I find that I like the idea of Hell Within. It seems like they’re built in the same mold as Unearth; a Massachusetts-built strong brand of new age metalcore with flying guitar solos that is coupled with a forceful but unfocused vocal performance. The problem is that the cohesiveness of the band isn't quite there. "God Grant Me Vengeance" has a feeling in parts that each individual musician is playing his line in the proper context, but it’s all so raw and unfiltered as to get snarled up in itself.
JJ Long is much more accomplished when he attempts to straight sing as opposed to scream or growl. His voice lacks a convincing bass register to get him over the hump, so his screaming comes off as a touch pubescent. As a straight singer, his voice creates a placid layer that juxtaposes nicely with the boiling inferno underneath. It is in these moments when Hell Within flashes a uniqueness that could solidify their place in modern metal.
There are a lot of parts of “God Grant Me Vengeance” that I can really get behind. The album leans heavily on the strength of Tony Zimmerman and Isaias Martinez to support the rhythms with their guitar playing, which is a nice choice. If they had decided to let the ubiquitous double kick drums form the spinal column for the album, it might well have been a very drab, repetitive affair. Much more in the style of Lazarus AD, Hell Within creates a palpable ferocity with their twin guitars that is difficult to match with percussion alone.
On top of that, the band knows enough to leave open space in their riffs, which is an all too often overlooked detail in heavy metal. The pervasive thinking is that every instant of a metal song must be filled with bone-crunching fury, and that’s simply not true. More space leads to more listener attention to each note’s impact, and allows for the creation of some killer riffs. Take, for example, Pantera’s “Walk.” It’s a lesson that Hell Within has studied well, especially in the throw-down sections of the title track. The open spacing allows for a staccato pounding that this album couldn’t survive without.
It is songs like “Scars in Oblivion” that perfectly illustrate what I’m talking about. The guitars are not necessarily foremost in the mix, but are completely indispensable to the pace and emotion of the song. Without that and the album’s other creative riffs, this entire album would be aimless.
Conversely, the more Hell Within tries to force the drums to the fore, the less successful it is. Not because Derek Jay can’t play, but because any song instantly becomes a noisy but repetitive affair. “Assembly of the Locusts,” “Remnants of a Failed Creation” and “Eternal Uprising” have entire sections that can be thrown away as a result.
Furthermore, in between all the moments of punishing onslaught, “God Grant Me Vengeance” has an air of almost upbeat defiance that’s a curious twist on the usual metalcore doom and destruction. Especially in “Lament for the Fallen,” Long creates a sense of survival and fortitude that changes the affect of the song (similar to Fear Factory’s “Resurrection,” but less polished.)
The double edged sword of “God Grant Me Vengeance” is that it’s incredibly, refreshingly, honest. There is not an ounce of pretension from the band or the music; they are simply men working at a trade that they feel strongly about. As well they should, as they’ve held nothing back and given the world an album they can be proud of. The flip side is that in the raw honesty is a slight lack of discipline; the album is virile but in sections unfocused. I keep getting the nagging feeling that if I saw Hell Within live ‘tabula rasa,’ the lack of polish might leave me with a less than desirable taste in my mouth.
The band has room to mature, but still a lot more good than bad here. Take a chance on Hell Within if you’re up for a bumpy ride, and I think you’ll be rewarded.