Hymns in the Key of 666

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With all undeserved respect to Pat Boone's short-lived metallic conversion on the frankly laughable In a Metal Mood album, never has rock's most fearsome musical subgenre been coerced with such admirable ulterior motives as when Swedish "lounge metal" trio Hellsongs took it upon themselves to deconstruct ten heavy metal standards for 2008's brilliant Hymns in the Key of 666. Yes, there's a certain tongue-in-cheek element involved here, and the CD comes disarmingly packaged in colorful, hippie-dippy artwork (including the group's trademarked Volkswagen Kombi), but there's no doubting the serious deliberation and earnest respect -- not mockery -- with which the members of Hellsongs approached these uniformly mellow reinterpretations. For the most part, the band uses minimalist piano and cello-led arrangements to make melancholy laments out of originally hostile fare like Iron Maiden's galloping battle anthems "The Trooper" and "Run to the Hills," Slayer's hellish travel log "Seasons in the Abyss," and Black Sabbath's desperate cry for help, "Paranoid" -- as well as less severe heavy rock classics like Twisted Sister's anthemic "We're Not Gonna Take It," Saxon's oft-overlooked gem "Princess of the Night," and even Europe's insufferable "Rock the Night" (must be the Swedish connection). In this regard, Hymns in the Key of 666 recalls Mark Kozelek's unrivaled, Nick Drake-esque revisions of Bon Scott-era AC/DC (whose Brian Johnson-period "Thunderstruck is given a similar treatment here), making it impossible to disregard its influence on this set. But Hellsongs makes a small effort to challenge this conclusion by whipping up a pair of buoyant acoustic guitar strum-a-thons (oddly reminiscent of Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealin'") for Megadeth's cynical political tirade "Symphony of Destruction" and Metallica's bleak apocalyptic prophecy "Blackened." The only question is whether dream pop aficionados will find Hymns in the Key of 666 as entertaining as good-humored metal heads, since it's ultimately the contradiction between vocalist Harriet Ohlsson's amiably innocent croon and the violent lyrics she recites that proves the highlight of this highly amusing experiment. Damnation never sounded so sweet.

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