Bullet Ride – At the Gates of Hell Review

Bullet ride - At the Gates of Hell cover art

Can heavy music make you a better person? France’s Bullet Ride seems determined to answer that question on At the Gates of Hell, which may just pioneer the sub-genre of “self-help metal.” Here are ten thrash-adjacent tunes that lean heavily into their themes of overcoming an ever-shifting combination of adversity, despair, and shitty exes. These veterans of regional acts like Methadol and Divine Punishment have crafted a bright, melodic debut that was not at all what I expected when I requested a blackened thrash promo from Dr. Overlord Himself.  But a newly elevated n00b takes what a newly elevated n00b gets, and over repeated listens my ears opened to the charms of singer Manu Dal Grande and the path to self-actualization she lays down on At the Gates of Hell. Is there something of genuine merit here, or have I accidentally been recruited into a musical cult? Let’s open our third eyes and take a closer look.

Bullet Ride plays thrash that has been filtered through a power metal sensibility. The riffs of Alexandre Duffau and Philippe Hernandez have been buffed to a high-gloss sheen, with the twin guitarists cavorting over a much heavier rhythm section that gives the songs some welcome bite. The guitars double each other frequently as they rip through highlights like opener “World on Fire” and the Iron Maiden-inspired “Eternity.” Nimble solos arrive at periodic intervals like a Scandinavian train: clean, polished, and right on time. The musicianship is tight and professional throughout, the proficiency of the players going some way to overcome a lack of songwriting variety that drags down the back half of the record. It all feels like a platform for frontwoman Dal Grande to do her thing, and your feelings toward her overwhelming (overbearing?) presence on At the Gates of Hell will determine your feelings about the album as a whole.

Manu Dal Grande’s lyrics and vocals are either the platter’s superpower or its Achilles Heel. They might even be both.  She offers vaguely inspirational aphorisms throughout, all of them delivered in a French accent so theeck it can sound like John Cleese taunting King Arthur at the beginning of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Her voice is powerful within a limited range, but Dal Grande has some trouble staying on pitch when she strays outside of it. It’s an odd cocktail that is very much an acquired taste—but you can acquire it during the album’s fifty-minute run time. I began more than one listen of At the Gates of Hell by rolling my eyes at the cheez of it all, then ended it by belting out something like “you mehk the same mees-tehks again and again” while doing my best to capture Dal Grande’s accent. The best showcase for her voice is “All at Sea,” the straight-up power ballad break-up anthem you didn’t know you needed in 2022.

Band photo of Bullet Ride standing on a bridge looking very metal.

Even if you’re willing to accompany Dal Grande on her journey toward enlightenment, the repetitive nature of At the Gates of Hell will close your chakras as the album grinds on. The songwriting is never dynamic or inventive—but what’s tolerable on the opener becomes dull by the midpoint, when “Weather the Storm” is running through a variation on the same structure you’ve heard four times already. There are attempts to shake things up along the way. Guitarist Duffau takes over lead vocals on “Somewhere Else” and “Naked Greed.” His growls may be thin, but they lend some welcome novelty to the proceedings. The same is true of the pianos that introduce “Eternity,” but these moments are all too rare. This lack of variety makes the band’s debut feel scattershot, as if they settled for recording the songs they had on hand instead of striving to make a cohesive statement. Fortunately, what’s here is sequenced intelligently. Just as your interest is waning, the album closes with a run (“All at Sea,” “Dead and Back,” and “At the Gates of Hell”) that’s as strong as anything else on offer.

Bullet Ride’s first offering is a bit of a grower, with the band’s proficient performance keeping the listener engaged while getting acclimated to Manu Dal Grande’s quirks. Once you’ve submitted, there’s fun to be mined from the earworm, cliché-riddled choruses of At the Gates of Hell. But the album, taken as a whole, just can’t hang together. If the band can hone their songwriting chops, I’d be curious to hear how their sound develops. Until then, this is cheese best consumed one or two servings at a time.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kb/s mp3
Label: Français Music-Records
Website: facebook.com/bulletrideband
Releases Worldwide: January 21, 2022

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