Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hail Of Bullets - ...Of Frost And War

War: accusations fly that metal artists fall back on the subject of war and conflict as a lyrical inspiration too much, but when you really take a look at it, there’s no other genre so well-suited to conveying the dizzying rush, the adrenaline and fury of the battlefield by virtue of its own intrinsic heavier, more intense aspects. From Maiden’s history-class-made-fun storytelling to Sabaton’s drill sergeant-like bellowing, it’s also an entertaining subject in its own right.

But for a long time I’d searched for an album that doesn’t just take the theme and run with it. I’d hoped for an album that realizes the potential that these two things have together, and take it to its natural extreme: that is, an album that is so visceral in its intensity, so palpable in its fear and fury, that it puts you right there in the midst of the battlefield – a great artistic statement.

Death metal supergroup Hail Of Bullets have made that album, and for that I thank them.

If you enjoy the razor-sharp tones of extreme Swedish classic acts like Dismember and Entombed, you’ll love what Gebedi and Baayens have in store here. Their riffs are easily comparable to the OSDM scene, naturally, striking that fine line between brutality and melody, at times crossing into dominance of the former but never losing that fine ear for powerful, brash melody. Ed Warby puts forth a fine display on the drums despite not doing anything of particular wonder.

Martin van Drunen’s vocal performance here can be summed up as such: fitting. This is a performance that truly understands and works with the album concept. It’s not “evil” like the David Vincents of the world, or demonic, possessed, whatever complimentary, otherworldly description people are tagging on to high-quality harsh vocal performances. No, Drunen’s agonized, fear-drenched screams are very, very human. The man channels the mind and emotion of a tormented soldier. There’s next to no melody, no formal guidance to the vocal lines; they just come spontaneously and depart abruptly, like a soldier having to scream over the shells bursting around him. Commendable job, even if it is more or less the same uniquely Van Drunen style that extreme music fans have come to love ever since his Asphyx/Pestilence days.

Lyrically the album doesn’t disappoint, with vivid yet tasteful depictions of soldiers on that frigid Eastern front in World War II. The lyricism tactfully balances the editorials of soldiers’ tense emotions with cold historical fact. Drunen’s all-so-human vocals allow you to make out many of the lyrics, which in this case is a welcome element to the experience.

The album’s dynamic is what really drives its quality home. While there are plenty of riffs that come at lightning speed and smash all in their path with their intensity, you’ll find a plethora of mid-paced sections that are integrated wonderfully with the blazing guitar attacks – much like soldiers waiting in tension for the next barrage. Partly thanks to the heavy-as-hell production and partly thanks to the razor-sharp guitar tone, these mid-paced sections are some of the most devastating and crushing I’ve ever heard in the subgenre.

Hail Of Bullets have created an engaging piece of extreme art with …Of Frost And War. The aforementioned Maiden and Sabaton, excellent as they are, can be likened to fine-tuned historical documentaries: they lay out the facts, and they do it in an interesting and entertaining way. Hail Of Bullets, meanwhile, is comparable to the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan: absolutely devastating in its focus and direction, and truly comprehending – and respecting – the true face of total war. Check this out if you like OSDM, or if you want to see a concept album that honestly comprehends and takes advantage of its concept to the fullest.

So snap up this album, crank your stereo, close your eyes and picture the battlefield. Savor the few moments of uneasy peace as the strains of Before The Storm (Barbarossa) waft gently along. When the storm hits and the percussive marching intro of Ordered Eastward begins – you’re right there with the soldiers.

Welcome to the war.

(Originally written for metal-archives.com)

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