Words by David Cheney.
“My sins have shaped me, my regrets visit regularly” shrieks vocalist Matthew Hyde as he and his band of sludge metal marauders, Beastwars, catapult into the most thrilling audio assault to cross the Tasman in 2019. Their latest record, ‘IV’, is an honest, intelligent and cathartic deepdive into the fragility of life, chronicling the trauma of Hyde’s successful battle against Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2016. On ‘IV’, the Wellington quartet take fistfulls of tragedy and beat them into eight life affirming tracks, all the while stretching their creative limits and flooding the record with lush production and unexpectedly tender moments. It’s heavy, it’s vulnerable and it’s very unapologetic. This is a record that will settle deep into the listener’s marrow as an artistic ‘FUCK YOU’ to existential dread and the great beyond.
‘IV’ is a texturally complex beast that sees Beastwars let loose some of their biggest riffs to date while carving out a vivid panorama for their war machine to cruise through. It’s deliberately slower than previous releases, freeing up the band to explore cinematic scale and reach new heights. Honestly, this thing soars as high as Mount Cook and as deep as a canyon. The riff work of guitarist Clayton Anderson meshes powerfully with James Woods’ grinding bass lines to form the bulk of the album’s beefy thematic landscape. The sounds this pair produce are the audio equivelent of Schwarznegger and Weathers’ infamous handshake in the original ‘Predator’ film; so fucking muscular you can hear the veins bulging through blown out distortion and cavernous feedback. The drumming of Nathan Hickey drips with groove and precision, deploying the perfect rhythmic accents to every riff. Hickey’s agility on the kit is phenomenal. Cymbals crash to construct the wilderness and strategically taken away as the band explore the caves of a fearful mind. Imagery is in no short supply on ‘IV’ and with a cool hand on the wheel, Beastwars navigate a universe brimming with interplanetary storms, pyramids and holy mountains.
Early cuts Raise the Sword and Wolves and Prey offer a very heavy treat to long time fans and new listeners alike as the group’s sonic onslaught blasts away the fear of death with relentless bravado. What’s really exciting is this universe isn’t just harsh and unforgiving; it’s also astonishingly beautiful. Mid-record monolith Omens offers chord progressions so harmonious and gorgeous built up by Anderson and Woods that it’s easy to imagine a clan of Valkyries lifting the group skywards to entertain war gods in the halls of Valhalla. It’s pure stoned-out bliss. Forward thinking production elements further expand the albums scope and scale. Droning strings introduced in Storms Of Mars and This Mortal Decay bring balance to the beastly attitude of ‘IV’s’ earlier hard riffing with a tenderness and vulnerability that grows during the latter half of the record. Given the confronting circumstances surrounding the record’s creation, Beastwars are excellent at avoiding getting bogged down in nihilism; transcendence is in their DNA.
Throughout ‘IV’, stellar vocal production launches Hyde’s powerful preaching into the stratosphere while he screams to an empty, blood red sky. The visceral passion of a man who has gazed into the void and let it gaze right back is arresting; it reminds me of a harsher evolution of Michael Gira of acclaimed New York City ‘No Wave’ Pioneers, Swans. Hyde is a true vocal chimera with a sharp tongue that flicks lyrics like a viper as he spits out every ounce of poison pumped into him during his cancer treatment. The lyrical content of ‘IV” matches this intensity like the psychologist session you didn’t you needed but would damn well benefit from; brutally honest, holding nothing back. Wolves And Prey begs for blood, Like Dried Blood washes it off weary hands. There’s a constant threat lonely darkness coupled with a desperate search for the light. Even through the peaks of the existential storm, Beastwars always maintains an odd serenity. It’s as if their war machine has pulled up next to the Grim Reaper himself at the traffic lights. Nods are exchanged, maybe a casual “howyagoin?” or two until everyone speeds off and their tail lights bleed into twilight. It’s comfort and bravery in the face of the inevitable. Towards the end of the record, the blown out distortion and muscular onslaught that defines Beastwars is tamed by closing track, Like Dried Blood. This bastard child of lullaby and funeral march is gut wrenching as Hyde croons eerily over elegant piano melodies and washed out drums. “My great war is over, just a bitter, bitter memory”, he wails. The desert terrain of ’IV’ has been swept away and replaced with the belly of a creaking ship with water up to the knees and no one bailing it out. This is finality, this is the end. But the band will not stop playing. Beastwars is going down with the ship and in truly noble style, they’re going out with a fucking bang.
‘IV’ is no mere collection of fat riffs and reckless bravado. This cavernous, cathartic 40 minute middle finger to fear and despair is a celebration of the human spirit. This is a chest cracked open with a heart that refuses to stop beating. This is beauty in the pain, this is roses between the rocks. Within a week of its release, the rabid fans that gave unwavering support to Hyde through his treatment took ‘IV’ and made it the No 1 charting album in New Zealand. The mob has spoken, Beastwars are back to rip your soul apart.
Obey the riff, long live the beast.
You can purchase the album HERE.