A clear standout on Shrapnel Records‘ early US power/heavy metal line-up before it became primarily a shred label, Hexx were a San Francisco, California based metal band that represented a bridge for the gap between NWOBHM and the burgeoning speed metal scene of the era. More Priest-like and traditionally influenced compared to some of their label-mates Hexx embodied one of the purest examples of US power metal in the early 80’s on their debut album ‘No Escape’. Whereas many of their contemporaries struggled to break their mold throughout the 80’s Hexx are perhaps entirely notable for their ability to incorporate modern influences from album to album going from Tyrant style speed metal to Sadus-esque death/thrash within a matter of 4-5 years. Though their discography isn’t as stylized or original as Manilla Road‘s original run, ‘No Escape’ remains a classic in underground 80’s heavy metal.
Produced by Guitar World legend and Shrapnel Records founder Mike Varney the spacious production of ‘No Escape’ is one of the finer examples of the power of analog production of the era and the distinct ‘live’ kick of the drums with just enough reverb on the drums that they push wildly behind the guitar performances. Much like Liege Lord and Tyrant around this same time the influence of ‘Killing Machine’-era Judas Priest and the ensuing NWOBHM soundalikes was entirely obvious in the overall execution of Hexx‘s speed metal guitar work. But shredding and leads weren’t what Hexx were all about, as vocalist Dennis Manzo truly carries this record with an effortless vocal performance that defines ‘No Escape’ more than any particular riff or shredding moment.
In hindsight the first Hexx album is perhaps more of a standout than it would have seemed back in 1984 and outside of the tawdry Scorpions-esque balladry of “Beware the Darkness” it represents my favorite middle ground between NWOBHM’s influence and the rise of speed metal aggression before ‘thrashing like a maniac’ crushed the old guard. Perhaps Hexx had more of their own distinct sound and personality on their 1986 album ‘Under the Spell’, though I liked Manzo‘s vocal more than his replacement, but I don’t think that is a good reason to overlook the incredibly tasteful pure heavy/speed metal of ‘No Escape’. It really is on par with some of the best of it’s class including early Metal Church, Helstar and to some degree Vicious Rumors. It may survive only in the shadow of Hexx‘s more distinct releases, and as a footnote for pure metal completionists, but for what it’s worth their debut is one of the finer examples of the grandeur of early 80’s US power/speed metal.
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Plunged into battling nightmares. 3.75/5.0
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