HELLWELL is one of the projects of Mark “The Shark” Shelton of the legendary MANILLA ROAD. On this second outing of the former, the band is joined by Randy “Thrasher” Foxe, a fellow MANILLA ROAD alumnus. According to Shelton, the band went for a heavier sound which is a bit more removed from the 70s sound than the previous HELLWELL album. While this is a unique band, the tracks have unfortunately suffered from a malaise particular to modern metal: a lack of editing in some cases.
“To Serve Man” is sixteen minutes and seven seconds long, which I felt was too long. There were definitely great moments here, but they were somewhat overshadowed by the fatigue I eventually felt. Now onto what I enjoyed about the song: The organs and fuzzy riffs create a creepy, sinister atmosphere, and the vocal harmonies were great. Shelton’s nasal voice may be off-putting for some, but his unique tone appeals to me. He also does some notable lead work on this track.
While the fuzzy production does serve the creepy atmosphere to an extent, I felt that it was too muddy overall. At times, the mix was a bit unpleasant to listen to. It’s a pity that a song such as “Lightwave” had a muddy production, since Randy Foxe’s drum work is interesting, and the vocals were delightfully creepy. Speaking of vocals, Shelton’s semi-growls work well, and his clean signing is done well too. I particularly liked his performance on “It’s Alive”, and the wavering, unhinged utterance of “Tonight, it’s alive!” ends things off perfectly. E.C. Hellwell’s organ parts suit the atmosphere of the album perfectly. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really hear his bass parts.
There’s a bit of levity with the somewhat whimsical “The Galaxy Being”, with its spacey synth parts and catchy riffs. The album ends with another long one in the form of “The Last Rites of Edward Hawthorne”. Again, the listener fatigue detracted somewhat from the good points of this track. I enjoyed the bleak piano part, which gave a sense of impending death, and the synth parts added pathos. Here, Shelton sings in a sombre bass voice. The “tight” notes of the guitar solo give a sense of things closing in, like the final descent into death.
HELLWELL is by no means boring, and there was a lot to enjoy here. I felt that the production and the songs which dragged on unfortunately took away from the album. But with a musician as creative as Shelton in the mix, I reckon that HELWELL will rise to even greater heights next time around.