By Sam Graham
When I first heard of Hamerex, from Wakefield, I figured they’d sound somewhat like Tool. Maybe that was because Hamerex sounds like hammer, and a hammer is a tool, but whatever my assumption, I was wrong, and in a very good way.
Their album: Rites of Passage, doesn’t faff around with intro pieces; instead it busts straight in with some heavy metal. The opening track, entitled Aftershocks of Death, has got some beefy riffage that’s hard to come by nowadays. As the song goes on, I initially started to lose hope of there being a solo, but then thankfully, it came. It was thrashy and guaranteed to please the fret-wank fans. Chris Moules’ vocals then carry the song up to its ending, where it (and I had to check to see if it was the same song or not) goes straight into The Headless Horseman. Just from this first song, I wouldn’t be surprised if guitarists Steve Blower and Joe Wilson are fans ofTestamenT and maybe Exodus, and hopefully that should help you get a feel for their sound. The Headless Horseman has a chugger of a riff with some harmonised notes adding flair to it a-laBurnt Offerings (1985) by TestamenT. After a more melodic chorus (but not in the melodic way most nowadays music is where it’s a few chords and nasal whining), a solo comes nice and early. It’s long enough to please and short enough so that it doesn’t become a chore. It’s a heavy song that’s been stuck in my head for a while now. It’s my second favorite on the album, just because of that main riff and chorus.
The third song, Stalker, starts with the bass and while it has a slower tempo than the previous two, doesn’t lack in energy whatsoever. The verses and chorus’ were a bit plain-sounding, but the technical interlude and the scream held out just as the solo ends, is nothing short of cool, and helps this song stand out.
The Lycan, about a lycanthrope (werewolf), is the most different sounding song on the album. It comes in shyly, much like the way Rebel Yell (1983) by Billy Idol does. In fact, vocalist Chris Moules shows some similar techniques to Idol, especially in this song. The song talks about (you guessed it), a werewolf and his nightly bloodlust and I can’t think of a better thing for a metal band to sing about. It’s unpretentious and it’s cool. What more reason do you need? It’s worked for Power-metal for god-knows how long with its lyrics about dragons, wizards, knightly-ness, etc. Toward the end of The Lycan a nasty blues-led solo comes over the chorus that follows into an ace harmony, then back into the chorus. If The Headless Horseman is my second favourite, then top spot has to go to The Lycan.
Next comes the title track: Rites of Passage and it’s a whopping eight minutes long. While that may be one third the length of some run-of-the-mill gameshow-winner’s album, it’s average for metal, or at least it should be. Rites of Passage takes a short break and gives us some Spanish-guitar before going back to what Hamerex do best. This sub-intro is heavy, dark and has all the lurch of a Norwegian cave-troll. The verse riff is a true headbanger and while I can’t understand a word Moules is saying, the music is that epic that I feel I don’t need to. Moules gets his turn in the verses which are what you should expect from this band, this far into the album. Rites of Passage doesn’t feel like an eight-minute long track, which is usually a sign that it’s good. Master of Puppets (1986) doesn’t feel that long and neither does this for the same reason: it doesn’t let up and it’s not a riff-depository like most songs on The Blackening (2007) by Machine Head.
To The End is another favourite of mine, because it adheres to my love of old school thrash metal. I hate to keep mentioning them, but this song really reminded me of The Haunting by TestamenT (from their debut The Legacy (1985)). The song keeps that thrash-metal edge all the way through and ends by going back to the beginning riff which was definitely the most stand-out part of the song.
With Rites of Passage closing with the songs Gates of Hades and Waste Away it’s become apparent to me that this is a strange album in the way that it gets better as it progresses. A lot of albums tend to just toss their filler in at the end, but no song on this album feels demoted to that. Hamerex know what they are doing and this album shows it. It doesn’t break any boundaries, isn’t iconoclastic in any way, but with riffs like the ones that fill this album, who cares? If I had one gripe I would say that the vocals don’t really do it for me. That’s just a personal preference and while Moules is a good vocalist who has certainly found his niche in this band, it just wasn’t my bag. For fans of heavier vocals however, this album is a treat. Another thing I picked up on is that some of the lead-guitar work can sound a bit muddy at times. Presumably, this comes from the fact that almost every note in the faster passages is picked and not hammered-on/pulled-off. It’s a hard thing to nail, especially with the pressure of getting everything perfect in the studio, and it shouldn’t negate which ever guitarist performed them. From one guitarist to another, there’s some good stuff on this album.
The Wakefield bunch certainly know what vein of metal they belong to. This album’s well-worth getting hold of and I can imagine they’re well-worth a see too.
Devil-Horn Rating (Out of Five): \m/ \m/ \m/ \m/