Metal for the Red Sun
From “The Land of the Long White Cloud”—or New Zealand, as it’s better known—comes a four-piece metal band that goes by the fantastic moniker Beastwars. Since the release of their debut album in 2011, Beastwars’ turbulent chord progressions and archipelago-shaking rhythmic rolls have caused some serious damage: winning awards in their homeland, selling out shows, and securing some pretty big support gigs—thrilling triumphs for a band on their first album. On the other hand, even though their debut did extremely well in New Zealand and reached folks in Australia and Europe, it did not receive the vital promotional push to extend Beastwars name to the four corners of the world—an obvious consequence of the band being based on a remote island located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. However, this should change now that the sonic-bluster that Beastwars have summoned on their debut—smashing together sludge, doom, and AmRep noise rock—finally sees a global release.
Beastwars was recorded over a period of four days in 2010: a feat that would give Black Sabbath’s seminal debut a run for its money in terms of studio efficiency. And due to the prior commitments of record producer Dale Cotton, the mixing and mastering of the album ended up delayed until 2011. But for those experiencing Beastwars for the first time, such details surrounding the recording of their debut are far from obvious—the tracks on display have not aged in the slightest. With a mix that is lively, crisp and clear, with just enough dirt and spittle caked to it, Cotton has commendably captured the character of each of the nine songs that comprise this debut.
At times, Beastwars recall and compete with the blissful grooves of Kyuss; the taut punishment of Unsane at their prime; and the chest-pounding, primal power of the Melvins and High on Fire, but because of a certain Kiwi charm, they crawl from the rubble of their influences a unique animal. The vocals of Matt Hyde have a lot to do with Beastwars’ individuality: he really gives an idiosyncratic performance that is engaging in its eccentricity. “Damn the Sky” commences with a stately riff that morphs into the song’s chunky verse chug, on top of which Hyde appears with a gruff mumble that faintly hints at the strength contained within his tobacco-stained vocal chords. However, once sky valley opens up courtesy of guitarist Clayton Anderson, bassist James Woods and drummer Nathan Hickey, Hyde unleashes apocalyptic chaos. Such chaos continues during his snarling performance on “Lake of Fire”, a song which is wound a lot tighter than what preceded it, and sits upon a taut, cyclic rhythmic riff that just burrows and burrows.
On “Mihi” (a Maori word meaning greeting), Beastwars blaze out with a syrupy groove, relaxing their grip somewhat but keeping tight control of the riffs, while Hyde clutches at the frail ends of sanity, screaming: “Burn the land, burn the ground, burn the house on the memories that we all had / Burn the time and the place, burn the son of the crazy, the crazy one.” He’s like the idiot savant you hear babbling uncontrollably on the street corner, but the difference being that you pay attention to Hyde because he demands it.
“Dagger” follows with a truly nasty bassline that runs roughshod over the guitars and maintains the heft during Anderson’s brief wah-heavy solo. Here Hyde hits some towering notes similar to Chris Cornell after being dropped into a vat of acid, and maybe this is what Soundgarden would have sounded like if they weren’t so busy “looking like California and feeling Minnesota”. On this album, Beastwars look like hell, feel like hell, and sound like hell, and this impression continues with the tenacious rhythms and doomy undercurrents of “Call Out the Dead” and the straight-up rock strut of “Red God”.
Beastwars are not all about bludgeoning wildly, and as the first half of “Iron Wolf” will attest, they are well equipped at channelling the brooding pain of Tom Waits, before the second half of the song purposely swells and ends triumphantly. The mournful pace hinted at on “Iron Wolf” is fully realised on “Cthulu”, a track that pushes Hyde’s storytelling to the forefront and appropriately introduces Lovecraftian colours into Beastwars’ primitive palette: the aural equivalent of the oil-painted album cover depicting a ravaged landscape—from the gifted hands of Lord of the Rings conceptual artist Nick Keller (the detailed gatefold LP is an absolute must for any record collector). “Empire” wraps volatile AmRep-style grooves around the volcanic tousle of High on Fire, and ends Beastwars with a bang. Those who missed this album first time round and call themselves a fan of sludgy metal should recoil in shame. But if you repent for your sins, grab this album upon its global release, drop to your knees and obey the riffs of Beastwars—all will be forgiven. If you deny this album a second time, there will be no redemption….