Hornwood Fell – Cursed Thoughts

Rating: 3.5/5
Distributor/label: Kadabra Music
Released: 2020
Buy Album: https://kadabramusicofficial.bandcamp.com/album/cursed-thoughts
Band Website: https://www.facebook.com/hornwoodfell/

BAND LINE-UP:

Andrea Basili – Drums
Marco Basili – Vocals, guitar & bass

TRACKLISTING:

1. The Joyous Defunct
2. Magnetic Horror
3. Obsession
4. The Possessed One
5. The Spiritual Dawn
6. The Giantess
7. Dream-Land
8. The Spirits Of The Dead
9. Alone
10. The Divine Right Of Kings
11. The Lake
12. The Sleeper
13. The Valley Of Unrest

REVIEW:

There is a fun little game to play when happening across a new band or album in guessing where their influences come from and what drove them to pursue that. Not in terms of their overall sound, as that is often mapped out clearly (“for fans of…”, “we want to be the next METALLICA”, etc.), but in terms of what inspired them to write this particular piece or body of work. To confess, it isn’t the easiest of games, and sometimes the hidden meanings or sources behind songs can be somewhat surprising (for instance, KORN’s classic “A.D.I.D.A.S.” is not borne of their love for German sportswear). So it came as a surprise when HORNWOOD FELL were so explicit in their influences that birthed their fifth album, ‘Cursed Thoughts’.

The album is in two parts, with both released on the same day and the unified album at a later date, but each has a different source of inspiration. Part one (‘Cursed Thoughts, Pt. I’) explores the works of Charles Boudelaire, specifically “Les Fleurs Du Mal”, whilst part two (‘Cursed Thoughts, Pt. II’, strangely enough) takes its muse from the poems of Edgar Allan Poe. Both authors concern themselves with “human despair… Inner monsters and ghosts, horror and pain…” Has it been mentioned already that this is a black metal album? Aside from Satan and the woods, this sort of stuff is a black metal hallmark, so what can these Italians offer beyond claw hands, torches and prancing about in snowy woodland?

Happily, quite a bit more, actually. Tracks 1-6 are the Boudelaire bunch, and their collection kicks off furiously with “The Joyous Defunct”; tremolo guitars and double bass firing on all cylinders, with Marco Basili’s throaty roar providing a devilish centre to the cacophony. Yet it isn’t all balls-to-the-wall speed, with the final throes slowing and including some grooving guitars that get those creaking neck muscles working again. It’s in a similar situation in which we find ourselves on “Obsession”, with the usual fire and flames of speed being used sparingly alongside chunkier riffs and (whisper it) some melodic guitar leads. Time and again, black metal bands focus entirely on the former without realising that breathing room makes all the difference for impact, but HORNWOOD FELL have cracked it.

There are calmer passages that permeate throughout the first half of the album that help realise this delicate mix, with the horns and samples on “Obsession” giving a baleful vibe without the need for unending blasts. Similarly, “The Spiritual Dawn” utilises a rather evil-sounding chanting sample to spine-chilling effect, whilst the organ intro and finale to “The Giantess” makes for a rather grand exit to the album’s first half. This is all done with bright, crisp production that enables to punchier riffs to hit harder and for the double bass blasts to have that palpable effect we all know and love. That is until the production takes a leave of absence for the album’s second half, apparently.

Whether this is down to the copy sent to IV Towers, or whether it is an intentional difference to mark the two halves as distinct from one another is up for debate, but the contrast is enough to break the flow of the album. The disparity between the thundering close of “The Giantess” and the somewhat grainy openings to the frenetic “Dream-Land” is stark and gives the impression that the album’s second half could have been recorded at an entirely different time and place (and even mixed by different personnel). It is a crying shame, really, as the production on the first half of ‘Cursed Thoughts’ is about as good as you will hear in the genre this side of pretending to be trve purveyors of traditional black metal.

If we ignore the first half of the album and its finer production, Poe’s portion (tracks 7-13) still holds up well, musically. “Dream-Land” carries more than a little punk attitude in some of its drumming, but there seems to be a heightened sense of melody on display, and it catches the ear delightfully well. “Alone” is another perfect example: opening with an almost new age-influenced synth pad that sounds far brighter than anything heard previously on the record, it eventually erupts into a stomping slab of metal with a touch of the Swedish melodic death metal scene in the twin guitar lines nearer to its climax. It is a shame that a number of black metal bands seem to associate the notion of melody as something to be shunned when it can do wonders to elevate a good song to a great one. Album closer, “The Valley Of Unrest” seems to encapsulate this best, with wicked melodies twisting their way into the usual blasts and ending on an effected piano progression that leaves a haunting feel to the whole show.

Taken on musical value alone, HORNWOOD FELL’s latest is one of the finer black metal releases you will come across. Beyond the usual tropes of the genre, the band have drawn inspiration from the wider metal field (as well as their literary source material) to craft an album that can blast, groove, emote and chill all at once throughout the album’s length. And there is plenty of length to it, too, with both halves combining to make up a monstrous eighty-minutes of black metal carnage, so you best find yourself a comfy chair and a large glass of your favourite poison. It may have a wobble at the halfway mark with some inconsistent production, but looking past that, you will find your mind may be filled with ‘Cursed Thoughts’ for some time to come.

REVIEW BY

LEE CARTER


 

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