TEMPLE OF DREAD – Hades Unleashed (2021)REVIEW

If only he had thrown me underground, / down there in Hades, which receives the dead, / in Tartarus, through which no one can pass, / and cruelly bound me there in fetters / no one could break, so that none of the gods / or anyone else could gloat at my distress. / But now the blowing winds toy with me here, / and the pain I feel delights my enemies.” Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Though they have twisted the fabric of their attack by a number of subtle degrees on this third full-length album and in doing so allowed for a more theatrical dynamic, the core of northern German death metal trio Temple of Dread‘s attack is still assuredly the physical violence of late 80’s death/thrash metal aggression; Bluntly swinging riffs and blazing speed conjure a vortex in mind wherein brutality is a happy side-effect of their kill-obssessed, mythologically inspired tonal clobber. At face value ‘Hades Unleashed‘ is both a slightly more adventurous aesthetic and a more daring than prior iteration of style while still managing to be the same tried-and-true beast under the hood. All that the they’d presented on the previous two albums is here: Murderous ‘Seasons in the Abyss’-esque songwriting the double-bass hammering jog of Obituary‘s first three albums and a healthy dose of early Pestilence. The result is simply more polished, the pacing quite a bit better, and well… What else needs to be said? In fact this third time around is so powerfully stated, delivered almost entirely by sheer force, that the subtle differences within won’t add up until you’ve spent some considerable time weighing progress versus decadence in view of the whole discography thus far. Cliché as this statement will inevitably read, ‘Hades Unleashed’ really is the best album to date from these Spiekeroog-based fellowes and I think it is at least worth arguing.

Formed by guitarist Markus Bünnemeyer (Thrashhammer, Slaughterday) in 2017 and soon joined by two quite well known folks/friends in well-respected sound engineer/drummer Jörg Uken and Jens Finger whom is best known for his time in Obscenity starting in the mid-90’s and as a founding member of Slaughterday. So, the cards were in their favor from the start even if just for the sake of these being true veterans and their style reflected that on their first album (‘Blood Craving Mantras‘, 2019) which naturally resembled the space between classic German and Dutch death metal modus via some serious interest in early 90’s death metal and kill-tones of late 80’s thrash metal. I’d gone into enough detail in a review for that first album and didn’t have much new to say about ‘World Sacrifice‘ (2020) when it released the following year beyond noting some slower sections. In the wind tunnel inhabited solely by folks who stay true to the ‘old school’ and don’t look past 1993 in their exploration of death metal a band like this is respected for never fully straying from the true attack of the -actual- old school and avoiding the shame of plain imitation, but they are also seen as a bit wild for not taking the usual routes in translation of thrash metal influences. I think it takes this perspective to understand why ‘Hades Unleashed’ is both a bold (to some) and subtle (to others) step away from the norm for Temple of Dread despite the album being pretty straight forward upon surface-level examination. The boundaries are intact but they’ve found a few places to lift up the chain-link and explore in the shadows.

The first thing to note about this band in general is the silent partner in lyricist Frank Albers who now steers away from themes of mayhem and ritualism to an action-oriented vision of debauchery and violence found in (largely) Greek mythology — From the fiery eagle dining on Prometheus’ vital organs, the realm of the dead, clashes with Gorgons and mythic vengeance upon the city of Pompeii these aren’t scholarly examinations but well-written lyrics that visualize visceral horrors and cursed places revealed as indicated by the album title. This turns out to be an exciting enough subject for the attack first, attack later ethos of Temple of Dread who’d barely spent two minutes of their time slowing down between two ~35 minute albums in the past. Maybe the subject matter inspired some manner of visualization that lead to a pronounced number of shifts in pacing but we can at least walk away from ‘Hades Unleashed’ confident that it is their most capably woven blend of moods and movement to date. “Threefold Agony” probably mixes it up the most to start and “Nefarious, I” comes close to hitting a sort of Celtic Frost-esque note with some of its chunked-out riffing and ringing dissonant chords but they’ve packed “Procession to Tartarus” at the very end of the album to great effect as the most “doomed” piece on offer and probably the strongest follow-up for what they’d been touching upon on the previous album. That said, pacing isn’t what makes this record worth talking about it is just worth noting that these guys are still getting there in terms of presenting a well-rounded full listen that isn’t just a blast from start to finish.

The true test of an ‘old school’ influenced extreme metal band? Songwriting worth remembering and Temple of Dread have gained the most ground in this respect if the listener can overlook the hard-barking, flatly shouted nature of this type of thrash influenced death metal. I can’t emphasize enough that ‘Hades Unleashed’ plays like a Slayer album front to back, that is to say that they’ve got plenty of Sodom-sized curveballs and such to throw around but as we go from the haunting melody of opener “Aithon’s Hunger” to the opening riff to “Necromanteion” these are the dressed bones of very classic thrash metal forms and, for my own taste, brilliant in terms of giving Temple of Dread a voice beyond the usual touches of post-‘Leprosy’ death metal out of northern Europe. As we press on through the album you won’t necessarily need the tracklist to know where you are at, and I know it will sound funny to some folks but most of these songs feature part of the song title within their hook. This isn’t so uncommon within most death/thrash metal circles but it means something that “Whores of Pompeii” was still stuck in my head as I circled back for another full listen. The other side of the coin is that this drills each song into mind against the grain and can become grating over time. Any other notes on the album may very well be overstating the obvious; The production from Uken is at a prime point of balance that still allows the guitars to reign supreme, the riffs scourge the mind as a result. The album cover is a fine touch even if I don’t like the font used for the logo much, Paolo Girardi can do no wrong in my book in depiction of floods of horrors and strong perspective pieces with plenty of movement fit for an extreme metal album. It is a harsh, screaming bully of a death/thrash metal record that will knock the wax from your ears and for my own taste that amounts to a proper and heavily repeated listen. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Hades Unleashed
LABEL(S):Testimony Records
RELEASE DATE:July 23rd, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Death Metal,
Death/Thrash Metal

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