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Lost in the Labyrinth of Hell’s “MMXVI”

I must confess total ignorance of Hell prior to receiving this box set (an odd sentence, for sure, but entirely true, at least as it pertains to this one-man band). Multi-instrumentalist M.S.W. covers all the musical duties for this Salem, Oregon-based “black drone sludge” outfit, which is a rather impressive feat given the immensity of the sounds here. He has also been in several other metalgroups, stretching back to the late 2000s.

This massive compilation sports all the typical trappings of doom metal, though M.S.W. doesn’t utilize the classic bass-baritone vocal approach, preferring instead rasping screams and gurgles over those guttural bellows. Various online sources will tell you that the lyrical themes here cover the standard dark metal staples of “misery, darkness, pain, and death,” but this is all lost in translation as the choking gasps are employed more for their sound than for the delivery of any palpable message. The tempos are predictable trudging, the bass thunderous, and the guitar turned up to eleven.


But Hell does not just stick to the “Fisher Price:  My First Doom Album” playbook here. Peppered throughout these three-plus hours of musical mayhem are treks into other dark territories. You’ll find odd orchestral passages that sound like old records being played through radio static, somewhat akin to James Leyland Kirby’s “the Caretaker” project. Turn around again and there’s a lengthy ambient guitar introduction that sulks on the borders of the apocalyptic domain of black metal before plunging over the edge into the tar-choked realms of sludge. Many pieces include atonal experiments the likes of which Loren Mazzacane Connors would enjoy. Subtle noise elements are grafted onto practically all the offerings here as well, adding ragged edges to what might normally be plodding, run-of-the-mill Cathedral worship. Thus, despite a fairly straightforward, predictable beginning, this collection succeeds in surprising throughout nearly its entirety.

The Mephistopheles of Marlowe’s Faust famously quipped, “Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it.” M.S.W. is certainly at home with this concept, as he takes his hellish sound along with him, regardless of which dark genre he decides to explore.

Track List:

Hell I:
01) Brutus
02) Infernus
03) Tyranno
04) Deflagatio
05) Maeror

Hell II:
01) Gog
02) Metnal
03) Umbilicus
04) Trucid

Hell III:
01) Mourn
02) Decedere

01) Untitled
02) Deonte
03) Inscriptus
04) Militent
05) Oblitus
06) Sheol
07) Dolore
08) Foetorem Timere
09) SubOdin

Written by: Ben Hudgins
Cloister Recordings (United States) / CRUS-10 / CD
Vale of Tears (United States) / URVOT-053 / CD
Doom Metal / Sludge Doom Metal / Dark Ambient

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