REVIEW: PARAGON – “Hell Beyond Hell”
Paragon needs no introduction from me, but for those of you who are not familiar with these Teutonic metal masters, there you go: the band was formed in 1990 by guitarist and main songwriter Martin Christian in Hamburg, Germany, releasing their first album in 1995. Playing a mix of power/speed metal with a more aggressive approach than the usual, they quickly earned the hearts of underground European metal fans (and mine, as well) with stellar albums such as ‘Law of the Blade’ and ‘The Dark Legacy’. After a bit of a slump in the late 2000’s with ‘Screenslaves’– a regular album, but estranged by fans due to the different approach in production, lead melodies and frontman Andreas Babuschkin’s voice – the Germans quickly got back on their feet in 2012 with the acclaimed ‘Force of Destruction’, regaining status as one of the most underrated bands in the metal community.
Four years after, here we are with ‘Hell Beyond Hell’, 11th studio album by Paragon, released on March 18th via Remedy Records. Right from the first notes we can tell that this is a Piet Sielck (Iron Savior, ex-Savage Circus) production job; the guitar work provided by Martin and Jan Bertram is heavy and crunchy and Andreas’ vocals are highly benefited from Piet’s work in the mixing board. Debuting drummer Sören Teckenburg provides a welcomed extra punch with his faster, thrashy approach, which is clearly seen on the course of the album, and Jan Bünning delivers a masterful bass performance as always, adding more power and heaviness to the mix. The songs themselves are classic Paragon-like tunes, with vicious riffs, thundering choruses and resourceful musicianship. “Rising Forces” deliver a worthy beginning with powerful lead guitars and a catchy chorus. “Hypnotized” follows in a similar fashion, with cool, hammering parts and efficient songwriting. Title track “Hell beyond Hell” and “Stand Your Ground” continue with the trademarked aggressive sound – although not featuring entirely great climaxes, especially in the choruses – and the weird “Meat Train” provides an energetic atmosphere, while falling into a bit of a slump in the chorus. In fact, this is my complaint in the effort: the choruses don’t really quite click with the tunes, and sometimes they feel kind of detached from the rest of the songs. Of course this doesn’t hurt the final product that much, but if only the choruses were more memorable, the album would be better in some ways.
“Buried in Blood” picks up the pace once again and restarts the mayhem as a classic “sing with your fists high” Paragon tune, keeping up with the quality of the effort. My personal favorites and longest songs in the album, “Heart of the Black” and “Devil’s Waitingroom”, are what make Paragon so unique: they have drastic changes of pace and are carefully constructed, making them two really strong tunes. The first reminded me in some degree of “Masters of the Sea” (my favorite Paragon song), being it by the quiet passage in the middle of the track or the fact that it suddenly delivers a crushing blow, sweeping you off your feet. The second is a dark and sinister tune featuring some of the nastier vocal lines by Babuschkin I’ve ever seen, once again displaying the versatility of the band and “ending” the album on a high note. I used quotation marks on ending because there are two bonus tracks, “Thunder in the Dark” and “Heart of the Black (edit version)”. The latter is self-explanatory, while the first offers a fun and refreshing – straight-up heavy metal – approach.
‘Hell beyond Hell’ is definitely a solid album in Paragon’s legacy, and a continuation to a triumphant comeback. Although not as good as ‘Force of Destruction’, it has many cool tracks and, while the choruses sometimes are unmemorable, the album itself will not get lost in the band’s discography. If you cherish the Teutonic ways of playing metal, these guys do it better than most, and if they keep up releasing albums like this one, there’s a good chance that they pull off another classic before they are done. For those looking for an aggressive, true to the metal roots display, the search is over, because these guys are top of the notch in what they do, and that is play passionate and honest true heavy metal.