Stopgap EP’s don’t have to be doorstops. Arch Enemy’s Dead Eyes See No Future and Behemoth’s Ezkaton were fun packages of minutiae (live cuts, covers) to tide over fans between albums. Hail of Bullets‘ Warsaw Rising is another such bundle of joy, with three new studio tracks and three live cuts. The studio tracks are top-notch and could easily have been on last year’s …Of Frost and War. Hail of Bullets carry on death metal’s old-school tradition with a modern touch. To analogize to actual metal, they are like stainless steel compared to the rusted iron of vocalist Martin van Drunen’s other band, Asphyx. Different materials, both deadly. True to their World War II themes, “Warsaw Rising” and “Liberators” roll like tanks, while the doomy stomp of Twisted Sister’s “Destroyer” is a surprisingly good fit.
Even better are the live cuts, recorded at 2008’s Party.San festival. The performances are tight, and they drip with charm. They include a lot of stage banter by van Drunen, who as one commentator put it, could make reading the phone book sound bad-ass. I can’t understand his German (can anyone translate it?), but I do understand the word “Scheiße.” The crowd is obviously into it. Performers often repeat the cliché of taking energy from the audience. This is true to an extent, but rarely more so than here. After two and a half minutes, “Red Wolves of Stalin” gears down to half time, and the crowd does a typical “hey” chant. But it absolutely works with the song. The military subject matter, the bends wafting like gunsmoke into the distance — next to these, the chant sounds huge and martial. For a moment, performer and audience combine to raise the song to another level. Moments like these are why we go to metal shows.