HELLISH – The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents (2022)REVIEW

Infused with chaotic dread, possessed by malevolent spirits and forced to focus on their craft at stabbing speed Chilean blackened thrash metal quartet Hellish propose an unholy arrival of pure evil thrash metal doctrine from a darkest realm, one of armageddon age terror and resurrected arcane pantheon hell-bent on cataclysmic decimation of mankind. Their third full-length album ‘The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents‘ yet achieves a thinking man’s sentience under the grip of this new daimonian caste, no less obsessed with death spells and occult tales as its ~34 minute rifling cracks off with darkest introspective intensity. The result is inarguably one of the best thrash metal releases of the year.

Formed in Peñaflor circa 2010 by members of Armored Knight and then former Ripper guitarist Cristian León the focus of Hellish has always been on morbid thrash metal and I don’t say “blackened” up front for the sake of invoking bands like Merciless, Necronomicon (Deu) and Protector first before we reach for the nods to the core Venom influenced stuff (Kreator, Possessed, Sarcófago, et al.) since I think this distinction is important for the well-trained ear. Harsh, raw, and absolutely ‘old school’ down to their sinew these fellowes would build up their repertoire for a number of years, eventually shifting the multi-talented León onto drums and adding Javier Salgado (Parkcrest, Hemisferio, et al.) on second guitar before they’d put out their first album. Since I detailed some of that history when I’d positively reviewed their excellent second full-length (‘The Spectre of Lonely Souls‘, 2018) the important point to make is that these guys had truly refined a still raw, blackened and death-worshipping form of classic thrash destruction in their first ten years. If you are keen on routing out all necessary precedence and happen to like early Destruction and nowadays bands like Deathhammer, Inculter, and Mayhemic then the past discography of Hellish is absolutely necessary. But hey, we aren’t here to necessarily look back but forward and these folks have brilliantly honed their craft since we last checked in with ’em.

After the ‘Poison‘ (2019) 7″ the band seemed to be on an inspired trajectory with all systems go despite many other equally fine projects being juggled amongst its members. Hellish didn’t appear to miss a beat when longtime vocalist/bassist Necromancer left the band in plague year MMXX as Christopher Aravena of black/thrash metal band Necromantic Forces soon filled the void, making his debut on the thus far under-celebrated ‘The Vermis Mysteriis‘ (2021) 7″ which’d done a fine job of presaging the absolute thrashing-mad beast that ‘The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents‘ is. Consider the shift between those two 7″ records the step between ‘Pleasure to Kill‘ and ‘Terrible Certainty‘ for Kreator, nothing was lost in terms of style but the band had clearly worked on finer production values and more technical guitar work during the pandemic fallout. This transition is made all the more impressive for the fact that Aravena completely shows up for those songs, and even more on this album, in a big way both as a wilding vocalist with plenty of venom behind every word and as an excellent bassist prominently featured in the many rhythmic turn n’ burning shifts this new record presents. At this point we can start to consider Hellish more than an especially good retro-black/thrash experience and instead a true ‘old school’ thrash metal standard met by a modern band, setting them next to current greats a la Demoniac.

Unphased, altered by experience yet still obsessed with their tunnel of maniac rhythms Hellish slash through the collective eight minutes of opener “The Ancient Entity of the Darkest Light” and immediate follow-up “Black Stones” with such a fury that the detail they’ve packed into each feels like bolt of black lightning to ailing senses, a punch through the pavement that’d release a hundred demons upon the psyche (in the form of riffs.) Though the furor with which they’ve delivered these pieces is impressive it is worth noting up front that the dual rhythm guitar attack is as precise and impactful as it has ever been, this much we could’ve expected after ‘The Vermis Mysteriis‘ but Aravena‘s vocals are especially potent this time around, rasping with fearsome corrosion which amplifies the non-stop aggression of those first two songs. The opening bass guitar solo gives us a hint of the core motif which they’ve built their cacophony of riffs from, this sort of showmanship would’ve been considered progressive in the late 80’s but as Chilean musicians redefine the thrash metal spheres year-over-year it is a necessary point of mastery to present up front. They have arrived and yes, the sophistication of returned Hellish is immediately obvious yet no less neck-shatteringly delivered.

Echoing down the chasmic throat of a gored leviathan corpse “Violent, Bloody & Cold” gnashes an unholy mid-paced tarantella to start, a nauseous melodicism delivered just as the melee of the opening pieces demanded a narrative turn. As they wing through the first guitar solo we begin to breathe deepest of the signature of the songwriters before they snap into a blur of shredding and tunneling classic extreme thrash metal menace. The German heavy/speed metal influences show up a bit stronger as “Goddess Death” follows through, humming along with a ‘Seven Churches‘-esque whipping speed otherwise as they build a main riff progression which extends and contracts to the point of ranting. They manage to extend its impact with a surprising organ break ~2:52 minutes in, going one step beyond with it and making sure a fairly simple driller of a song punctuates the mid-point of the album with a memorable moment. At that point I’d been well-sold on this record, appreciating the intelligent evil they’ve brought to an already impressive and imposing entity and quickly realizing I already had the urge to clock back to the first track before the initial descent had even completed. No question about it, this was a love at first spin situation per my own fandom.

Side A is already a stinking masterpiece in its own right eh, what about Side B? The ranting mad blackened thrash riffcraft doesn’t stop up or slow down, and for the most part either side of the record has been designed with parity of experience. A couple of pile-it-on rippers with “Secrets of the Sands” raising a bit of extra Hell per the vocals alongside some of my favorite lead work and a slight ‘Show No Mercy‘-era speed metal nod to the riffs. “Dreamlike Fears” basically completes the main thread of their major attack, tying it off at the end with a more dramatically climbing piece eager to shred out a few more leads and at this point Hellish feel the most like a classic thrash metal band and less a modern blackened thrash group in terms of the composition, balancing the urge to kill in a similar way as “Goddess Death” had. The instrumental closer/title track more or less plays the band off stage with an incendiary neoclassic lead thread at the center of its attack, again this is very much in the tradition of classic speed metal and almost pulls us out of poison coughing black/thrash toward like, a later Hexen record, and this’d gone a long way towards shaping the unique character of this new-skinned version of Hellish today.

There are few thing in life I enjoy more than sitting with a complete maniac thrash metal record for hours on end, submerging into its adrenaline sped rush and wrenching my mind around every singly note, so, if you’re similarly inclined Hellish have likely delivered on of your favorite thrash-related records of the year. It ain’t background music and they’re not fucking around with the riffs, in fact ‘The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents‘ makes every second count to the point that it’ll work as quick half hour burn-through in passing or as a teeth-grinding mindflayer when left on repeat. From my point of view this is the big album from Hellish at this point and I can’t wait to see where they go with it next. A very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (95/100)

Rating: 9.5 out of 10.
TITLE:The Dance of the Four Elemental Serpents
LABEL(S):Unspeakable Axe Records,
Dying Victims Productions
RELEASE DATE:December 16th, 2022

Help Support Grizzly Butts’ goals with a donation:

Please consider donating directly to site costs and project funding using PayPal.