Enough surprises, twists and turns here to set this album apart

Composed of veterans of New Zealand’s extreme metal scene, Wellington’s Bulletbelt have been around for just over a decade, having formed in 2009. They play a violent melding of black/thrash and following a spate of EPs and splits, Warlords is their fourth full-length album.

Instrumental opener Destroyer of All is a brief acoustic number with almost progressive tendencies. There’s some ominous chanting that serves as a prelude for what is to come. Impaler kicks things off as the intro concludes, with a tremolo picked riff that is as good as any used in black metal. Debuting vocalist Paul Roberts employs a high-pitched rasp again reminiscent of black metal; his delivery contrasts well against the thrash and classic heavy metal-inflected riffing. Some classic thrash-styled gang vocals also provide another interesting counterpoint. Newcomer Josh O’Brien lends a deftly constructed guitar solo towards the end of the track,  displaying some elements of neoclassical shred it adds yet another interesting touch to this track. 

Punishment of God is more mid-paced, with some especially solid drumming from band founder and mainstay Steve ‘Cleaver’ Francis. There’s an almost anthemic quality here both to the riffing and to the gang vocal-inflected melodies. The brisk guitar solo here feels much more like it was written with a live quality in mind as well. Herodian Kingdom is reminiscent of the intro as it is perhaps the most progressive of the numbers that Warlords has to offer, opening with acoustic guitars and piano before heavy electric guitars and impressive vocals lead the bass and drums in. The bass lines in this track are worth particular mention as they show the skill that’s gone into writing them. Tim Mekalick has clearly tried to write lines that don’t just follow along with the guitars; and the inventiveness he’s brought to his role works quite well here. There’s almost a grandiose nature to Herodian Kingdom which owes as much to classic heavy metal as it does anything progressive. A left turn for Bulletbelt, but it shows that they can turn their hand to developing their sound rather than simply imbuing a different influence or direction into an otherwise straightforward track. 

Blade on the Fire this is another one that feels driven by that union between black metal and classic heavy metal. While it’s much more straightforward and cut-throat than Herodian Kingdom preceding, it’s insanely catchy. The guitar riffs, bass riffs, and vocals have each been focused and keenly sharpened. If this wasn’t written with the live arena in mind, it’d still be sure to become a live highlight for the band. O’Brien again delivers a skilful solo. His interplay with Francis and Mekalick is so well crafted, the listener could be forgiven for thinking that Warlords wasn’t his first full-length album with Bulletbelt.

Flames of Hell returns to a more ominous atmosphere featuring layered, snaking guitar lines as Paul Roberts’ fierce vocals bring the track to life. There’s a touch more black metal here but it still breathes in some of that classic metal ethos. The stripped down instrumentation again offers a chance for the bass lines to shine amid the ever growing intensity. Boudicia brings a bit more of the melancholy atmosphere that was present in Herodian Kingdom before morphing into a straightforward black metal stomper. It’s a straight-up track like this that actually gives each member a chance to shine, with some particularly versatile and powerful vocals on offer before an inventive recurring guitar motif. 

Mutilate and Destroy is perfect in its placement on Warlords, as it’s a complete rager. It follows a relatively linear path but absolutely does not let up, grabbing the listener with its furious riffing and commanding vocal lines, not letting up for the duration. Some technical guitar wizardry helps offer this track another inventive touch.

Album closer Warlord is similarly unrelenting in its fury. Offering speed, tremolo picked riffs amid stellar vocals and focused drumming, it’s perhaps the perfect track to end things on. It’s a sheer burst of energy that serves the album well. Midway through, the band slows the pace but it almost becomes that much more bludgeoning in scope.

Overall, Bulletbelt could have easily stuck to a formulaic approach, but Warlords sees them (perhaps aided by the new blood in the band) choosing a varied approach that melds the straightforward and the unconventional. There are enough surprises, enough twists and turns here to set this album apart. These are seasoned musicians creating something that eclipses much of the relative uniformity of offerings from its genre. Bulletbelt should be proud, but this reviewer does hope they’ll carry this hunger as long as they can. The more artists that the extreme metal subgenres have that don’t play it safe with their sound, the richer the genre is as a whole.

  1. Destroyer of All
  2. Impaler
  3. Punishment of God
  4. Herodian Kingdom
  5. Blade on the Fire
  6. Flames of Hell
  7. Boudicia
  8. Mutilate and Destroy
  9. Warlord