Eldritch - Neighbourhell 3.5/5

Reviewed: 4-14-06


1. Still screaming
2. Save me
3. Bless me now
4. The dark inside
5. More than Marilyn
6. Come to life
7. Zero man
8. Standing still
9. Toil of mine
10. The rain
11. Second world

Collectively, metalheads tend to fear change among their favorite artists. Without mentioning any names, change is so often synonymous with selling out or watering down one's sound to a poor facsimile of its original grandeur that we tend to fear it, curse it, and loathe it with every fibre of our metallic constitutions. It is the rare case indeed where a band manages to evolve, hone, refine and improve its sound, making stylistic modifications for the better instead of the worse. Fortunately, Italy's Eldritch are a refreshing exception to the general rule. Commencing life as a mostly progressive band (with power) in the mid-90s, Eldritch released 3 CDs of increasingly esoteric prog before making a sharp left hand turn into modern thrash realms with their Machine Head-influenced 'Reverse' opus in 2002. When 'Reverse' alienated long-time fans without inspiring legions of new ones, the band cleverly and prudently decided to meld their proggy roots with their newfound thrash leanings by fusing both of those elements to a solid dark power metal undercarriage. Their 5th CD, 2004's 'Portrait of the abyss within', represented a noble attempt at such an ambitious undertaking. But on their new, 6th CD, 'Neighbourhell', Eldritch take a giant leap forward.

The band's maturation becomes readily apparent in the first 3 songs. Epic opener "Still screaming" encapsulates Eldritch's alchemy in a nutshell, seamlessly combining intense thrash, dark power metal, quirky technical guitar work, fluid harmony guitars and melodic, catchy vocal lines. Single "Save me" is a modern thrash rhythmic chugger in the verses, before giving way to a stellar melodic bridge and a killer memorable chorus. Maybe it was designed for modern rock airplay, but it's a very effective track nonetheless. Before the listener can catch his breath, the savage, 3-minute thrash of "Bless me now" annihilates all things in its path, with yet another strong chorus. Guitarist/main writer Eugene Simeone's songwriting standards have steadily improved over the years, and this newest material adeptly walks the tightrope of complexity and catchiness, adrenaline and introspection. Musicianship and production are up to snuff, and vocalist Terrence Holler proves once again that he is one of Italy's finest singers. Lower-pitched than your typical upper-register Italian shrieker, Holler has a rough, flinty edge to his voice while remaining very melodic, emotive, versatile and distinctive. He's really the perfect singer for this kind of music. And Holler's lyrics may lose a bit in translation to English, but they were clearly penned from the heart in the music-as-psychotherapy spirit, tackling inner demons, depression, failed relationships, and the like with stark candor.

I find 'Neighbourhell' to be fresh, interesting, aggressive and catchy. But it's not a perfect CD. Sometimes the style transitions from song to song (such as the powerful frenetic thrash of "Come to life" segueing into the moody, subdued "Zero man") are jarring and frustrating. Sometimes the band drift a bit too close to modern rock territory for my taste ("More than Marylin", "Standing still"). And sometimes it seems like the schizophrenic elements that comprise Eldritch's sound haven't quite gelled into a cohesive unit yet. Also, while I rejoice at the departure of the annoying, overbearing sci-fi/techno keys of Oleg Smirnoff from the first 3 CDs, other, more keyboard-oriented listeners may still lament their absence from the Eldritch tapestry.

Ultimately, Eldritch's grand transition may not yet be complete. Nonetheless, they earn my respect and admiration for reinventing themselves in such an intriguing, entertaining fashion. These hardened Italian vets are firing on all cylinders now, and are ready to step into the limelight once they complete the integration of their sonic components. Eldritch headlined the first night of the Chicago PowerFest last weekend, and by all accounts delivered an excellent performance. Here's hoping that such triumph is a harbinger of better things to come, and that 'Neighbourhell' brings Eldritch more acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic.




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