Ah, war. Apparently metal guys never get sick of writing about it. And since Hail of Bullets has apparently decided to become the History Channel of heavy metal bands, I guess it’s appropriate that the band write a concept record about the Second World War, specifically seeming to focus on the Japanese and the war in the Pacific; which, indeed, is the most largely ignored part of the war because it involved fewer Nazis and a lot more Japanese guys. But lots of war did happen there, casualties were indeed quite high and of course the whole shit ended with probably one of the most inhumane acts in the history of the world which is not without its controversies to this day (such as, did the US bomb Japan because of a translation error?).
Which all makes for a fascinating background setting for what is some pretty traditional, but pretty great, death metal. Hail of Bullets doesn’t really do much that you’ve not heard before on a death metal record and I think even a year ago I would have trashed this record for that, but sometimes you just gotta accept that not every band is out to change the world and what these guys do while reminiscent of other Warby projects (Demiurg, The 11th Hour) and of course traditional bands like the mighty Bolt Thrower, it is very good.
So there are two things that stand out for me about this record: the first is the groove. One of the things that I’ve come to appreciate about chuggy, riffy, old school death metal is that the judicious use of doom riffs and melodies gives the faster and groovier parts serious juice. This is clear on a track like “Full Scale War” which combines a straight up doom metal riff with amazing melodic harmonies before breaking into a mid-paced death metal riff with just what you want to hear from a band, breaking out the old school Swedish death metal sounds and rocking tough riffs, which while simple, are a sweet salve for the over-the-top technical “br00000tality” that has taken the death metal scene by storm since the 90s. There are plenty of these kind of moments like the “breakdown” in “On Choral Shores” at the end, which has the band going from a one foot blast to a melodic groove that drilled its way into my brain and planted seeds.
Which brings us to the second standout part of this record: the melodies. I am definitely reminded of the same kind of melodic structures and tone that was used on the debut The 11th Hour record and the kind of thing that you hear on those old 90s death metal records that we all crave. But there is nothing fruity or over the top here, these melodies are still sinister and residing in a minor key, they’re just well-written and amazingly addictive. And this is coming from someone who has had a fetish for prog just because it avoided the simple. What prog nerds like myself sometimes forget is that three notes in the right order and time can be just as effective as 140 notes in 13/7, or moreso.
Hail of Bullets is a schooling in old fashioned death metal from a band doing it in a new context. The musicianship is great, the riffing is heavy (with a great guitar tone) and though the vocals aren’t my favorite kind of death metal growl (they’re more raspy, almost thrashy), they work well in the context of the music that’s presented. I can also say that this is one of my favorite record covers in a while. I think it’s tasteful and it gets across the point of the record that’s coming up. I guess what I’m trying to say is: fans of death metal should buy the new Hail of Bullets because it’s awesome.