Helslave - From the Sulphur Depths (Album Review)

June 23, 2021


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Italy’s Helslave has gone through an interesting transformation since forming in 2009.  While their earlier material including 2015’s An Endless Path fell very closely into Gothenburg melodic death metal similar to At the Gates, the band went through several lineup changes following that full length and would ultimately turn towards the more aggressive and lumbering variant of the genre.  This brings us to the recently released From the Sulphur Depths, which swaps melodies for lurching and fast paced HM-2 driven death metal that has a lot more in common with Entombed, Dismember, and Grave.  While it’s not uncommon for groups to hop between metal sub-genres in this way, Helslave’s transformation brings some strong riffs behind it that do the style justice.

I know what you’re probably thinking from that intro, as there have been other bands over the years that have swapped from an extremely derivative take on melodic death metal to an extremely derivative take on traditional death metal (or vice versa).  Yet despite the familiarity of that HM-2 buzzsaw tone From the Sulphur Depths grabbed me during those first few listens thanks to the combination of some very strong guitar leads and a seemingly unstoppable energy level.  Where a lot of Swedish sounding death metal has felt tired in both its production values and overall performance, as though groups are just going by the numbers, Helslave comes punching through brick walls with their material and the power oozing from this recording makes it sound like they really understand and love this take on death metal.  There’s a nice balance between faster onslaughts and the type of undead mid-tempo lurching that you’d expect, and songs like “Thrive in Blasphemy” and “Thy Will be Undone” scratch that old-school itch.  You’ll also notice at some points that melody hasn’t completely been forgotten either, as certain passages bridge the gap between melodic and traditional death metal with powerful, soaring melodies.  Admittedly the album does fall into a pattern after the halfway point though, and some of the tracks towards the end had me initially thinking that I’d already looped back around to the beginning with how similar some of the riffs were. 

Helslave’s change over to traditional death metal technically had started with 2017’s Divination EP, which is where new vocalist Diego Laino was also introduced.  Where his predecessor tended towards much raspier screams and shrieks, Laino heads towards the lower, guttural registers and goes for gore-soaked growls throughout From the Sulphur Depths.  This is well suited for the band’s current sound, as there’s a fullness to the performance that makes them tower above the instrumentation.  You do have some higher screams as back-ups at key points, but the emphasis remains on the low registers which ups the level of impact.  Songs like “Perpetual Damnation” are perfect examples and showcase what still makes this type of death metal appealing.

Despite going headfirst into HM-2 territory, Helslave hasn’t lost all their melodic elements and this brings some stand-out moments.  While the album still does peak a bit early and starts to sound a bit too similar by the end, there’s still plenty here to grab those that can’t get enough of that gory and immensely heavy death metal sound, and I’ll take that over some of the tired sounding death metal that has come across my desk in recent memory.  This new approach works for these Italians, and I think they’re going to be a band worth continuing to follow in the coming years.  From the Sulphur Depths is available from Pulverised Records.

-Review by Chris Dahlberg

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