One of the perks of metal band research is the dramatically increased knowledge of all things morbid. For every band name that is just some conglomeration of the words Dark/Iron/Goat there is one that actually enlightens you. Such is the case with Hela, a Spanish psychedelic doom band with a stoner rock foundation, who named their band after a Norse goddess of Death, usually described as being half beautiful woman and half skeleton, who happens to be a compassionate caretaker for the souls of those whose deaths were not caused by combat.
On Broken Cross, Hela’s sound has a similar dichotomy; strikingly heavy with surface-level intimidation but a heart of gold beneath the sinister shroud. On “Horns of God” and “Wicked King” they establish their modus operandi: Playing towering, groovy riffs with bluesy NOLA sensibilities as Isabel Sierras’ mystic voice floats above the din like notes played from a flute crafted from human bone. Throughout the album the lead guitar is incredibly restrained, so relaxed you can picture the guitarist playing eyes-closed with a spliff dangling haphazardly from his lips. The uninspiring lead guitar is one of the main reasons songs like “March of the Minotaurs” and “Black Eagle” seem to plod a bit, just chewing up track time as the rhythm section works at the same riff like a piece of tough jerky, trying to keep it all headbangable. In the metal world, headbangable = bangable.
There are nice moments here, even when the music feels a bit predictable, like the soulful blues licks kicking off “Flesh Ceremony” and the confident double-bass swagger of “Slave of the Witch,” but several of these songs dawdle too much for my liking. These tracks have mainstream rock accessibility but linger too long while falling in love with their own riffs. There are some catchy melodies and good ideas, but I feel this album needs a radio edit to make it as concise as possible for it to reach its full potential. I just suggested a radio edit, which means somewhere a true metal warrior is now planning my assassination and sharpening a spiked mace. I really don’t have a problem with nine minute songs, but you have to earn that length, and Hela rely too much on flourishes that are ultimately distracting, like the looooooong barely-audible movie clips beginning and closing the album.
There’s no shortage of fuzzy, spaced-out doom riffage on Broken Cross. If you want some music to accompany you on long desert drives through a landscape that seems to morph like a lava lamp, this is your jam. The album is approachable and safe and washes its hands before and after dinner, but it can still let its hair down and rock enough to break a sweat. Overall, Hela just need to trim the fat, challenge the lead guitarist a bit, and quit spending so much time with all those peaceful underworld souls, ‘cause they aren’t the rowdiest crowd on the block.
Listen to the album streaming over at Bandcamp at: http://discosmacarras.bandcamp.com/album/broken-cross
And check out their Facebook page for more information: https://www.facebook.com/Helaband