While the mighty Bolt Thrower lies in their house at R’lyeh, dead but dreaming, Dutch super group Hail of Bullets have become the undisputed champions of war-themed death metal. Featuring the likes of Ed Warby (The 11th Hour, Demiurg) and the immortal Martin van Drunen (Asphyx, ex-Pestilence, ex-Bolt Thrower), these grizzled veterans have made a name for themselves by adopting a winning Bolt Thrower meets Asphyx meets more Bolt Thrower schtik and they’ve churned out some truly tank-busting, old school death over their short but nasty career. Their albums always feature a fantastic mix of classic death grooves and monstrously oppressive doom riffs (especially on On Divine Winds) and they remind me of long forgotten Winter and the dirgey glory of vintage Celtic Frost/Hellhammer. III The Rommel Chronicles doesn’t upset the ammunition cart and the band delivers another broootal, throwback album with little in the way of finesse. It’s a bit faster and more direct than On Divine Winds, but it’s still loaded with ponderous doom segments and it continues the process of moving their sound away from mere Bolt Thrower worship into a more interesting death/doom hybrid. It packs one helluva mollywop and it’s easily one of the better death albums you’ll be brutalized by this year.
This beast is chock full of face-breaking death ditties. The typically Bolt Thrower-esque opener “Swoop of the Falcon” cycles through pulverizing death and crushing doom effortlessly while dropping some unexpected melody here and there as a reward for those with the stomach to endure. More of their direct, blitzkrieging death appears on “DAK,” which only slows to unleash some of the coolest doom riffs I’ve heard anywhere lately. They opt for more straight-ahead speed on tracks like “Poure le Merite” which blasts away with all barrels while employing vicious and blackened trem-riffs alongside the doom. The hyper riffs on “To the Last Breath of Man and Beast” really tear at you and I love the jangled, discordant solos.
Then there are the mild surprises, like the unexpectedly melodic riffs during “DG-7” that could appear on a While Heaven Wept or Atlantean Kodex album, and the traditional metal riffs that propel “The Desert Fox.” Elsewhere, “Death of a Field Marshall” opens with mournful and elegant leads that could come from the The 11th Hour catalog.
I’ve raved about Martin van Drunen before so I won’t get too crazy here, but I think he’s one of the most original and effective death vocalists out there. His odd caterwauling and gurgling sounds must be more dangerous to the lungs than asbestos and he sounds deadly convincing without coming across like every other cookie monster clone. He does some of his best work here and delivers another big slab of guts and nuts that goes perfectly with the war and battle lyrics.
Stephan Gebedi and Paul Baayens once again impress with their dramatic, authoritarian riffery and how effectively they merge the thrashy, old school death and those unrelentingly grim doom riffs. On vicious songs like “The Final Front,” those slow-downs give a welcome breather from the full on assault and rather than derail the forward momentum of the songs, the sudden dirges feel natural and integral to the Hail of Bullets blueprint. I also love the sparse, simple, but memorable melodies they mix in amid the pummeling. These make a huge difference on tunes like “Swoop of the Falcon” and “The Desert Fox” and it’s hard not to love the slithering, Morbid Angel-esque harmonies during “Tobruk.”
Equally deserving of mention is the drumming of Mr. Warby. I always love his playing and think he’s one of the top drummers in the death universe. He can blast away with the best of them, I always enjoy his fills and rolls, and love the way he grinds away on the kit during the slow moments. He does all his usual tricks here and delivers another solid, listenable performance.
The album has a raw, nasty sound and the guitars sound huge and mean. The production was handled by Mr. Warby while the mix was done by Dan “the MAN” Swanö, so you can expect it to sound as a death metal album should. Everything is audible, but things are far from clean or polished. This is also the ideal length at just over 45 minutes. Anything longer would be too much and begin to cause PTSD.
These guys have yet to let me down and while I slightly prefer the first two albums, this is another standout dose of heavy-as-fuck death from experts in the field. This is a death metal album for the death metal fan and if you haven’t gotten on the Hail of Bullets war wagon yet, you’re collaborating with mediocrity and deserve to be shot in the foot and/or leg. That’s the only way some people learn to support good music! WAR!!