Escaping the chains of a music style isn’t easy at all, especially when the style itself has been pretty “codified” throughout time. From the early seventies to modern days, everything of which the origin can be traced from Black Sabbath has been tagged with many names such as doom, sludge or stoner, following the differentiation of the primal influence. But after an artist is named with one of these ones, it’s difficult to go over and experiment new things. Can you imagine a doom band that uses odd time signatures? Progressive doom. A sludge artist with exotic instruments? Oriental sludge. And a stoner one using modular synths? Traitors. Now you get the point: the elitism of the fanbase sometimes leads to a sterile repetition of common sounds, killing the style like a snake biting its own tail. Fortunately, Music Pills found a band that digs its own path in these styles and at the same time gets respect for what it does: Beastwars!
They come from New Zealand and make heavy music for heavy times and the only thing they want to do is obeying the riff. What we talk about here is their latest record IV that passed through the illness of the singer Matthew Hyde (he had cancer) and put everything for the band in perspective opening new creative ways without losing power and tightness. Lyrics seem the classic doom metal style at first but then you realize that they represent in a symbolic way the struggle against the disease. By the way, the album cover is an oil on canvas by Nick Keller (every previous album cover too) and shows a sort of archangel fighting a snake in a place reminding ancient Greece. The two fighters have some dust falling from them like they are coming out from the ground. Maybe a symbolic representation of the struggle against the illness? Let’s find out!
- Raise the Sword
- Wolves and Prey
- Storms of Mars
- This Mortal Decay
- Sound of the Grave
- The Traveller
- Like Dried Blood
The record begins in a pleasant way: the first track Raise the Sword begins with guitars fading in and a solid straight pulse guides the song alternating 4/4 with 3/4 of the verse, a sort of epic waltz. While the illness slowly grows, the author realizes the end could be near and searches for light in time of dying. A recorded speech about manipulation for the sake of power fills the special before the last marching screams say again to search the light, while the bass continues on blues notes and the guitar looks for high dissonance. Raise the sword is the primal anthem of the album and has its own video showing the band playing live in front of the audience.
Wolves and Prey is a single with a video clip based on mythological beliefs but has electronic tones at the beginning that leads to the first chorus, another legendary 3/4 pulse while the topic of light continues. Cancer grows so times are sacred, you must enjoy your life and not be fooled by the old kings, like wolves chasing the prey. The outro is a description of what’s like to just wait for the course of recovery while hoping that everything will go well: through mountains so big, through a sky of black…at the end of life, godspeed into the night.
Storms of Mars is a desperate cry to stay alive and survive. A distorted wah guitar introduces the song and prosecutes a dramatic trail that builds up piece by piece, struggling to stay away from the abyss. Like shifting sands of Earth, like a storm on Mars, the music recycles the same matter, again and again, adding or removing layers. The last building up is made by a couple of string instruments, probably cello and viola, that emphasize the general structure playing upper melodies. Storm of Mars has another video clip showing the recording session and you clearly see the effects of chemotherapy on Matthew.
This Mortal Decay states the awareness of human frailty and makes it with a few but solid riffs of sabbathian nature until the outro that reminds…Soundgarden? The way multiple guitar blends in of which the melodic one goes for its own path makes me think of Kim Thayil, and this is a true compliment because it’s rare to see a guitar resembling the typical paint-can thrown on a perfect oil on canvas today, it gives a lot of spicy vibes instead of repeating dead-end lines.
Omens means thinking about the future and making it in a bad mood. Sometimes the future seems unclear and hollow, as the empty house at the foot of the hill. The only thing you see is the path and not the destination, a gravel old road to a Holy Mountain. Heavy sludge pentatonics guide us along the path and also giving us hope with clean guitars in the verse (is it doom anymore?). The change is underlined in the special when the relative major key comes in. Rare to hear in this style of music, as told at the intro of the review.
But there’s no time for hope. Hope is an illusion, and the only thing you hear is the Sound of the Grave. The mood is almost gothic, and this song gives you space to list your sins, the lies we tell that make us damned. Right before the end of the despair, a synth and a string section use the right dissonant spot to create emphasis before arriving at the climax.
The Traveller begins with a blues-folk section that goes towards an electric litany of which Nick Cave wouldn’t be displeased. Life and death are both parts of the universe and both are blessed, parts of a continuous cycle of matter formed by time and space. This heavy rock tune holds our hands while enlightening the path, the torchlight is a cool flanger guitar burning into the dark and we hold it strong because we all must leave.
The album ends with a ballad. The classic ¾ waltz rhythm seems part of the band’s DNA and the last track makes no exception. Like the ending titles of a movie, the piano paves the way through a chromatic descending line towards the final cries. Like Dried Blood, the ground is dry and dusty and so is the world depicted by Beastwars but hoping in the meanwhile to live to reach the future.
As told before, escaping the genre of a codified style of music is almost impossible, but this band makes it for real.
“Obey the riff, long live the Beast”
Written for you by Music Pills
Previous metal review: Devin Townsend and his Empath
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