Bunker 66 – Beyond the Help of Prayers Review

There’s something so alluring about the melding of two genres like black and speed metal. When executed correctly, these seemingly disparate styles join forces to create a noxious stew altogether stronger than the sum of their individual parts; powerful, bombastic and able to dissolve your stomach lining. Bands like Blackevil, Bewitcher, Hellripper and a cornucopia of their spike-and-denim clad contemporaries prove what transpires when icy BM and the meat-and-potatoes chug of 80s speed form their unholy union. Bunker 66 are no strangers to this format, and are eager to continue the sacrilegious scourge with their new album Beyond the Help of Prayers. But is their fourth record of thrash-infused blackened speed a similar success? Did this Italian trio uncover a treasure trove of gold in this genre-melded mine, or did they delve too greedily and too deep?

Bunker 66 make no secret about the foundations that undergird Beyond the Help of Prayers. Each track pulls straight from the tried and true Motörhead/Venom/Bathory playbook, with vocals, I assume, inspired by a crumpled sticky note with the name “Martin Van Drunen” hanging limply from one dog-eared page. This mostly serves them well; each song has a flow you can connect to, a tone that is recognizable and a “pour another cup of coffee” and you missed it run-time. This keeps the album easily digestible, and makes for a more enjoyable listen. Say what you will about Bunker 66’s simplistic amalgamation of blackened speed metal, but unlike many bands, they know how to edit themselves. Clocking in at a little over 30 minutes, Beyond the Help of Prayers knows what kind of album it is, and it’s eager to get in, throttle your face, and get out before the cops show up. And that’s good, because even with such a short run time, there are plenty of moments where the tried-and-true becomes tedious.

Opener “To the Gates of Death/Lair of the Profaner” sets the stage for all the killer riffs that follow, setting higher than recommended expectations for the remainder of the record. Bunker 66 are strong in the way of the riff, and return to this mighty well time and time again, throwing tasty, six-string morsels at the listener throughout a mere half-an-hour. Particular cuts like “The Blackest of Omens”, “At Our Master’s Behest” and “Die on Monday” display this ability, and the album is all the better for it. Unfortunately, as Beyond the Help of Prayers goes on, well-executed riffology isn’t enough to save this album from the unrelenting and unfortunate chug that not only disrupt the positives, but make a lot of what’s going on downright forgettable. 

This is the ultimate downfall of Beyond the Help of Prayers: the constant, repetitious chug that bulldozes over otherwise fun riffs and leaves little room for the bass and the drums to do more than try to keep up. Even pleasant surprises like “Malicious…Seditious,” which harkens to those delightful Germans in Accept, or the slighty-epic if uneven cleans on the opening track and “At Our Master’s Behest,” are squandered by the near-constant return to the fast (and boring) runaway guitar chugging. This is an issue that is made all the more noticeable by the intentionally lo-fi production, which only helps to highlight when Bunker 66 once again put unrelenting speed before undeniable quality.

Beyond the Help of Prayers certainly has its moments; enough in fact, that I felt genuine disappointment when it didn’t live up to those inspired bits. Much of what’s on display feels like these idolatrous Italians are playing it extremely safe on their fourth album. While they excel at aping their idols, they also prove that they have the chops to develop memorable riffs and exciting passages. If only they had dared to show a willingness to experiment rather than retread the same ground that still bears the tire tracks of veteran acts. So while Bunker 66 have attempted to hone their sound and further meld two mighty genres, did they indeed delve too greedily and too deep? Let’s just say I’d suggest learning a lesson from the dwarves of Moria and tap a new vein.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Dying Victims
Websites: bunker66.bandcamp.comfacebook.com/bunker66
Releases Worldwide: April 30th, 2021

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