New Zealand’s Beastwars popped up on my radar with their excellent Blood Becomes Fire album in 2013. They impressed me with their bruising style of doomy sludge metal, combining the heft of Leviathan-era Mastodon and molten riffage of High on Fire before injecting subtle doses of ’90s grunge, prog and classic rock influences into the mix. Although they have their notable influences, Beastwars have a unique voice and showcase the songwriting chops and individuality to stand out from the crowded sludge metal field. Above all Beastwars harness an ability to craft bone-jarringly heavy and deeply infectious sludge-doom songs condensed into easily digestible capsules of metal goodness. And unlike a lot of sludge and doom bands, Beastwars are careful not to overstay their welcome, keeping things relatively short and punchy and sticking closely to their songwriting fundamentals and simple ‘obey the riff’ motto. Add the wildly unique grizzled growls of vocalist and trump card Matt Hyde and Beastwars are a formidable force, deserving wider recognition beyond their respected status in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Death of All Things signals the final chapter in the band’s conceptual post-apocalyptic trilogy and it’s a monstrous outing, boasting riffs thicker than a lumberjacks beard and earth shaking rhythms reminiscent of the band’s mountainous homeland. Beastwars get straight down to business, opening the album on a strong note through the hooky blood and thunder crunch and off-kilter lurch of “Call to the Mountain.” The song kicks into gear in rumbling, fist-pumping style, as fat crunching riffs, quaking waves of bass and caveman clubbing drums unfold around Hyde’s gruff, passionate howls and perfectly unrefined cleans. Hyde’s vocals are a raw weapon of destruction, both tremendously powerful and surprisingly versatile, often elevating solid tunes to the next level and leaving trails of raggedly infectious vocal hooks in his wake. Not to be outdone, guitarist Clayton Anderson couples his scuzzy, lurching sludge-doom riffs with slick embellishments and tasty guitar licks, venturing outside the paradigms of his sludgy roots.
Beastwars breathe new life into the age old trend of soft-loud rock dynamics, letting the quieter sections simmer and boil with barely restrained tension and menace before erupting into the kind of hulking riffs and explosive vocals that define the superb “Devils of Last Night” and the upbeat slow burning rock fuse of “Witches.” Their stringent self-editing process works wonders in how punchy and palatable their muscular metal comes across, meshing gruff skyscraping hooks and refreshing accessibility without compromising their bulldozing heaviness. Riding a laid-back stoner fuzz groove, the delightfully catchy “Black Days” is like the Beastwars equivalent of Mastodon’s “Curl of the Burl” minus the mainstream pandering and featuring far grittier, inspired vocals and an earworm chorus.
The Death of All Things could perhaps be labeled a tad top heavy, but it’s not courtesy of a dramatic loss of momentum, rather a slight shift in tact due to the less immediate, moody and slightly restrained nature of the material that permeates the album’s second half. Following a trippy, cruisy intro “Holy Man” descends into darkness as a mournful melody takes hold and undercuts crashing outbursts and an impassioned and totally unhinged vocal performance from that man Hyde again. Backed by acoustic guitar and beautiful violin melodies, the foreboding and morbid balladry of “The Devil Took Her” is a stripped back and masterful change-up from the band, adding another string to the album’s bow. Produced by Beastwars and James Goldsmith, mixed by Andrew Schneider (Unsane) and mastered by Brad Boatright (Sleep, Windhand), The Death of All Things sounds massive, an immense vessel of sonic heft and power. Unfortunately it’s also quite loud. Not to the point of discomfort but the compression slightly dulls those soft-loud dynamics the band execute so well and I can only wonder how much more amazing this could sound with a bit more breathing space.
Fronted by a wise, fiercely unique and deranged preacher and sounding like an unholy stoner bastard child of Mastodon, High on Fire, Soundgarden and Crowbar, Beastwars pack an almighty punch and land their hooks with a thudding, reverberating impact. Hopefully the end of the trilogy will herald in a new chapter for the band and not halt the impressive progress they have made in their career thus far, as The Death of All Things is an emotion charged, gutsy and memorable listen that should catapult the band’s under-appreciated profile on the back of another triumph.