Illinois based black/death Metal outfit A Hill To Die Upon were formed by brothers Adam and Michael Cook in 2004 and 'Holy Despair' is their third full length release following 'Infinite Titanic Immortal' in 2009 and 'Omens' in 2011.
The first thing that I am going to say about this album is that it is a superb listen. Looking into the band further; their inspiration for lyrical themes comes from battles, mythology, literature and Christianity.
The latter thankfully isn't a high profile theme and is ambiguous in its application, so I will apply my adversarial stance to that content and then enjoy this release purely from its artistic perspective as all these themes are woven into interesting tales that reflect their own personal visions.
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The musicianship on the release is excellent, most of which is covered by the Cook brothers with additional lead guitars from Nolan Osmond, with superb black Metal guitars that have an added twist to the sound, as well as having a really great tone to them, not dissimilar to Watain in many respects.
The vocals are superbly harsh and vitriolic and reminded me a little of Ihsahn in their style, particularly on 'Unyielding Anguish'. The drum work is also good, very powerful and often quite complex.
Consisting of ten tracks, spanning almost fifty minutes, all of which I thought were well composed so I have no favourites, this is a release to be enjoyed in its entirety. Beginning with 'Cloven Hoof Hava Nagila', a dark humoured title, where a simple haunting repeat riff makes up the basis of the track with some superb guitar work midway.
The dark, deliberate and haunting, almost mournful 'A Jester Arrayed In Burning Gold', has additional clean singing from Beckie Frey. On 'Nekyia', the inspiration for which comes from Homer's The Odyssey, there are also additional guest vocals in the form of screaming, courtesy of The Scandinavian Black Metal Alliance and on 'O Death' clean vocals are provided by Timbre, who also plays the closing harp which adds an interesting Celtic feel; not an instrument that crops up in Metal often, giving it a unique twist.
The tracks 'Let The Ravens Have My Eyes' and the dark haunting 'Hæðen' enlist the musical talents of Thor Georg Buer of Grave Declaration and Antestor, who wrote the music for both these tracks. 'Somme' is a beautiful reflective guitar based instrumental.
The vocals on 'Rime (Jerub-Ba'al)'are particularly excellent, taking on, at times more so than other tracks, a very blackened, tortured and vitriolic tone.
Final track, the dark plodding 'Satan Speaks' is the C.S. Lewis poem of the same name with an added couplet, written by Michael, at the end and whether you agree or not with the sentiment implied it does round the piece off well as the original ending hangs in mid air somewhat; it also makes a great album closer.
'Holy Despair' was recorded by Drew Webster of Webster Studios and mixed and mastered by Erik Tordsson of Dark Chambers Studios and produced by Adam Eckley Cook. The artwork was by Tyler Hays.
I do think this is a great album, created by brothers, out of a passion for their art.