Tuesday 17 November 2020

H2Ocean - The Horned Goddess (2020)

Country: Greece
Style: Groove Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Sep 2020
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I haven't reviewed much from Greece this year, which state of affairs I should remedy because I found so many good albums from there in 2019. H2Ocean primarily play groove metal, with the harsh vocals we expect, but their particularly flavour of groove is a lot closer to the thrash that birthed the genre than most American bands, which fits my taste better. Some songs, such as Primeape, are thrash songs with a groove influence rather than the other way around. The vocals are angry and the bass is high in the mix, but those are thrash riffs and changes.

Frankly, the worst thing about this album is the fact that the colourful cover art might get me into a spot of bother when I share it on Facebook. Musically, it's strong, with nine songs doing much of the same thing with different riffs and vibes, and Makis Makoulas finds a good balance with his vocals. If you follow my reviews, you'll know that I'm not generally a fan of the shouty singing style that found its way into metal from hardcore. Makoulas primarily works in that style, rough and vitriolic, but he does it well and I'm good with it.

My problems with shouty vocals are twofold. One is that such singers often sound like they're trying to sound tough for the sake of sounding tough, rather than to fit with the music. Makoulas is on the right side of that, because it feels right with these riffs. The other is that it often means a monotone delivery, which just makes things boring. He partly avoids that, managing to get enough intonation into some of these songs to matter, especially The Chain and Absolution Through Demise. At points on these, especially on the latter, he almost finds an Icon-era Nick Holmes style.

Another aspect that I'd recommend H2Ocean adopt more often is the inclusion of a female vocal that mixes things up completely. Dehumanized isn't strong here just because of that approach, but it may well be what makes it the highlight of the album. I don't know who that voice belongs to, but it kicks in with a sort of gothic feel and becomes more world music later. This adds layers and Makoulas roars his way through the rest of the song as if he has twice the air in his lungs than the rest of us. It's neat contrast.

Behind him are only three musicians. George Katsamakis contributes guitar and he impresses a lot by infusing a style that's often just about brutality with plenty of technical thrash and plenty of slower old-school metal as well, a song like Change of Heart featuring almost NWOBHM era riffs. On bass is the gloriously named Herc Booze and he's very prominent, not just deepening the sound but echoing beyond it. That leaves Giorgos Kalavrezos on drum programming, though that isn't as electronic as it might seem. It sounds like a real drumkit to me and the rhythms remains interesting throughout.

And that leaves a song called My Everything to highlight. It's a groove metal ballad, which seems like an odd concept to begin with, even if the lyrics are dark with lines like "my love turns into hate". I'm finding that my tolerance for ballads is decreasing with each year that passes and, when this began, I really wasn't sure what to expect. However, this works surprisingly well. Katsamakis goes acoustic with style and Makoulas adapts his voice magnificently to a very different sound. This isn't just a ballad to tolerate, it's one to seek out and, on an album like this, that rather shocked me.

So, it's good to be virtually back in Greece. Unlike other surprising countries where I've found a scene that revolves around a particular style, like psychedelic rock in Peru and Portugal, Greek bands seem to be nailing whatever style they happen to adopt. Clearly I need to keep checking out what's coming out and telling you about it.

[Update: guitarist George Katsamakis kindly let me know that the female vocal on Dehumanized is by Mary Kay and the voice on My Everything doesn't belong to regular singer Makis Makoulas but to a guest vocalist, Fotis Benardo, the former drummer for Septic Flesh and now drummer for Necromentia and singer in SixforNine.]

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