Review Summary: Boisterous sludge metal complemented with futuristic visions of apocalypse to startling effect.
New Zealand's Beastwars seem to apply the maxim: “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” on their second full length. Blood Becomes Fire
follows the footsteps of their hugely successful self-titled debut that was hailed by critics and fans of sludge metal alike. The new album is also produced by Dale Cotton, and it feels like a worthy follow-up sharing the same sonic aesthetics. The quartet's sound still revolves around a colossal aural assault, now augmented with science-fiction undertones splendidly captured by Nick Keller's spellbinding cover art.
In its relentless heaviness the album may be indebted to the likes of High On Fire and early Mastodon, yet the foursome continues to establish their own identity with an immediately recognizable style. James Woods' towering bass lines resemble the movements of tectonic plates, thus placing the music in a brand new context. It's uncommon for sludge metal bands to depend on the power of this instrument to such an extent. In case of Beastwars, the constantly throbbing bass serves as a foundation for a gargantuan wall of sound showcasing the act's evident noise-rock leanings. The contribution of other members shouldn't be diminished though. Guitarist Clayton Anderson delivers a distinctly diverse performance that constantly ranges from thick and crushing to ominous and spaced-out, while drummer Nathan Hickey is in charge of various tempo changes resulting in a multitude of deft progressions.
The crucial component of the band's thunderous sound is the presence of charismatic singer in Matt Hyde whose vocals oscillate between gruff bellows and sinister crooning. His gravel-throated voice along with prophetic posturing hit hard, and make perfect sense given the apocalyptic themes in his lyrics. Blood Becomes Fire
is told through the eyes of a dying traveller from another time who finds the contemporary world ruined, and tackles such universal topics as morality, death and disease. Hyde is particularly commendable when he's in his storytelling mode. Both “Rivermen” and “The Sleeper” highlight his penchant for conjuring up ghastly visions of decay and uncontrollable chaos.
Instead of stretching out their presentation beyond the limits of endurance, Beastwars are admirably focused and concise. In its lean 39-minute running time, the album hardly overstays its welcome with the approach “less is more” being in full swing. Actually, some of the most immaculate tracks barely go over the 3-minute mark. The opener “Dune” sets the tone of the record with its non-linear transitions crascendoing in a supreme mosh riff. “Realms” is built around a thick groove that provides a backdrop for the most memorable passage of the entire disc with Hyde maniacally chanting at the top of his lungs: “Build us a temple/A temple for the gods/Build us a temple/Deep in the Seer's mind.” Following suit, “Caul Of Time” is supremely accessible due to its simple structure and enticing chorus. The four-piece does an excellent job of balancing these fast-paced jams with more drawn-out tunes, being more in line with conventional sludge metal aesthetics. In this regard, “Imperium” clearly stands out with its off-kilter rhythmic shifts making for an elusively futuristic vibe.
While the group's motto “obey the riff” couldn't be more fitting, boiling down Blood Becomes Fire
solely to its sonic onslaught doesn't really do the act's performance justice. Granted, this is superbly conceived sludge metal through and through, yet the album is also very much about apocalyptic visions that find a perfect reflection in Hyde's earnest vocals. Beastwars excel in churning out music that would certainly make for an ideal soundtrack to the end of the world. There's a sense of foreboding tension making its presence felt in every moment of the record, one that propels the band into the top league of underground metal.