Friday 3 March 2023

Killer - Hellfire (2023)

Country: Belgium
Style: Heavy Metal
Rating: 6/10
Release Date: 27 Jan 2023
Sites: Facebook | Metal Archives

I remember a few bands called Killer back in the eighties. This is the Belgian outfit, who got some airplay on the Friday Rock Show in 1984, from their Shock Waves album, who are not to be confused with the Swiss band who were played a couple of years later, from their Young Blood album. These Belgians have moved through a number of styles, starting out as hard rock but moving into metal and shifting up to speed metal gears. This eighth album, also their first in eight years, is elusive in its sound because it trawls in most of their eras and some from band hiatuses too.

Argus Eyes is straight ahead heavy metal, but it's a disappointing opener because it's too clean. It has a decent riff but it fails to make an impression and the rest of the album, which happily adds a little dirt, quickly leaves it in the dust. It finds its feet with Money, which is an old school NWOBHM track. Cuts Me Like a Knife is the sort of blues-based hard rock number that I could imagine Deep Purple recording after Mark II broke up, but it also has a wailing guitar over the top that's clearly heavy metal. It's almost like two songs in one, the guitarist showing up to a different session and adding a new layer on top of what could have been a completed song, but I like it.

The album's predominant sound shows up in Rat Race, which barrels along like Motörhead or, with a little more accuracy, Tank. For a while, it tries to combine approaches—Different Worlds has the NWOBHM style but also that metal guitar over a bluesy rock base, Nightmare is NWOBHM over a blues base too and From Bad to Worse moves all the way back to hard rock, designed to be played loud in a small pub—but eventually it gives up the effort and settles into that Tank sound. And, to be frank, it's when I expected the filler material to start showing up that I really started to dig the album.

There's nothing particularly special about War at Home, Medicine Man and House of Glass, except that, sitting late on the second side with nine songs before them and the token ballad to come, it's generally expected that they be the weakest tracks and they simply aren't. Trouble is right before them and, while it's still NWOBHM, it happily hints at doom. War at Home adds an urgent tempo, albeit nowhere near speed metal. Medicine Man and House of Glass have nothing notable for me to call out. However, all four of these songs just sound right and they sound right together.

They're all basic heavy metal songs, with decent riffs and, with the exception of Trouble, a decent pace. They have decent hooks and they don't outstay their welcomes. They also all feature strong guitar solos from Paul van Camp, now as then generally known as Shorty. He co-founded the band in 1980 with drummer Fat Leo, who passed in 2012, and has remained in place throughout. Spooky isn't here though, the bass player who joined soon into the band's lifetime and stayed most of the way through—including a blues band called Blues-Express that Shorty and Spooky played in while Killer were on hiatus between 1991 and 1993 that I'm sure fuelled songs like Cuts Me Like a Knife here—because he left in 2010, shortly into their third run. So now it's Shorty on guitars and vocals, Jakke on bass and vocals and Vanne on drums. They're still a power trio.

It's clearly Shorty's show now and it's hardly a shock that he gives himself so many opportunities to launch into searing guitar solos, sometimes at serious length. They're in the Michael Schenker style but with a continual raw edge that I really like. In fact, I'm happy that he did prioritise these solos because they were the highlights of the album for me. I dug Rat Race anyway, but it's better because of its solos. Those songs late on the second side are all elevated by solos. I ought to point out that they're almost entirely done in the same style, so it could be argued that they're not far off interchangeable but I don't care. I loved them anyway.

I should also add that, if the 2023 Killer are far more a reliable mid-card band than a headliner, it has to be said that this is a generous album. For a regular price, you get a new album that comes close to reaching an hour and, in fact, does if you count the two bonus tracks. What's more, if you happen to be new to the band, there's a best of compilation on a included second disc. That's a lot of music and it's well worth the price. Welcome back to the studio, folks.

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