Despite hosting a substantial early-1990s underground scene, Polish death metal never managed to break through on a wider scale. Beyond high-profile acts like Vader, Behemoth and Decapitated, most Polish acts continue to dwell in obscurity. However, the renewed interest in old school death metal have caused record labels to probe back catalogues in search of potential lost gems, or at least releases that can be marketed as such. One example of recent years is Thor, the 1994 debut full-length album by Polish death metal band Hazael.
The first thing that strikes the listener – well, after paying notice to the synthetic sounds of a relatively well-programmed drum machine – is that Hazael doesn’t sound like your average Polish death metal band. While their countrymen in Vader, Betrayer and Magnus were busy forging an intense, phrasal style of death metal distinctive to their native land, Hazael decided to ditch any pretensions of originality by studying the formative albums recently released in the Nordic countries. Consequently, Thor reads like a text-book of Scandinavian and Finnish death metal practices.
In all fairness, it’s a relatively faithful emulation of the Swedish and Finnish death metal styles.
The production values, thick guitar-tone, rhythmic patterns and riffing style of early Entombed and Dismember: check; Viking-themed lyrics a la Unleashed; check, Gorement’s slower sections complete with ringing power chords and elegiac lead guitar: check; thundering and doomy death metal with melodic underpinnings in the vein of early Amorphis and Sentenced: check. The list could go on and on, it’s all in there somewhere. Even Nicke Andersson’s arresting vocal contributions on Clandestine get their due, except here performed with a Polish accent.
For the nostalgics, this is quite a treat. But as we all know, nostalgia tends to distort our judgmental faculties. If experienced from a mental distance, as background music, Thor could be mistaken for a likeable or at least inoffensive offering. But start paying closer attention and the lackluster nature of this album begins to make its appearance. Compositionally, it’s not exactly random or template-bound like modern death metal. Each song feature at least one or two cool passages, but they never add up to something greater than the sum of individual parts. There’s no sense of terrifying majesty or epic grandeur. Songs doesn’t really express anything beyond sounding like a moderately able, but completely derivative take on the music of superior bands. Moreover, there’s an overall knucke-head bounciness to the music that makes it sound a bit stupid. This could have been corrected, but it wouldn’t have mattered much.
Judging by the seemingly infinite number of neglected death metal bands that remains unearthed by the collector’s guild, one would like to believe there’s still one or two quality albums left to be discovered. Thor – forgotten as it might be – is not one of them.