rating icon 6.5 / 10

Track listing:

01. A Suicide Journey
02. The Black Death
03. Der Harzwald
04. 1°F
05. Cold Aeon
06. Psycho Pastor
07. Sulphur Prayer
08. I Saw Hell
09. Moonrites Diabolicum
10. Ache
11. Subterranean Empire

Austria's HELLSAW really like black metal. They're obviously well-versed in the stuff, in its many manifestations, because their own style is all over the map without straining too hard to be overly clever or unique. There are moments of atavistic thrash-polka and downpicking guitar frenzy, more atmospheric segments with a Viking/pagan feeling, clattering blast beats right out of "In the Nightside Eclipse"-era EMPEROR, spooky doom/drone bits, and slower passages with warmer chords that recall a more simplistic ENSLAVED approach. There's even a little bit of club-footed groove here and there, albeit of the grim and suitably joyless variety, of course.

So what does this all mean? Does HELLSAW have an original bone in their blackened, Alpine-frozen bodies? Not a one, friend, but somehow, they've managed to make that part of their charm. They channel their inner Quorthon, Ihsahn, and Grutle — sometimes in the same song — and add a heaping dose of over-the-top silliness (see the intro to the hilariously-titled "Psycho Pastor" or the laugh-out-loud yowls that kick off "Sulphur Prayer"). The results are a surprisingly strong, enjoyable bash through late-1990's black metal convention, which is as impossible to deny as it is to take seriously.

I know it sounds like damning with faint praise, because at the heart of it, "Cold" is as generic as its album title. But there's still something compelling about HELLSAW's enthusiastic crack at the bat. Maybe it's just energy, and a crisp, loud, live production, that puts them over — but you'll lustily bang your head to "Moonrites Diabolicum" and hoist a pewter mug to "Ache", even as you play "spot the influence" and shake your head in bemusement. Worth a listen when you're in a black metal mood, and you just can't seem to get any more specific than that.

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