Hymns in the Key of 666
Recasting heavy metal songs as crisp modern folk with chalky female vocals isn't ironic or post-anything. The two genres share much thematic content. After all, if you're going to write a song about a train and you're not a Mississippi Delta blues singer, then chances are you're a folkie, or Saxon.
The Swedish trio chose smartly for at least half of their 10-song LP. Two compositions from Iron Maiden -- "The Trooper" and "Run to the Hills," both tales of brutal combat and the futility of war -- work so well in folk form that the line between original and cover version blurs. And the previously mentioned Saxon tune about the mail-carrying train ("Princess of the Night") reveals its nostalgic core once the amplification and denim are removed.
Musically, Key of 666 holds up for a good stretch. The rococo soloing of metal translates nicely into simplified, plucked acoustic guitars and icy piano. Peeling away the pummeling rhythms also exposes the blues and rock structures at the core of early metal and the new wave of British heavy metal.
One of the trio's biggest surprises comes from the face-value reading of Twisted Sister's "We're Not Going to Take It." Though it never reaches the level of coal-miner union fight song, it does make you realize what a crafty songsmith Dee Snider is. And they put light raga decorations on AC/DC's "Thunderstruck," giving a fine impression of '60s hippy noodlings in Eastern divinity.
The inclusion of Europe's "Rock the Night" is puzzling to American ears. Also, Hellsongs should have known not to touch the overexposed/over-covered "Paranoid." Really, with such a bounty of Black Sabbath material to plunder, why that one?*
Reference material: It's difficult to learn of Hellsong's premise/gimmick and not think of the French duo Nouvelle Vague. That's okay, because Hellsongs likely has the same shelf-life. Who knows what folk-metal enthusiasts think of Hellsongs, but heshers who love classic metal might check out Hymns in the Key of 666, now that it's finally available in the U.S.
*At the time of this posting, Hellsongs' MySpace includes their version of "Warpigs" and it's vastly superior to their bland take on "Paranoid."