Beastwars – ‘The Death of All Things’
There’s nothing subtle about the title of Beastwars’ latest album, The Death of All Things. This release concludes the post-apocalyptic trilogy that the New Zealand-based sludge band began on their self-titled debut in 2011, and also reflects that the album was originally intended to be Beastwars’ last. While they’re intent on continuing for now, spurred on, no doubt, by enthusiasm surrounding The Death of All Things, that certainly wasn’t their original intention.
In recent years, Beastwars have been on the receiving end of increasing amounts of critical and commercial success. At home, the band’s been nominated for multiple music awards. In New Zealand and Australia, their shows regularly sell out, and they’ve been first pick to support many heavy rock and metal bands touring Down Under. But all that goodwill has come at a cost.
The band’s members are older. Their success sits alongside already established lives and responsibilities, meaning they haven’t been able to spend months on end touring the globe to capitalise on their success. But the temptations of being under the spotlight have remained. Overindulgence, interband tensions, and the inevitable pressures on the band’s lives have resulted in some bleak personal consequences. You can hear that on The Death of All Things.
The album is the darkest release yet from Beastwars, and, as the band noted on their Facebook page recently, “no ending is perfect, strewn with unfinished hopes, ambitions and dreams.” That mood framed the writing of The Death of All Things. However, while it’s an album born from chaos, it benefits from the creative courage Beastwars have shown when facing what they supposed was their demise.
The safest option for Beastwars would have been to wave goodbye with another album like 2013’s much-celebrated Blood Becomes Fire. That album proved to be a smash hit at home, with only Canadian crooner Michael Bublé standing in the way of Beastwars reaching number one on New Zealand’s album charts.
A similar album would have ended the band’s career on a satisfactory note, and softened the blow to fans. But Beastwars haven’t delivered a repeat of Blood Becomes Fire, and it’s a credit to them for not doing so. While they’ve built their success on sludge and doom at home (where band’s of Beastwars’ ilk are rare), internationally, fans of blown-out sturm und drang have plenty of similar music to choose from. It’s crucial, especially when reaching out to an audience half a world away, that Beastwars offer something different.
Beastwars are often compared to riff monsters like Kyuss or High on Fire, and sure, there are plenty of guitar and percussion parallels to be found. But the band’s real musical talent lies in the hands of bassist James Woods, whose low-end, churning playing calls to mind KEN mode, Unsane, or Killing Joke.
Beastwars have heavy metal accoutrements to burn, but they’re a far more interesting band when they bring the thick and dirty abrasiveness of AmRep-indented noise-rock or steel-edged post-punk into play. On The Death of All Things, the band’s chosen to do just that. The album reveals the depth of their musical marrow further by displaying a much wider spectrum of influences.
That’s why clear-cut ’90s psychedelic rock has been injected into “Witches”. That’s why “Disappear” displays such an upfront bluesy rock swagger. That’s why Beastwars have included “The Devil Took Her”, an acid-folk amble, of all things. And that’s why tracks like “Devils of Last Night” and “Call to the Mountain” bring to mind the early years of the Jesus Lizard and Melvins, rather than retreading the same old sludge and doom pathways.
What will be most familiar to Beastwars’ fans is how The Death of All Things aims to match musical heaviness with a corresponding emotional weight. In this case, the torment and madness expressed by frontman Matt Hyde hits harder than on any other Beastwars release.
Hyde is a charismatic frontman, and his default live stance is to prowl the stage, arms aloft, calling down the Gods like a crazed preacher. That unhinged energy hasn’t always transferred to Beastwars’ recordings, but Hyde howls bloody murder on The Death of All Things. That’s where those smashed hopes and dreams are heard. That’s where the chaos of lives crumbling is exhibited. Hyde, and the band, have never sounded so tortured or fucking angry at the world.
It would be understandable to presume that the personal troubles Beastwars have faced, and the uncertainty about their future, would have bled into The Death of All Things in negative ways. However, there’s no evidence of Beastwars limping off into the sunset on their new album. The hardships Beastwars faced have been transformed into artistic strengths, seeing the band boldly push past genre restrictions and incorporate far more influences from outside of metal.
Beastwars have shows lined up in New Zealand and Australia to support The Death of All Things’s release, they are the band’s only shows for 2016 and “maybe even longer...”. If The Death of All Things is the final chapter in Beastwars’ creative story, it is, by far, the most interesting one of all.
The Death of All Things is out now via Obey the Riff. Buy limited vinyl direct from band.
New Zealand: jbhifi.co.nz
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