anyway.

Besides the odd collection of artists, these cover versions are not merely "lounged up" or made comedic like a Richard Cheese track. No, Hellsongs is serious about the music they perform. Well, maybe there is a bit of a wink in it, but their covers are not meant to be laughed at. This is what it is like to let a creative force with a unique vision have its way with an established property. You will not necessarily like the result, but you have to respect them for doing the unexpected.

The tone applied to each song varies from cheery and upbeat ("Symphony of Destruction") to the sad and morose ("Rock the Night") and just about everything in between. Now, this is an album that is like a great mystery, you do not want to give away all of its secrets. You will be shocked to find out how great "Seasons in the Abyss" sounds in this new format. It may turn out to be an acquired taste, but it is one well worth working for.

While the music is good, it is not what makes Hellsongs covers work as well as they do. That would lie more on the shoulders of vocalist Harriet Ohlsson, who I was sad to discover is no longer with the band. In late 2008, after the original release of this album, they separated over creative differences. She was replaced by Siri Bergnéhr, whom I have not heard yet. However, Harriet Ohlsson's work cannot be overlooked here. She gives the song their mood, their feel, their very essence. Her voice is soft and expressive, haunting and intimate, and works perfectly with the material.

Bottomline. Not your typical metal fare, not your typical cover release. This is a breath of fresh air, a unique take on the creation of the cover album. Hellsongs has gone a long way to craft an album that stands out from the crowd, respects the source, and is very easy to listen to over and over again.

Highly Recommended.

Track list:

  1. The Trooper (Iron Maiden)
  2. Symphony of Destruction (Megadeth)
  3. Rock the Night (Europe)
  4. Seasons in the Abyss (Slayer)
  5. We're Not Gonna Take It (Twisted Sister)
  6. Blackened (Metallica)
  7. Thunderstruck (AC/DC)
  8. Run to the Hills (Iron Maiden)
  9. Paranoid (Black Sabbath)
  10. Princess of the Night (Saxon)

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