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Hour of 13 - 333 (Earache Records)

By: David E. Gehlke

[8/10] "18 is 9" has long been King Diamond's famous numerical saying, seamlessly weaving it into his brilliant stories of the occult and supernatural. It's infinitely more fascinating than when Slipknot tried to make "555" sound cool, or when Christian metal hacks Underoath had its day with "777." French black metallers Blut Aus Nord are currently rolling out a series of albums under the "777" banner as well, and thus North Carolina-based traditional metallers Hour of 13 are giving 333 a go as the title for third album. Now it makes sense. And math is really lame.

Limited to the duo of Chad Davis (instruments) and Phil Swanson (vocals), Hour of 13 made quite the dent with their 2010 sophomore The Ritualist. Said album had little problem trotting out traditional, but not tired riffs, and vintage motifs that were a smart cross between galloping Maiden and the mystical doom sway of Candlemass. In fact, Hour of 13 has even greater wingspan than the two aforementioned bands, so don't count on a literal Maiden-Mass combination for 333, as potentially awesome as that could be.

Backed by an analog, rough production job, the seven cuts on 333 ring out like an 80's classic metal toll bell, with melodic and eerie riffs comprising the bulk of fantastic opener "Deny the Cross" and the even better "The Burning." Mad props to Davis, who manages to make lengthy songs sound un-lengthy, a credit to the man's uncanny ability to take simplistic riffs and turn them into phantasmic, grueling constructs. This couldn't be more evident on "Who's to Blame?" where Davis's riffs go from punchy and crunchy, to epic and smooth at once.

Poised to be a vital component of the true American metal fabric, Hour of 13 have improved upon the main components of The Ritualist on 333. Everything here is stepped up: Davis's guitar action, Swanson's impassioned vocals, and most of all, the songs. Don't let this slip by...Hour of 13 are the real deal.

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