HELLFOX – THE CALL
Label: Music For The Masses Records
Author: Kira L. Schlechter
02. Our Lady Of Sorrows
04. Nothing Really Ends
06. Your Name
07. Bleeding Machine
08. Dead Star (Remastered Bonus Track)
Some bands come out of the womb as infants, unformed, tentative, a little ragged around the edges. Others are born nearly as adults, developed, fully realized, ready for the big time. The Italian melodic death/alternative metal band HELLFOX is most certainly the latter.
On their debut album “The Call” clean singer Greta Antico and harsh vocalist Priscilla Foresti (who also plays bass), guitarist Gloria Capelli, and drummer Federica Piscopo show absolutely no awkwardness. Theirs is an effort full of maturity, self-confidence and assuredness.
The terrific opener “Haunted” is set to a thunderous but not oppressive rolling, tumbling groove that pulls you inexorably along like the devil’s waltz. It’s a personification of ‘that voice inside’ (as they describe, one that “draws you in and pushes you into a place where all your demons are gathered”), and it’s excellently done, with vivid lines like “In the unknown… it’s made of its own light / Hanging in the night” and “A place of despair / She wants you there / You’re a useless body / Desire her!” Priscilla’s harsh vocals are nicely varied, from a deep-throated bellow to a slightly higher near-scream – they could be slightly better defined in the mix (maybe better mic’ed) so you could hear the words more clearly and appreciate the variety of her delivery, but that’s a minor criticism. Greta’s ringing clean voice on the chorus is the siren’s call, and you really get the idea of that internal torment: “How can you resist her voice calling you? / That awful dirge in your head / Can you feel her fingernail in your jaw, pulling you” (that’s such good imagery, too, isn’t it?). The restrained solo section is a tantalizing bit of organ, Gloria’s muscular guitar, and another ever-so-slightly overdubbed take on the chorus, and some chilling effects bring it to an unsettling close.
Organ and Priscilla’s evocative bass lead into Gloria’s chugging riff that’s the ferocious backbone of the first single “Our Lady of Sorrows” (she switches it up too in the first verse, she’s got a great musical sensibility). It’s a call-and-response, an invocation to the goddess (delivered by Greta) and her response (from Priscilla), Greta pleading: “Rise from the mountains, Queen of night” and Priscilla answering: “Lady of sorrows / No one can hush / No one should cage / How you dare?” She is deliverance, as Greta says (“You don’t recognize this earth / Your fingers linger on her creatures”), but she also demands sacrifice, which she happily accepts (“I’m awake, I accept you / Your tears, your blood, your pain / Are not in vain”, Priscilla roars). The chorus is more of that, a line-by-line conversation that’s just fantastic. After the final one, drums and organ provide a vivid, and visual, fadeout. It’s everything you want sonically and lyrically and structurally. It’s visceral and supremely musical.
“Raising” depicts a “character who invokes an entity that should grant a wish”, but it goes awry. Gloria’s crunchy, terse riff is the base for another call-and-response with the two singers. The beginning is actually the end result of the story in retrospect (“What have I done? (What have you done) / What have I become? (What have you become?”), which is so sophisticated in terms of storytelling. Greta describes the ritual in the first verse with her rich, rounded, velvety tones (“I made my white circle on the ground / Set the fire, set the stones, the bones and the blood”) begging “I want to change, become powerful”. The chorus is so wonderful with its tentativeness and questioning (“Am I doing that right? I don’t wanna lose control”), but yet gradually succumbing to the temptation (“…yet I feel so good, darkness, I want more”). The rhythm changes ever so slightly in the chorus too, becoming erratic and slippery and gaining a loose, seductive swing as the action warrants. By the second verse, she realizes she’s gone too far (“I want to stop, ‘cause I have no limits”), even though “It’s written everything would be alright if I raised my hands to the sky”, but it’s too late. The bridge is Priscilla as the entity claiming victory (“You fit so well, we’ll feed each other for the rest of our lives”) and she plays that role perfectly. The last chorus strips down to just Greta and a keyboard melody, and when she delivers that last line by herself, “Darkness, I want more”, it’s SO effective in conveying the action of the song – indeed she’s lost herself to the entity and you’ve seen it coming throughout. I can’t say enough about their songwriting.
