Fallen Angel - Crawling out of hell 3.5/5

Reviewed: 10-1-10


1. Crash to oblivion
2. Sinner's vengeance
3. March into hell
4. Blood on my soul
5. The grinding wheels of war
6. The reapers shall gather
7. Arrival
8. Dark lord
9. Darkness
10. The one who walks alone
11. The answer
12. Respiration desperation
13. The neutral zone
14. Life or death
15. On and on
16. Ashes to ashes
17. Leaving it all behind
18. Watching
19. Sad wings
20. Grant me peace

There are any number of past and present metal bands bearing the Fallen Angel moniker, some including an "s" on the end to be different. This one hails from Rochester, New York. What this particular Fallen Angel lack in originality in the band name department, they more than compensate for in terms of creativity and ambition in the sprawling scope of their self-released debut CD, 'Crawling out of hell'. You see, not only have Fallen Angel recorded a 20-track concept CD, but guitarist/songwriter/producer John Cruppe has evidently penned an accompanying novel (which I've not seen) to complement the music and flesh out the narrative arc of the story. What's more, 'Crawling out of hell' is apparently conceived as just the beginning of a multi-part recording cycle, with part 2, entitled 'Cast out of heaven', already in the works. Taking into account these facts, plus the 32-page booklet, filled with song-specific artwork, narrative bits to help the listener follow along, and band photos showing the members adorned in corpsepaint/greasepaint that puts them somewhere between early King Diamond and latter-day Dimmu Borgir in facial appearance, Fallen Angel are clearly not afraid to dream big. You know what they say: Aim small, miss small. Kudos to Fallen Angel for having the courage and chutzpah to pull out all the stops in pursuit of their artistic vision.

Musically, what 'Crawling out of hell' delivers is pure old-school U.S. metal with high-pitched wailing vocals. Cage is an obvious point of comparison given the similarity in musical and vocal styles, plus the conceptual bent of their work. Iced Earth also comes to mind from time to time, along with 80s U.S. speed metal acts like Helstar, Savage Grace, Liege Lord and so on. The 80s influence is hardly surprising given that Fallen Angel trace their lineage back to the 1983-1986 period, when the first incarnation of the band formed, albeit without releasing anything. So if these guys sound old-school, it's only because they are old-school. They come by it honestly, and aren't some high-school kids who think it would be cool to wear high tops and denim jackets and play their parents' music for laughs or ironic statements.

At its best, this CD is really good underground metal, with aggressive riffage, killer guitar harmonies courtesy of guitarists Cruppe and Robb Lotta, and piercing air-raid siren vocals courtesy of Steve Seniuk. Galloping, pummeling tracks like "Blood on my soul", "The reapers shall gather", and "Dark lord" are superb examples of the Tim Owens-era Iced Earth/Cage style of songwriting executed effectively, with guitars from hell, a ripping rhythm section, and insanely high vocal screams over the top of it all. "Darkness" has a bit of a Mercyful Fate vibe to it, at least in the verses and guitar themes, but then inexplicably fades out in what feels like it should be no more than the middle of the song. Elsewhere, "On and On" is a catchy little midtempo stomper that sounds a bit like NWOBHM with more screams, and one of the better melodic hooks on the entire CD, albeit again feeling oddly unfinished at the end. If Fallen Angel were looking for a single, "On and On" would be it.

Unfortunately, not everything comes up roses (pushes up daisies?) on 'Crawling out of hell', and it's fair to say that Fallen Angel have a ways to go before they match Cage and Iced Earth in the quality department. The somewhat dodgy production (also performed by Cruppe) is going to be a sore spot for picky listeners. The overabundance of instrumentals (6 in all, including 3 sound-effects laden ones classified as "cinematic instrumentals" in the liner notes) will be viewed as distracting and unnecessary by some. A pair of rather drastic stylistic departures, including the ponderously painful 6-minute ballad "The answer" and the limp Queensryche-ish "Leaving it all behind", may advance the story but are not likely to appeal to fans of the other material on display. Vocalist Seniuk has a formidable set of lungs, but he's more like Wade Black than Sean Peck or Tim Owens, meaning he shrieks a bit too much for his own good. The relentlessly OTT character of the vocals becomes grating after a while. And the 72-minute running time is simply exhausting because the quantity and quality of the musical ideas really are not sufficiently impressive or well-developed to warrant such a protracted listening investment.

I don't want to be Debbie Downer here. What I'm trying to say is that I applaud Fallen Angel for their inordinate devotion and dedication to their craft to attempt such a massive undertaking. They've made this project more intricate and involved than most, and there's certainly enough high-octane, high-quality U.S. metal on display here to appease old-school headbangers worldwide. My hesitation in recommending 'Crawling out of hell' is the inescapable feeling that maybe John Cruppe and his bandmates have bit off more than they can chew, as the execution isn't quite up to par in a few spots. By beefing up the production, tightening up the writing, and reining in their screaming vocals run amok from time to time, Fallen Angel could very well uncork a monster sophomore CD on us all. For now, I'd say they've missed the mark, but not by much. Not by much at all.




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