The Infernal Sea - Hellfenlic

Artist: The Infernal Sea

Album Title: Hellfenlic

Label: Candlelight

Date of Release: 26 January 2024

It is always painful to me when I realise that yet another band has escaped my gaze. I know that it is nigh-on impossible to be across everything that’s going on in the world of heavy metal, but I do try my best. On this occasion, my best has been woefully inadequate because here is a band that calls the Fens and East Anglia its home but despite being a fellow inhabitant of the region, I was completely unaware of their existence. It becomes worse when I discover that The Infernal Sea have been active since around 2010, with ‘Hellfelic’ being their fourth full-length release. Where the hell have I been?!

Oh well, no time like the present to make amends. What immediately drew me to this record was the talk of it being a concept record of sorts, exploring a subject with a local flavour. I’ve always been interested in the history of my locale, especially the infamous ‘witch’ hunting, persecutions, and burnings of yesteryear – there’s a reason why Suffolk is known as the ‘Witch County’ after all. And one of the most notorious figures is Matthew Hopkins, the seventeenth century Witchfinder General. ‘Hellfenlic’ explores this historical figure and, as the press release states, ‘It tells of his obsession, his religious fervour, his brutality, and ultimately his downfall.’

More importantly, it does so to an aural backdrop that is pretty tough not to succumb to. I could imagine Matthew Hopkins using this album to tempt out the witches against which he waged his brutal and obsessive campaign, luring them out into the open with its irresistible qualities. Ok, so maybe I may be taking it a bit too far, but allow me a moment of poetic hyperbole if you will.

But, in all seriousness, ‘Hellfenlic’ is one of those albums that comes right out of nowhere, but which immediately gets under your skin. Over the course of eight tracks and around 45 minutes, we’re treated to an intoxicating blend of old school black metal, NWOBHM, thrash, and a smidgen of punk attitude. As someone who prefers the more atmospheric, Gothic, and symphonic ends of the black metal spectrum, I wasn’t expecting to like this record as much as I find that I do. And credit for that must go to the quartet of protagonists, namely vocalist Dean Lettice, drummer James Burke, guitarist Jonathan Egmore and bassist Chris Revett. ‘Hellfenlic’ is nothing short of a heavy, dark, catchy, groovy and altogether wonderfully nasty devil of a record.

The Infernal Sea - Hellfenlic

If I had one minor criticism of the record, however, it would be that the album feels to be to be front-loaded with the best material. This doesn’t mean that the second half is poor by any stretch of the imagination – far from it. But, for my personal tastes and enjoyment, it means that the first half packs a little more of a punch than the second.

With that said, let me talk more about the immense positives on display within ‘Hellfenlic’. And it all begins with ‘Lord Abhorrent’ and an opening menacing cry of “I Am The Witchfinder!” From there, we’re hit with an uncompromising assault of double pedal blasts, staccato riffing, and a pulsating bass that can actually be heard within the aggressive early tumult. The vocals of Lettice are as cold and harsh as an iceberg (pun intended), growling in a snarling, vicious way, carrying the evil intent of our protagonist perfectly. I like the way that the lyrics are audible, however, despite the caustic delivery. The song shifts quite frequently between even faster picked guitar notes and a catchy-as-hell, groovy riff that brings a wicked smile to my face. It’s a great beginning to the album, but things continue on this lofty trajectory from there.

Up next is ‘Shadow Of The Beast’ which, once again, starts with a no-nonsense flurry of cold black metal riffing and rhythmic blasts, lending the song more of a ‘classic’, and majestic extreme metal feel. There is a lovely, understated melody lurking just beneath the surface, too, ensuring that I’m quickly ensconced in the track. Bestial vocals emanate at points and just after the halfway mark, the composition shifts to a more thrashy, groovy mid-tempo where the bass really comes into its own, dancing riotously in the process. The ending, with open, ringing distorted guitar chords atop a double pedal assault should have gone on a bit longer, but nevertheless, it’s a fine way to end the song.

The NWOBHM and old-school black metal side of The Infernal Sea comes far more to the fore at the outset of ‘Witchfinder’, thanks to a cheeky and seriously catchy central riff that drives the song along at a groove-laden mid-tempo. There’s a lot more storytelling via a spoken-word approach to be heard here, too, but I find that it really works, like you’ve been dropped into the middle of a dark horror scene, where the full monstrous fanaticism of Matthew Hopkins looms large. Some of the simple chugging riffing, wailing lead guitars and ‘fists-in-the-air’ NWOBHM ‘hey, hey, hey’ moments are fabulous, meaning that ‘Witchfinder’ quickly becomes a personal favourite on ‘Hellfenlic’.

I’m not such a big fan of the all-out punk-infused thrashy black metal of ‘Black Witchery’ because, for all its speed and wailing and gnashing intent, it doesn’t feel quite as memorable and as catchy as other songs on the record. However, for those who prefer their black metal a bit more earthy and warts-and-all, this will go down well with you. ‘Frozen Fen’ on the other hand, is much more up my particular street, returning to a more melodic approach, albeit adding a slower, more atmospheric doom-esque element to their armoury at the same time. There’s even room for The Infernal Sea to get all sorrowful and almost folky on us, with the slow burning ‘Messenger Of God’ and what sounds like a lead violin melody at its core.

What this all means is that I have found myself gravitating towards ‘Hellfenlic’ on a pretty frequent basis these last few days. Naturally I like to listen to albums several times before venturing an opinion, but sometimes that can be a real chore. Not so here, as I look forward to another spin of this record. I honestly believe that you’ll find something to really enjoy on ‘Hellfenlic’, regardless of your preferred style of black metal because, pretty much, it has a little bit of everything. And yet, the album feels cohesive and with a clear identity throughout. This comes with a strong recommendation, so check it out swiftly.

The Score of Much Metal: 85%

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