“Nothing Really Ends” shines because of its focused attention to musical detail: the subtle change in tempo midway through the verses, the little quiet musical interlude and guitar flourish before the chorus that makes it resonate even more, the big hollow drums in the chorus. It’s a midtempo ballad about loss, either a breakup or even a passing, but damn – the restraint, the emotion without histrionics, the lovely little details (“The smell of your clothes / The way you held my hands / All those habits”) make it so much more. Greta’s voice aches and soars but lacks overwrought melodrama. And Gloria’s solo literally weeps, the pain pouring out without cliche, the chords underneath just making it more and more potent. When it ends on that same prechorus keyboard melody, you’re drained.
The instrumental “Rebirth”, with its eerie keyboards and almost Rush-like guitar melodies, has three distinct sections, including the harrowing final one where Gloria’s guitar swells to a siren-like scream in a reprise of the initial melody. It’s brief and just enough.
The erratic tempos, orchestration, and keyboards are stellar in “Your Name”, echoing the inner turmoil of “a person who no longer knows what to do and doesn’t want to be helped” as they say, one with four parts of themselves left: fear, rage, hate, and pain. And each of those aspects is described by really insightful commentary. Fear is inertia: “You hide in darkness / Nothing moves you”. Rage “Kicks and gallops / In your boiling blood… the scream that makes you mighty”. Hate is rejection: “You felt the warm touch of your own kind / But as you can’t have it / You reject all them, grinning”. And pain is isolation: “Now that your hate calmed down / You are alone with yourself”. Again, the singers alternate in the verses and unite in the chorus – where triphammer drumming goes intriguingly at odds with a 6/8 vocal rhythm – to reflect that psychological back-and-forth. This is perhaps the most experimental track to this point, it’s hard to pin down and that’s a very good thing.
Airy, chiming guitar juxtaposed with earthier bass is the delicate start to “Bleeding Machine”, then jagged, metallic guitar establishes the tone and the rhythm. Greta delivers the verses, but the chorus is again she and Priscilla trading off on lines like “I don’t have anything human / I’m not human at all” in that great yin-yang that they have – Priscilla serving as the destructive inner voice, Greta as the weary observer of her own condition, her delivery almost deadpan (Priscilla’s scream on “I’m just a bleeding machine” is potent punctuation). The slower groove in the chorus shifts in intensity midway through to mimic the growing realization that the enemy is within – “The monster under the bed / But something’s wrong” becomes “Nothing hides under the bed / You must fear only yourself / I looked ‘cause I was afraid / And I found myself”. There’s some really self-aware lyrics here, in keeping with how they described the song: “If you don’t feel at par with the world or if you don’t find your place, many behaviors seem forced” – lines like “I can only mime what I see / Trying to make it mine” and “Agony for the human touch / Social mores are my cage”.
The quirky “Dead Star” might be a bonus track, but there’s nothing extraneous or throwaway about it. Again laden with intriguing tone and rhythmic changes, it’s about that striving for “that desired perfection she can barely touch” that all women seem to have in one form or another. The first verse is a gorgeously poetic description of that: “She swims into an anthrax sky / Holding tight the rags of her heart / She twinkles pulses, runs in circles / And when she sees the others falling down / She makes a wish”. But that pursuit is “a black hole… a distant monster”, Priscilla reminds, one that will eventually suck you up and spit you out. The chorus is very nearly pop in sound and rhythm at first (Greta almost cheerfully singing “She dances into the light and the dust / Seems to explode while her heart collapses”), but what it then becomes by its end is something else entirely – she intoning: “Look how she burns”, Priscilla adding: “Perfection before the end”, to a dirge-like tread. The bridge is Gloria’s brief but impactful solo and Greta’s final caution, “This is the price to glow alone / While you feed your own darkness / With everyone else’s light / You will fall”, which leads perfectly into the final chorus and the last words: “I can see you” – that is, I am like you, I do as you do.
“The Call” is a deeply feminist, deeply female album – there’s power and strength and vulnerability and weakness. There’s touches of mysticism and the supernatural and plenty of the intimate and personal. It’s brilliant, an early contender for my album of the year.