Album of the Week 04-2016: Hexx – Under The Spell

Kudos to Metal Blade Records for re-releasing some of the more obscure American Metal releases lately. San Francisco’s Hexx got such a treatment and I’m extremely happy with that, because I’ve been looking for their sophomore record ‘Under The Spell’ for quite a long time now. First of all, it’s just about exactly halfway between the Metal subgenres I enjoy most – Power and Thrash Metal – and as such, intensity and melody are balanced quite well. Also, Dan Bryant’s spirited vocal performance lifts this record above the average of the late eighties Thrash scene. The result is nothing revolutionary, but thoroughly ejoyable.

Many reviews have pointed out that ‘Under The Spell’ was illustrating the transition from the band’s more traditional US Power Metal style on debut album ‘No Escape’ to a more Thrash oriented approach. However, when you listen to both albums, you’ll notice the style change isn’t all that considerable. Sure, the riff work courtesy of Dan Watson and Clint Bower definitely shows an increase of Thrash influences – though I think that difference is rather a result of one album being recorded in 1984 and the other in 1986 – and Bryant has a rawer edge to his voice than his predecessor Dennis Manzo had. But the music itself is obviously written by the same people.

As mentioned before, Bryant is a significant part of why I enjoy ‘Under The Spell’ so much. Here, he sounds like a combination of Dio at his rawest with the higher range bringing to mind Metal Church’s late singer David Wayne. When you hear his performance on the short, but stellar opening track ‘Hell Riders’, you’ll notice that the voice lifts the song from very good to excellent Heavy Metal. Sure, his high shrieks won’t be for everybody, but there’s a quality to the vocal work that only very few Thrash singers had in the day. And an aggression that wasn’t common in USPM.

Guitar-wise, there’s quite a lot to enjoy here as well. This isn’t as lead guitar-oriented as you would expect a band associated with Shrapnel to be, but the riff work is excellent. Take ‘The Victim’, for instance. Usually, when a Metal song is catchy, it’s because of a melodic theme or a chorus, but the main riff is just as catchy. The same goes for the title track, ‘The Hexx’ and ‘Edge Of Death’, which plays with half-time and double-time feel changes very effectively as well. Closing track ‘Midnight Sun’ is a bit slower and more atmospheric and therefore one of the more pleasant surprises on the record and ‘Fever Dream’ has an excellent build-up and a strong guitar solo by Watson.

‘Under The Spell’ should be enjoyable to anyone who enjoys a well-written, though not too complicated Metal song with good vocals. The original album only lasts slightly over half an hour, but that also means that it has no filler whatsoever; every song is worthy of your attention. And if quantity is an issue: the Metal Blade reissue has the entire ‘No Escape’ album and a wealth of bonus audio and video content – including a few live tracks with their suprisingly good new singer Eddie Vega and two fine new songs – so don’t let that keep you from getting this piece of USPM and Thrash history. It might be a footnote, but I’d take this over some of the more popular bands in the genres any day.

Recommended tracks: ‘Hell Riders’, ‘The Victim’, ‘Midnight Sun’

  1. You’ve got me very tempted with that one Kev! I’ll try to give it a listen on YouTube but it sounds like my kinda thing 🙂

    • Hey Carol!
      It’s a cool album. As is the par with Thrash and USPM records of the day, some songs are a bit samey, but the riffs are good, there’s a nice energy going on and I have a weak spot for these kinds of singers; clean but raw. It was one of the re-releases I was looking forward to.

      • I used to be all about solos but am getting to prefer nice, chugging riffs – they make me really happy 🙂

      • Oh, I still love a good solo. But I like well written solos more than anything. I greatly admire musicians who can improvise, because I can’t to save my life, but I love it if it has a few “hooks” you can almost hum along.
        Having said that… If there’s not a good riff underneath it, no one’s ever going to hear it. Iron Maiden are the masters of both the well-written solos and the exciting riff work underneath.

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