Under The Spell is the perfect bulldozer of US power metal, and if you have to know one thing about Hexx, that’s enough. That’s not to say it’s necessarily the best album to do it, though if someone said it was, I certainly wouldn’t argue, but it perfectly encapsulates everything you want from USPM and more. For those unfamiliar, Hexx was given birth as a fast as hell band from San Francisco that formed in 1983 and almost immediately put out a really good speed/power record, No Escape, on Shrapnel Records the following year.
Despite that though, Hexx had yet to leave a heavy mark on metal canon. Quickly after the release of No Escape, Hexx took two steps- they recruited a new guitarist, Clint Bower, and a new vocalist, Dan Bryant. Finally, the Hexx formula was complete, and Under The Spell was recorded soon after in 1986.
From the first couple of seconds on the album, you’re slaughtered by endless riffs; there are no long intros, nor cheesy interludes, and despite it being a “power metal” album, the vocals are never left to carry a weaker section. Bludgeoning thrash is the backbone of Under The Spell, but it’s no more than that. Many bands in the ‘80s that thrashed were afraid to deviate from that, but Hexx knew that variety is the spice of life, and despite an uncompromising fierceness, that seeps through every song. At least a third of the album is based on mid-tempo pieces or even slow sections, each of which is perfectly timed to prevent monotony.
On songs that are faster, each is built on powerfully by sections of speed metal, gorgeous melodies, and the expected Shrapnel Records annihilating solos (though they never get nearly as over the top as some Shrapnel stuff!). Each song is incredibly memorable, each song has enough riffs to satisfy anyone with ears, and most of them are fairly unpredictable on top of that, keeping your attention riveted to the album. There’s no tempo slog where everything falls into the same groove, and even in most songs you’re unlikely to find more than a couple similar riffs strung together. Solos aren’t done over placeholder riffs, and the choruses are all powerful enough to level nations- it’s as catchy as it is well written, which is uncommon.
Another point of note is the absolutely insane vocal performance that Dan Bryan put on here. His control is as phenomenal as his power, and his willingness to abandon said control to scream out his passion is just as stunning. When he wants to be a bit more tender (which admittedly is rare on this record), he can be, but most of the time Mr. Bryan is wailing away with the abandon of a runaway train. On almost any other record, he’d be by far the standout, and it’s only on this one that someone of his caliber can blend perfectly with the band instead. This sense of interpersonal harmony is what lets Under The Spell come together as the talent backing each instrumental role match each other perfectly without conflict.
The last note that I really have is to say that the production suits the album well enough, despite not necessarily being phenomenal. Some people complain about it, but any rough edges in the production suit the rough edges of the music itself. All I care about is that the vocals sound perfect, the guitar tone is amazing, and the drums are cannons. The only major flaw I can really find here is that the album isn’t long enough, and Dan Bryan never did any other metal in the ‘80s before or afterwards. If you love USPM, check this one out. If you don’t, maybe it’ll change your mind.
Album rating: 98/100
Favorite track: Under the Spell