Gandalf - Rock Hell
Wicked World
Death Rock
10 songs (45'25")
Release year: 2001
Reviewed by Alex
Archive review

Why am I writing this review? Because I feel I owe it to the audience and because I want to give this album justice. Gandalf is no more, so there won’t be another set of tunes which would Rock Hell as much.

A few years ago I remember getting both Gandalf albums on evilBay as a lot. Naturally, I started with an older 1998 Deadly Fairytales and wasn’t blown away. Neither death metal, nor thrash the album was just there with Jari Hurskainen bellowing out his harsh vocals over some pretty average riffs. The CD has collected dust all these years right next to Rock Hell which I may have given barely a spin. An unfair treatment, but, just as many other Metal fans I am guilty of buying more than I can listen to. With the recent CD tower expansion the cleaning was on, and I just thought that I don’t even remember how this sounds in the slightest. Guys, I have been missing on a great disc, however, not a masterpiece by any stretch of imagination.

While the moniker of Gandalf brings out some cheesy Italian power metal to mind, the band comes from Finland and unleashes some super groovy death rock album with Rock Hell. The truth be told, this is how real death rock should sound like, not sweet and tarty version Entwine, Lullacry and To/Die/For fabricated. If I could draw a comparison, Rock Hell has a lot more to do with Sentenced’s Amok, death’n’roll period Entombed and even AC/DC. Amok particularly comes to mind, as with that album Sentenced has forever departed their death metal roots but not yet gothified itself. It was also the last album with the great Taneli Jarva, and those who like his newer band The Black League should enjoy Rock Hell immensely. The Black League and Babylon Whores are the present of the Finnish death rock.

Every song on Rock Hell has a hook you will remember for a long time. Most of the songs are mid-tempo and laden with guitar grooviness. The only exception is Nightderanger which smacks of lighter version Swedish thrash, but is no less memorable and melodic. From the AC/DC style opener L8X Queen to semi-anthemic, semi-romantic closer Castle of the Stars every track draws the listener and presents ample reasons for putting the disc on replay. One More for the Dead and Human Value Zero got choruses with more hooks than any power metal and Geysir has got the opening melodic lead ABBA would be proud of. Many leads are played not by Timo Nyberg, the band’s guitarist, but other Finnish guest guitar players. Jari Hurskainen sings with the husky voice no lozenge can cure. He is no Taneli Jarva (no one is), but he is very emotional. Live to Suffer is sung with a cleaner, but not entirely clean, voice and is also a great rocker of a song. Many tracks have cleaner back-up gang vocals, both male and female, adding to the rock’n’roll atmosphere.

As I said before, Rock Hell is no masterpiece. Heavier numbers Morning Sun and Dead Man’s Hand don’t quite fit the rest of the album’s framework (although I recall seeing a review once that Morning Sun is the best track on the album, go figure). Production plainly stinks. The band thanks Seawolf Studios (ever heard of that place??), but they should really ask for their money back. I am all for death rock guitar sounding thick and dirty, but this one sometimes sounds as static has nor been removed from the amps.

With only two albums Gandalf members moved on to other places. Former guitarist (not on Rock Hell) Sami Vauhkonen was with Lullacry and Gandalf’s founder and drummer Nalle Osterman has recently surfaced with death metal project Chaosbreed. Rock Hell, however, remains behind as a testament of Gandalf’s legacy and will no longer collect dust on my CD shelves.

Killing Songs :
One More for the Dead, Human Value Zero, Geysir, Nightderanger, Live to Suffer, Castle of the Stars
Alex quoted 85 / 100
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There are 4 replies to this review. Last one on Tue Dec 07, 2004 7:21 am
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