Let me make my bias clear from the start: Deströyer 666 are my favorite band in the world. Not my favorite black-thrash band, not my favorite metal band, but my favorite band, period. Ever since discovering 2002’s Cold Steel… For an Iron Age, I’ve been a salivating fanboy for the group’s infectious melody, ripping thrash riffs, and triumphant progressions that develop into hooky, memorable songs which – unlike so much other extreme metal out there – never obfuscate themselves in a haze of incomprehensible fury or aimless blasting. Originally from Australia and now U.K.-based, the group was formed by mainman ‘K.K. Warslut’ after leaving Bestial Warlust in 1994, and went on to release some of my favorite metal of the last 20 years: 1997’s rollicking debut Unchain the Wolves, 2000’s landmark Phoenix Rising, 2009’s hugely melodic Defiance, and a slew of terrific EPs. Through it all, K.K.’s blackened snarl has continued spitting out intelligent, fist-pumping lyrics about war, nihilism, and Jungian philosophy, along with ample references to wolves and even amusing personal outbursts (“I think I’m a wolf, then again I’m fucking crazy!”). Deströyer 666 are metal-to-the-bone, the gold standard by which I judge other music, and the greatest crime one can commit is dismissing them based solely on their over-the-top moniker.
Unfortunately, they’re hardly prolific, with their newest material being 2010’s See You in Hell EP. After guitarist Shrapnel departed in 2012, I was worried K.K. would party himself to death before we ever saw a fifth album, but I was wrong – Wildfire is here, and these crazy Australians have once again delivered an album of top-tier black-thrash, quivering with raw energy and containing some of the most memorable extreme metal you’re likely to hear this year.
Opening duo “Traitor” and “Live and Burn” showcase this vigor right from the start. Tearing through frantic predatory riffs, shout-along choruses, and scorching solos, the tracks are as strong as anything the group has ever written, with “Traitor” even featuring an awe-inspiring thrash break whose colossal feel recalls modern Asphyx. Afterwards, Wildfire pulls a Powerslave with instrumental third track “Artiglio Del Diavolo,” a three-minute foray of adventurous leads that prove a pleasant breather early in the runtime.
As the record continues, it’s clear “Diavolo” isn’t the only classic heavy metal influence here. Straight-ahead thrasher “Wildfire” and late highlight “White Line Fever” show K.K. adopting a gruff Motorhead-style shout in some sections, with “Fever” even featuring some bellowing clean vocals in its back half. Similarly, early standout “Hounds At Ya Back” – which has steadily risen on my list of greatest Deströyer 666 songs ever – delivers on the monumental tension of its verses with a viciously melodic refrain, worked into an Eastern-sounding riff that recalls a better version of something from Assaulter’s Boundless. Even “Traitor” opens with an air-siren scream that reeks of 80s charm.
Given K.K.’s vocal appreciation of bare-bones heavy metal, these developments are hardly surprising. Fortunately, they also haven’t hampered the group’s knack for mixing boots-on-the-ground thrash with more grandiose, epic moments, like those on closer “Tamam Shud.” Akin to Defiance’s finale, “Shud” combines soaring, graceful guitar-work with acoustic strumming and pagan clean vocals that recall the finer moments of Bathory’s Hammerheart. It’s a terrific conclusion – but unfortunately, not all this diversity works. Penultimate track “Die You Fucking Pig” is a fairly lame and forgettable blaster, while “Hymn to Dionysus” feels like a solid track that never achieves its full potential. The overall result is an album with a powerhouse first half and a second half that – despite some great tracks like aforementioned “Fever” – never reaches the same heights. Additionally, with the lackluster “Pig” and atmospheric “Shud” serving as the closing duo, the last great ‘normal’ track is “Fever” – ten minutes before the end of Wildfire’s 39 minute runtime. Taken as a whole, it’s still an great record, but one more song on the level of “Live and Burn” near album’s end would have unequivocally established it as an Album of the Year contender.
Fortunately, Defiance’s brickwalled production woes have been rectified, with a raw, spacious mix that richly layers the swirling solos and whooing backing vocals, calling to mind the mix on Macabre Omen’s latest album. And while I doubt Wildfire will achieve my #1 year-end spot like Omen‘s did, it’s still a terrific addition to an already great discography, successfully incorporating fresh classic metal elements and sure to overjoy fans of bands like Desaster and Absu – not to mention critical-minded die-hards like myself. Rejoice – the wolfpack is finally back, and they’re as hungry as ever.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Season of Mist
Website: facebook.com/destroyer666page | destroyer666.bandcamp.com | destroyer666.uk
Releases Worldwide: February 26th, 2016