Violent Hammer – Riders of the Wasteland Review

Generally when I like an album, it’s because I enjoy the riffs and songwriting. But sometimes, an album comes along that’s more visceral. It’s the difference between an album that makes you bob your head approvingly and an album that makes you get a crazed gleam in your eye as you mouth lyrics you don’t understand and air drum along like you’ve been playing blast beats since kindergarten. Albums like this are empowering and overwhelming; they stir something deep within such that the actual notes and arrangements are secondary to the feeling they convey. When it comes to Finland’s Violent Hammer, that feeling is utter savagery. This quintet’s Riders of the Wasteland debut is aptly named, as this album is the perfect soundtrack to the live action version of Mad Max that the world seems to be heading towards these days. If you want a preview of the barbarity that awaits us, crank up that volume knob and look no further.

Formed way back in 2006, Hammer feel less like a band that’s been honing their sound and more like one that’s been waiting for the right time to unleash it. This is primitive death metal that’s more abusive than innovative and yet still offers no easy points of comparison. It’s as if the early works of death metal and grindcore were stirred together in a bloody concoction, shoved in the furnace of black metal, and then crystallized in a raw, violent, and merciless final product that feels just as cutthroat as the band name and album title suggest. Hammer seem to love bludgeoning listeners with primal bashed chords and quick pounding rhythms, but there are also many moments that venture beyond this template with terrific results. Early highlight “Annihilation (Victims of Bomb Raid)” is a perfect example, breaking from its assault to deliver a monolithic stomp that’s soon joined by an anguished lead. Penultimate track “Bratva” deviates further with a deranged harmony that offers a satisfying bit of variety in the album’s second half.

It helps that Hammer deliver all these ideas with an explosive and ragged guitar tone that sounds like getting a sack of nails shoved down your ear canal. What really makes Riders so compelling, however, is the performance of vocalist Joonas Niemeläinen. Not since Outer Heaven have I heard a death roar that sounds so commanding and downright monstrous. The man’s growls are deep and feral, like the sound of a grizzly bear being violated with an object that’s far too large for whatever orifice the perpetrator has chosen. Even with his delivery being borderline unintelligible, I still find myself hanging onto every garbled syllable like Niemeläinen is about to reveal the secret to life itself.1

Yet while I love the visceral performances, what continues to impress me about Riders is the songwriting. Opener “Death Squad” is a great example, with its four minute runtime packed with an onslaught of battering riffs and molten tremolos that shift frequently without ever losing focus. Often it seems like the guitarists get tired of their riffs long before the listener does, yet never do any of these nine tracks feel convoluted. Still, there is room for improvement. The album could use a tad more variety and it doesn’t help that the most distinct songs are in the record’s first half, nor that the one-minute track “House of Beria” feels underwritten and utterly throwaway. Hammer‘s relentless extremity also gets a bit exhausting, though fortunately the band seem to recognize this and keep the album to a trim 25 minutes. It also helps that things end on a strong note, with closer “Prophet of Darkness” evoking Archgoat with its measured drumming before moving into a slow final riff that seems to have been painstakingly crafted to induce utter dread.

I went into Riders of the Wasteland expecting to get my face fucked off and little more. Yet while the album certainly delivers the barbaric extremity you’d expect, it also has strong enough songwriting to keep you engaged long after your skull has been beaten to a pulp. While I wouldn’t necessarily lump Violent Hammer in with the blackened death or ‘war metal’ scene, fans of those bands2 are sure to enjoy this, as is anyone looking to supplement their social distancing lifestyle with a little aural savagery. Face it: the apocalypse is almost certainly nigh, it’s time to strap on that homemade battle armor and embrace the fukkin Hammer!

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hells Headbangers Records
Releases Worldwide: May 29th, 2020

Show 2 footnotes

  1. Or maybe something slightly more mundane, like whatever Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Lost in Translation.
  2. Particularly Australian act Decrepit Soul, who remind me quite a bit of Hammer.
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