By Craig Haze
How’s that for a band name. You have to be at least marginally interested already, right? Let’s see if I can convince you to take another step forward. The first thing you need to understand is that New Zealand does grimy hateful metal real well, but I’ll forgive you for not knowing that – we’re well down south (of heaven) after all. It’s been a bumper last few years for our more obnoxious brethren, with releases from Diocletian, Witchrist and Ulcerate all getting rave reviews internationally. One of the more interesting and unhinged debuts from 2011 has come from the hardworking sludgy noise-rock outfit Beastwars.
With Matt Hyde on vocals, Clayton Anderson on guitar, James Woods on bass and Nathan Hickey on drums, Beastwars wallows around in the very ugly end of the sludge pool. As indebted to classic Amp-Rep bands as it is to Black Sabbath, the band pumps out a scrappy antediluvian sound with a large dose of Lovecraftian terror and plenty of end-times philosophizing to ensure the final result is suitably grotesque.
The key to Beastwars’ success lies in its antagonistic mix of vitriol set against grinding, lethargic walls of riffs. Kicking things off spectacularly with “Damn the Sky”, the band wastes no time on subtleties as Matt slurs over a thickly distorted propulsive riff that drops so low it drifts out of tune immediately. Track two, “Lake of Fire”, has a warped bass groove running underneath a molasses-thick riff that crawls painfully along with the growled vocals. Following on, the tracks get bleaker and murkier but it’s not all spitting anger. There are touches of muted acoustics on “Mihi”, where its temperate lead-in culminates in a roaring zenith, and on the fantastic dirge of “Cthulhu”, in which its requiem march pace matches its archaic source material perfectly.
The album was produced in four days with Dale Cotton at the helm. He was obviously taking notes when his own indie post-rock band HDU was recording with Steve Albini, as there’s an Albiniesque density and organic chest-thumping palpability to Beastwars’ eponymously titled debut. Looking offshore for post-production assistance, the band picked John Golden to master the album, no doubt due to his previous work with The Melvins and Weedeater. It was a smart move; the final product mimics Beastwars’ live sound well and the overall result easily competes with similar international acts. Keep a lookout for the gatefold vinyl release too; the artwork was provided by Lord of the Rings conceptual artist Nick Keller and the devastated landscape painted in oil is a sight to behold.
If you’ve not dabbled in the world of New Zealand metal before, Beastwars could be the perfect gateway band for you, especially if you like things grubby. The debut isn’t as technical as Ulcerate, as malevolent as Witchrist or as claustrophobic as Diocletian (bands that you should definitely listen to) but Beastwars hums with enough psychedelic escapism and irreverence to make it a good place to begin. If you’re searching for a flavor of the mysterious Antipodes, try something that oozes sludgy confidence and aptitude.
(Destroy Records/Universal New Zealand)