Friday, 12 April 2013

Beastwars - Blood Becomes Fire (album review)

Stunning cover artwork by Nick Keller
Right off the bat, 'Blood Becomes Fire' features one of the greatest album covers of all time.  Look closely, it's fascinating (see the full wrap-around cover art below).  What story does it tell?  What secrets does it hold?  I could stare at it for hours and come up with a million stories behind the painting.  A thousand words seems positively broke ass when assigning worth to this thing.  There actually is a story behind the artwork and that story is told in the music but I won't dwell on it.  Either way, Beastwars have accomplished goal number one.  Hook them in with great album art: check.

It was around early October that the world was treated to its first taste of the material from this album.  A seven inch promo single for "Tower of Skulls" backed with the album's closing track "The Sleeper".  The a-side right away was killer.  Catchy, doomy, slow and heavy enough to have its own gravitational pull, indeed it was a top 5 song in the Doom Charts.  The b-side was a solid tune as well, but what was this?  It was even slower and more understated than its companion.  I wasn't sure of what was to come.  Their excellent debut, 'Beastwars' was an album of cosmically inclined structures, cathartic moments and fiery dynamics.  It had its share of slow moments to be sure but the two sides of the new single seemed a bit ... subdued compared to the band's previous effort.

After hearing the new album in its entirety, it all makes sense.  What was originally heard and feared as being subdued was actually the first signs of a streamlining process that seems to have taken place within the songwriting that I would describe as akin to High on Fire's 'De Vermis Mysteriis' or Cultura Tres' upcoming 'Rezando al Miedo'.  The new songs may still bounce off the wall, but they are clearly directed and follow a logical trajectory.  The war of the wild beasts continues but an evolution has taken place.  Gone are the Swiss Army knives of kitchen sink songwriting, in come the all-in-one death rays.

As far as I know the first album was written as instrumental music before bringing their madman of a vocalist on board (more on him in a moment).  So it makes sense that the songs on this album follow more traditional song structures.  The result is a lean, fighting trim product.  In a word, the new Beastwars album is bold.

Once again, the band's aptly named smoke-tinged vocalist Matt Hyde delivers an emotional train-wreck, sprawling his guts all over the place.  "Rivermen" is a strong example of this.  You've got to respect a vocalist who really 'lives' his vocals, really 'experiences' his stories.  Occasionally he lets out the vulnerable Dr. Jekyll to draw the listener in deeply, only to turn around in an instant as the screaming, slathering Mr. Hyde.

Apparently he's just showed up at the band rehearsal one day and decided he was going to join the band.  I love stories like that.  Whether or not that's how it actually went down, it's a perfect example of his intensity and ability to captivate.  The band is truly blessed to have him.  He's one of the more sensitive vocalists that I know of in metal today.  By sensitive I don't mean he's sitting beside streams picking flowers and gently sobbing, I mean that he's attuned to the band the way a guitar string is attuned to the vibrations of a tuning fork.  Few are the vocalists who have the ability to match the music for intensity at polar ends of the spectrum.  It would be nice to plant an image of Hyde engaged in a beastly battle with the riffs but the truth is they are so joined at the hip that the idea just doesn't wash.  They are joined at the hip emotionally if not melodically.

Photo by David James
Quaking drums, boiling basslines and rivet-driving riffs tattoo themselves on the listener's brain.  Where the self-titled album was more adventurous in its structures, 'Blood Becomes Fire' has found a comfortable songwriting home and the pay-off has been the memorability of each of the songs.  "Caul of Time", which is currently available as a free download on bandcamp and so far the only other song aside from the two cuts on the single that is available has that epic Beastwars sound with a killer hook, listen to it now on the player below, you won't be disappointed, of course an empty feeling may arise as you crave for more.

Picking out highlights is kind of pointless because this album is solid as granite from end to end ... but "Shadow King" and "Dune" are particularly good aside from the two listed below.  "Realms" highlights the band's understated side excellently.  But really, this is a pointless exercise.  I'm just not hearing any bad, bland or uninspired moments on this thing.  Beastwars just doesn't do bland or uninspired.

A week from today this ship is going to roll in via the band's own Destroy Records but you can book your ticket early by pre-ordering the digital download now on the band's bandcamp page, or you can pre-order the format of your choice on the album's official page (see link below).  You can wait to preview more songs if you'd like, but you'd only be delaying the inevitable.  Once this band gets its hooks into you, they will own your ass.

Highlights include: "Tower of Skulls" and "Caul of Time"

Rating: 5/5

1). Dune (3:01)
2). Imperium (4:36)
3). Tower of Skulls (4:30)
4). Realms (3:03)
5). Rivermen (4:10)
6). Caul of Time (3:06)
7). Ruins (3:32)
8). Blood Becomes Fire (3:08)
9). Shadow King (4:23)
10). The Sleeper (5:35)
Total Run Time: 39:01

Clayton Anderson – guitars
Nathan Hickey – drums
Matt Hyde – vocals
James Woods – bass

From: Wellington, New Zealand

Genre: Psychedelic, Sludge, Doom

Reminds me of: High on Fire

Release Date: April 19, 2013

Suggested listening activity for fellow non-stoners: I hear they're now taking applications for a one way trip to Mars.

Better Reviews:
The Sludgelord
No Clean Singing
The Bone Reader
The Metal Observer

'Blood Becomes Fire' official website
Beastwars on facebook


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