I should probably hate this album. I’ve been having some difficulty trying to explain why I like Bombus‘s sophomore Century Media release, Repeat until Death, but as Jordan Campbell would tell me: that’s my job. But it’s possibly easier to let me explain, first, why I shouldn’t like it. Because, trust me, I’m as confused as anyone about this whole thing and I need to get my thoughts straight.
What I frequently enjoy about metal is about melody, complexity, and what often times I call “progressiveness.” This may be a misnomer, as it’s not really the progressive I’m interested in, as the complex and musically interesting. Music that grows, is epic, and expansive is the metal that appeals to me most. The bands should be well-known to readers: Orphaned Land; Opeth; Barren Earth; Soen. Minor keys? Expansive vision? Long, emotional songs? Check, check, check. These bands aren’t bands whose songs I would ever describe as slick. They tend toward beautiful, fragile cleans, and while they might have some riffs, they aren’t exactly riffy.
Bombus‘ Repeat until Death is built almost entirely on riffs and minimalism. While a DR6 master is way too dense for me to argue that the band is producing something with a lot of “white space,” it’s music that implies white space. There’s a good separation between the instruments; with the bass playing a heavy role in the mix. If this thing were mixed in 1986, it would have had punchy drums and thinner guitars, but since it’s 2016, the guitars are a lot more late Corrosion of Conformity than Dire Straits. Still, tracks like “Get Your Cuts” and “Head of Flies” show off the ease with which Bombus uses white space and open sounds in order to build their sound. The number of places where just two voices—in this context meaning drums and vocals, or just bass and drums—carry a song are surprisingly plentiful.
Don’t confuse me calling the record riffy with meaning that the songs lack coherence. In fact, Repeat until Death is an album that is hard to describe in any way but “slick.” The songwriting here is tight, poppy, and catchy. If I were cheeky, I’d say that Bombus is indie pop with the volume turned up; if The Sounds had been metal, they would’ve sounded like this (or this). This is not a slight, but an acknowledgement that these guys are driving this bus with hooks, not metal credentials. From the very introductory track, the songs are hooky and fun. The Swenglish “Eyes on the Price” (z grabbar, z) starts out a verse driven by voice and simplistic guitars, but the chorus bursts with energy and has a razor-sharp hook. “Deadweight” features Grand Magus riffing and a heavy metal attitude with an absolutely fat lead and instantly memorable chorus. Mid-paced rocker “Shake Them for What They’re Worth” might be my favorite track on the album, with a chorus speaking to my cynicism (“You shake the revolution, shake them for what they’re worth,”) and a melancholy melodic structure that hits home.
Ironically, Bombus might appeal to me not just because their slick songs are well-written, short, and immediate. It might be because that despite an outward minimalism, Repeat until Death is more interesting on deeper listens than you’d expect. While the songs are simple, the band actually has a tendency toward sad melodies and counterintuitive riffing. “You the Man” features a weird chorus, and a borderline “progressive” bridge—when is a countermelody not really a ‘melody’? “I Call You Over (Hairy Teeth, Pt)” features a stadium rock chorus, but a more reflective introduction, while “Rust” has an outro melody that’s about 80% from “The Unforgiven” (y’know, Metallica…), but is delivered with walking bass underneath and a sing-along sound; both catchy and powerful.
With all of this, the singer—who honestly, I have no idea if this is Feffe or Matte who sings in this band due to a dearth of accompanying information—should be the final straw. I can’t say I’ve ever enjoyed a band with a guy who sounds like this; it’s kind of a scratchy post-thrash hard rock vocalist. Half scream, 1/4 growl, and 1/4 melody, “Feffmatte” has a lot more control over his vocals than your average screamy guy, which allows him to carry melodies. But rather than finding it to be irritating—like the newest In Flames material—Mattfeffe balances intensity and melody perfectly. The combination of riff-driven writing with occasional quirks, and a bit of an “unhinged” vocal sound keeps the music interesting. And while the production tried as hard as it could to beat it out of them, I’ll bet these guys sound immense live.
All of this all has left me coming back to this album time and again for nearly two months now. I popped the promo in because I was curious and these weeks later, I’m still spinning Repeat until Death with a stunning regularity. Sure, they probably sound like some band I don’t listen to or something, but I’m OK with that. Bombus hits a perfect balance between slick, minimal, moody, and groovy, and was a pleasant surprise.