IV by BeastwarsRelease date: June 28, 2019
Label: Destroy Records
First of all, let’s do this in isolation. This fourth album from Beastwars is a huge, bleak brilliant, riff-laden work which should be in any heavy music fan’s best-of list for 2019.
So that’s OK, right? Kiwi riff-worshippers make an album that equals or even surpasses their previous three, everyone goes home happy and with ringing ears. End of story.
Except music is far more interesting with a little context. Take ‘Atmosphere’ by Joy Division, for instance. Or even ‘Some Kind of Monster’ by Metallica. Neither song would be nearly as affecting (or vaguely tolerable, in the case of Metallica) if you didn’t know the back story behind the respective tunes. And it is the story behind this album that elevates it from mere neck-wrecking riffery to one that invokes goose-bumps on the back of the neck and hairs standing up on your arms.
Y’see, The Death of All Things, their album released in 2016, appeared to be the band’s swansong. Indeed, we said that if it were the final album, it would be a “hell of a way to go out”. Their trilogy was complete and the drummer was moving to London. Fans wondered whether there would be another weighty release from the Wellington, New Zealand quartet.
And then later in 2016 vocalist Matt Hyde was diagnosed with cancer. He had six months of treatment and is now in remission. Which is great news. We are not even going to speculate what went through his mind on hearing the news he had non-Hodgkins lymphoma, nor what his thoughts were during treatment. He is a dad to someone, a partner to another, a son, a friend and a sibling and so on, though, so we can guess.
Only a week after Hyde had finished his chemotherapy treatment – one week! – the band were motivated to make more noise, so they booked 10 days in the studio. And the vocalist himself clearly had a few things to get off his chest, as we can hear most affectingly on ‘Storms of Mars’, one of this album’s highlights.
Midway through the song, atop a melancholy and visceral guitar line, Hyde bellows: “I want to be alive, to see my child grow.” I have to admit, a little bit of dust got into my eye at that point.
Loud, heavy music on its own, when it is done well, brings out a strong emotional response – even when the lyrics are concerned with dragons, leather boots or any other metal trope. And the music on this album is excellent. There is less variation than on Death of All Things, but in place of a little experimentation, we have a sense of urgency – as if these churning riffs needed to escape into the wider world.
There is a confidence in the writing, most audible in ‘Omens’, which employs soaring guitar overdubs to add melody, heft and substance to the lumbering riffs, which backed up by a rhythm section that sounds as if it could keep the groove going forever. Then there is a solemn piano which introduces the final track, ‘Like Dried Blood’, in which Hyde dials back his roar and exposes his vulnerability and fear.
And when music crafted this well is paired with heart-on-sleeve reflections of a man contemplating his own mortality… well, then we have some magic.
Like in the huge opening track, ‘Raise the Sword’, when Hyde roars: “In your time of dying, Trying to be right, When you’ve only known wrong.” Or ‘Mortal Decay’ which finishes with “You can never get away, From your mortal decay”.
Indeed, amid the heavy lyrics and heavier music, the whole band sound like they are revelling in being back together – and making the most of the chance to make a racket that they may have thought would never come again. We are so glad they are able to continue worshipping the riff. Long live the beast indeed.