Another chapter in the bold and inventive history of Kiwi metal has been fulfilled by Beastwars’ IV.
This smouldering eight track monolith of primordial malevolence and superb instrumental work resumes proceedings in the same style precursor The Death of All Things left us three years prior, with the addition of some distinctly quiet, subdued passages and slightly more vocal variety. Although the beginning of final tracks ‘The Traveller’ and ‘Like Dried Blood’ bear some resemblance to quieter rock ballads, singer Matt Hyde mostly comes across like a manic, iron-lunged shaman, hellbent on howling incantations into a swirling void of distortion and seismic drums. It goes without saying that this is an acquired taste, but in reading this review, your presence dictates that it’s a taste you’re already used to. The visceral power of Hyde’s vocals come with a deeper contextual meaning however, due to the singer being diagnosed with cancer in October of 2017 and subsequently recovering from a non-Hodgkin lymphoma. After getting back into the studio for the bands fourth album, Hyde told New Zealand website Stuff that “I had a lot to get out. Feelings of anger, urgency, regret.” The sudden insight into ones mortality proved to be a main inspiration for IV, an album not convoluted by title to be served by its music.
Building from a swell of feedback into its crushing, primal riff, opening track ‘Raise the Sword’ stands out as a favourite, leading into a cathartic change of deep guitar lines towards the end, aided by an enjoyably uneven time signature. ‘Wolves and Prey’ maintains a generally straightforward sludge metal approach, with ‘Storms of Mars’ carrying on this pattern with sonic highlights shifting from sections of drums, bass and guitar feedback to Hyde’s gravelly growl narrating psychedelic passages of drums and effects. Coming in fourth, ’This Mortal Decay’ directly references Hyde’s own mortality after his cancer scare, bearing some of the most intense singing on this unforgettable album, with the repeated lyric “you can never get away” identifying the feeling of being trapped in one’s own unpredictable body. ‘Omens’ slows down proceedings to absorb listeners into some of IV’s most memorable riffs, with ‘Sound of the Grave’ also referencing Hyde’s scrape with death. Similar to IV’s last track, seventh song ’The Traveller’ comes with a sombre change of tone to allow some moments of downtime amidst the gargantuan slabs of distortion, with Hyde projecting some of his new, higher vocal range against a dark and moody passage from guitarist Clayton Anderson.
As the unifying voice and frontman of Beastwars, Matt Hyde’s greatly renewed appreciation of recording and the relief of finally being back in the studio focuses his vocal emphasis into personal and artistic salvation through the release of belting into a microphone. Unfortunately, his passion for soul-bearing, attention grabbing singing often leads to dissonance against the melodic instruments of the band, with little subtlety. This quest for tone and personality over key defies the traditional role of the singer, but is a perfect fit for the molten rumble of amplifiers that define nearly all of IV. This is enjoyable to a certain extent, but it was hard to stomach a complete listening of the album from start to finish. Hyde’s coarse vocal approach definitely has its moments, but it’s also one of the only criticisms on the album. The near blandness of similarity in tracks two to five is another noticeable feature.
For longtime fans of Beastwars, people who have appreciated the band ever their debut self-titled LP in 2011, this wouldn’t be an issue. IV may draw in some new fans through word of mouth, but certain songs may also drive away casual listeners through being a bit too intense. It doesn’t offer that many new ideas, but it can’t be denied as another fine album from one New Zealand’s best metal acts. Satisfyingly steadfast.
1. Raise the Sword
2. Wolves and Prey
3. Storms of Mars
4. This Mortal Decay
6. Sound of the Grave
7. The Traveller
8. Like Dried Blood