Sound: Stoner Doom and Sludge Metal is as far from mainstream music as you can really get, so you can understand my surprise when I saw an interview with a band that played such music being aired on TV during the prime time news slot. If a Stoner Doom band can get some mainstream attention they must be worth checking out.
Beastwars is a 4 piece that hails from Wellington, New Zealand and have forged ahead with a sound that isn't really well known in this part of the world. They combine elements of Stoner Rock, Doom and Sludge to come up with their own downtuned sound that is similar in sound and style to the work of High On Fire, Kyuss and Goatsnake.
Produced by Dale Cotton, a long time friend of the band, the band recorded album over the space of 4 days. The production on the album has resulted in a clear sound that would be more typical of mainstream music rather than a Stoner Doom album. This doesn't degrade the sound of the album and lets each individual instrument come through clearly.
Although Beastwars self titled debut album consists of only 9 songs over 39 minutes, they waste no time in making a statement that they mean business. From the get go the songs grind, heavy and sludgy right through the album with no real let up until "Iron Wolf" and "Cthulhu". These songs build up from clean intros before heading back to heavy grinding sound found on the rest of the album. A groovy Kyuss feel can also be heard coming through in Damn the Sky'.
Downtuned sludgy guitar riffs are what propel the music. These riffs aren't the battle axe, thick slabs you'll hear on a High On Fire album but slightly more intricate riffs with an underlying groove that grab your attention and get your head bobbing and you out of your chair. The guitar sound isn't your typical fuzzed out, wall of sound typical of Stoner Doom, but a standard gritty distorted guitar sound normally found in Rock. This doesn't detract from the sound of the band in any way, as the riffs are still heavy, but allows space for other guitar parts to be laid down over top. The clean guitar part over dubbed in "Lake Of Fire" gives an evil jangle to the guitar tone which adds to the atmosphere of the song. Aside from distortion, clean guitar and an occasional wah wah, there are basically no other guitar effects on the album. The wah is used to add atmosphere like in "Call Out The Dead" or colour riffs and solos. Solos are kept basic. Nothing flashy, but enough to add an extra element to the song.
The bass sound on this album is big and dirty, filling in the spaces the guitar doesn't reach. The bass tone is reminiscent of Neurosis but perhaps a tad more filthy and loose sounding. In "Lake Of Fire" the bass adds an extra dose of heaviness to the song while in "Mihi" it carry's the riff, allowing the guitar to go off and play a more melodic section without losing the heaviness of the song.
Marching drums stitch it all together helping drive the songs forward and adding heaviness when needed. In the opener "Damn The Sky" the drums pound the song forward before opening up. Perhaps the drum sound could have been a little larger and bit dirtier sounding to try equal the tones from both the guitar and bass.
Beastwars for the most part have a pretty standard Stoner Doom/Sludge sound, but in places they manage to capture the ancient mood that really good Doom seems to have (ala Celtic frosts Dying god coming into human flesh). "Call Out The Dead" and "Cthulhu" capture this mood, which gives the songs an epic feel. // 7
Lyrics: The vocals of Matt Hyde are the defining feature of Beastwars. His vocal performance is what takes the songs from being good to great. Hyde has (dear I say it) a truly original vocal style. In a single song he will go from a drawn out singing vocal to a howling scream then to a growling vocal. In "Iron Wolf", Hyde almost speaks the vocal part in the verses before exploding into a howl as the music takes off in the chorus. Between songs he can almost change his voice entirely, giving each song a greater feel of individuality. The change in his voice between "Mihi" and "Call Out The Dead" keeps things interesting.
Lyrically the songs are reasonably basic, but the vocal delivery more than makes up for this. Lyrical themes appear to be based around madness and loss of faith ("Mihi"), death ("Cthulhu") and life and growing old ("Iron Wolf"). "Mihi" sports lyrics consisting of "Burn the land, burn the ground, burn the house on the memories that we all had / Burn the time and the place, burn the son of the crazy, crazy one". "Cthulhu" contains the lyrics "Someone call the Captain, seem to have lost another soul, the ship is, the ship is sinking, into cold water salt".
Pretty generic lyrics, but they fit in perfectly with style and mood of the music and it is Matt Hyde's delivery of the lyrics that makes the songs. // 8
Overall Impression: In my opinion, Beastwars fit in perfectly along side High On Fire, Kyuss, Goatsnake, Zoroaster, Acid King and even Melvins. They have toured New Zealand with Melvins, High On Fire and Helmet and definitely held their own with these bands. Beastwars are the sum of their influences, but with Matt Hyde as their vocalist, they have found a space for themselves in the Stoner Doom/sludge landscape.
Stand out songs for me were "Lake Of Fire", "Call Out The Dead", "Iron Wolf" and "Cthulhu". "Lake Of Fire" is massive and you'll soon be wanting to howl out the chorus. "Call Out The Dead" and "Cthulhu" have an epic feel that makes them feel ancient and huge, while "Iron Wolf" has some of the only loud / quiet dynamics on the record.
Beastwars took a couple of spins for me to get into, but once it did it soon became a regular on my iPod. The music is typical of the genre with a touch of Kyuss like groove, but the vocals are what make it an awesome album for me. Also the artwork for this album is amazing. From just looking at the floating pyramids being sucked up into a burning sky by some sort of humanoid creature on the cover, you just know it's going to be an epic album.
If you enjoy any of the above mentioned bands, Stoner Doom/Sludge or looking for something new then I recommend checking these guys out. Obey the Riff, Long Live the Beast! // 9