The best metal is not purely contemplative music, but the music of action that’s worth attention. The kinetic element of metal is present in the energetic rhythms and soaring harmonies, through the murk and the ice, in the slam and the breakdown; it’s baked into the idea of heaviness itself. This music makes those who get it move; we mosh, we furiously bang our heads, throw up the horns, or play an air instrument. The gut feeling that good metal gives me makes me need to do something: have a lively night with friends, furiously scribble a review draft, play an instrument, work out, or even just pace about and enjoy the music. Hatchet, a band I’m entirely unfamiliar with except for seeing a record of theirs at a shop somewhere, had me in this active mood within ten seconds of their fourth full-length, Dying to Exist.
While they don’t sound like The Crown, Hatchet are kindred spirits with those Swedes due to their full, un-ironic embrace of the wildest and most aggressive tendencies. The base of Dying to Exist is Bay Area thrash — specifically Megadeth — tinged with the fun-loving spirit of their Big Four brethren in Anthrax. Hatchet is also decidedly modern, incorporating some metalcore elements via Unearth and the modern take on prefix-less metal of Holy Grail. On top of the riffing is a massive twin-guitar attack that we associate with Iron Maiden. It’s imperative to note that Hatchet is similar to Iron Maiden in the same way a band like Lik is: we’re not confusing the two, but the influence seems crystal clear. Vocally, I’m reminded of Destruction bassist and vocalist Schmier’s contemporary work, albeit with more yelping and shrieking tendencies.
Dying to Exist is immediately fun. The intro track of “Unraveling Existence” is thirty seconds of an arena-ready Maiden-esque harmony, leading seamlessly into the hook-laden “Silent Genocide.” The tried-and-true idea of a quick, lean, and aggressive verse leading into a big, melodically memorable chorus is used to good effect. Given the lack of real tonal variation in the vocals, the guitars naturally take the lead on the harmony and make the chorus stand out. “Illusions of Hope” nails the arena-ready feel of Countdown to Extinction, speeds it up in Holy Grail fashion, and adds in huge harmonies to create a real earworm. “Warsaw” is more aggressive, sporting heavier riffs (more Rust than Countdown) yet still retaining compelling harmonies. The solo section interrupts itself with a great riff and then goes back into some almost Friedman-tier showboating, recalling the best instincts of Megadeth.
One problem with Dying to Exist is that Hatchet doesn’t utilize each aspect of their sound to its fullest potential in every song. What sells Dying to Exist is the effective mixture of massive harmonies, Megadeth-tinged modern thrash and the modern take on heavy metal. Hatchet effectively struck gold here, but can’t keep that up for an entire record. “Descent into Madness” is a good song, but put next to other Hatchet songs on offer here, it pales in comparison. It’s a series of good thrash riffs, no more and no less. The winning combination—that something extra which makes the highlights stand out—is conspicuously absent. “Desire for Oppression” has a similar issue, despite being a straightforward catchy thrasher of respectable quality; it just doesn’t hit the heights Hatchet are capable of.
Despite my quibbles, Hatchet have released an overall winner with Dying to Exist. It’s fun, well executed, and will please those looking for some 80s nostalgia. Listening to it makes me happy, and that’s certainly a plus. I’m quite fond of beer-and-horns-in-the-air metal, and Hatchet play this style well. Much like Nothing Lies Beyond’s debut, I’ll listen to Dying to Exist repeatedly and with a smile, because it’s a good record. When forced to listen as a reviewer, I’m also forced to pick out flaws in a record that, personally, I’d be happy to add to my collection. A whole record of the potent combination of elements detailed above would easily be a Top Ten contender. Instead, this is good music with some frustratingly great parts thrown in. As AMG Himself put it perfectly regarding Exmortus’ Ride Forth: “Look at the score, but don’t ignore [Hatchet] because of it. There’s a lot to like here.”