Aside from the fierce sporting rivalry, cross Tasman cultural banter, and endless sheep-fucking jokes,1 we Aussies generally hold our New Zealand pals from across the ditch in high regard. So sharing in the artistic success of our neighbors is not uncommon. In metal terms, powerhouse act Beastwars are one of the finest bands to emerge from the New Zealand metal scene in recent years. The band’s unique and bludgeoning sound, where stoner, doom, and sludge intersect, has captivated across three strong LPs, before worryingly, Beastwars went on hiatus shortly after their hard rocking third album, The Death of All Things. The future appeared uncertain. Unfortunately, the hiatus was revealed to have sinister connotations as frontman Matt Hyde battled a diagnosis of Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Confronting a harrowing and life-threatening fight, Hyde has thankfully come out the other side. On the back of the painful yet ultimately triumphant battle, Beastwars are resurrected with their aptly titled IV LP, which lyrically and conceptually delves into the turbulent times, lows and subsequent journey Hyde embarked on during his treatment and recovery.
Whereas The Death of All Things featured a bruising yet optimistic and experimental sludge rock angle, by comparison, IV is a far darker, heavier and unforgiving beast. Stripping things back to the raw flesh, Hyde and co. channel their mountainous combined musical forces into a sonic colossus that represents the myriad of emotions the heady subject matter entails. It’s a doomy, gloomy affair, though is certainly not devoid of a sense of triumph, hope, and optimism, resulting in a deeply emotional album that pulls on the heartstrings and warms the soul. The eloquent leads, hefty riffs, sinewy bass lines and heaving sludge-doom enveloping opening epic, “Raise the Sword” signals Beastwars return in an appropriately powerful fashion. A darker tone permeates the album, however, songs like the burly, hard rocking “Wolves and Prey” and sprightly, hopeful cadence coupled with the killer stoner and ’90s grunge grooves of “This Mortal Decay” add welcome variety.
Musically, Beastwars continue whipping the different yet closely linked aspects of their sound into interesting, creative and dynamic compositions. Bottling fury, heartache and reflection into a potent and concise 40-minute ride pays dividends, and while IV is a tear-jerking display of beauty, heft, and darkness, it’s also packed with hooky and adventurous songwriting. Hyde’s vocals may be an acquired taste but are some of the more interesting and charismatic in the sludge, doom and stoner scenes, and the extra emotion bleeding from his pipes brings an even deeper intensity to his trademark gruff and anguished howls. Stripping away the varnish, IV is a sonically raw, filthy and punishing album, deftly balancing the band’s trademark punch with a gritty delivery which plays into the album’s unflinching lyrical context.
There’s nothing contained within IV‘s 40-minute duration that sticks out as a weak point, yet it’s the roaring peaks that rise above the consistently high standard and elevate the album to a higher plane. The gut-wrenching emotion and desperate lyrics of the amazing “Storms of Mars” deserve extra special praise. Hyde smashes it out of the park with a fiercely powerful and memorable vocal performance and is well complemented by the song’s crushing tones and intoxicating melodies. IV‘s songs that cut deep into the soul and get the spine-tingling will leave lasting impressions difficult to shake. The slow-burning “Sound of the Grave” boasts a minimalist and foreboding atmosphere and again relies heavily on Hyde’s passionate performance and Beastwars impressive skill at crafting songs that are hypnotic, crushing yet subtly dynamic. Beautiful piano melodies adorn closer “Like Dried Blood,” an alternately delicate and immense sludge-doom colossus to close the album with a fitting climax. Hyde is supported superbly by his bandmates, who all contribute strongly. Guitarist Clayton Anderson, in particular, showcases his talents, through his evocative leads, catchy, anvil-heavy riffs and stellar integration of mournful melody.
The vaguely bothersome snare tone featured in the album’s bare-bones production and minor bloat fails to significantly halt the momentum of IV. Through adversity, Beastwars have risen with possibly their most powerful and accomplished album in their career thus far. Beastwars remain a treasured artist on my shortlist of metal’s most underrated bands and IV reiterates this with passionate drive, memorable writing, and a deeply affecting emotional resonance that lends even greater weight to these already weighty tunes.