On last year’s Sulfer and Semen they treated us to some “Brutal rape and constant drilling,” and now with The Hellpreacher, the deathly Southern metal supergroup Birds of Prey are — appropriately enough — taking to the underground. Marking the return of ubiquitous drummer Dave Witte (Burnt by the Sun, Municipal Waste, etc.), The Hellpreacher is the third Birds outing for Relapse, and unlike its two predecessors is a full-on narrative concept record.
Seems like a lot to chew for the band who offered up “Buttfucked with a Shotgun Barrel” on 2006′s debut Weight of the Wound, but with the triplet-heavy riffage of guitarists Erik Larson (Axehandle, Hail!Hornet, ex-Alabama Thunderpussy) and Bo Leslie (Throttlerod) and the gut-punting vocals and lyrical depravity of Ben Hogg (Beaten Back to Pure, Plague the Suffering), they pull it off and horrify and disgust in the process. As was likely intended.
The first person titular narrator of The Hellpreacher begins the album by discussing a childhood of rape and abuse, eventually leading to prison time, more rape and abuse, then a religious conversion that finds him cruelly leading a militaristic death cult underground, blinding all his followers, killing at will and ultimately destroying himself and everything he’s built. As rife with senseless violence and sadism as anything Birds of Prey has produced in the past, even the protagonist’s getting born again is tainted by memories of beatings and bloody underwear.
This is Birds of Prey in their element, exploring the dark and violent side of a religion so embedded in American culture that in parts of the country the two are practically one and the same. Hogg varies his vocal approach more than we’ve heard on past Birds records, utilizing some cleaner shouts on “Alive Inside!” and spoken parts throughout, most dramatically during apocalyptic closer “Giving up the Ghost,” and Witte‘s work in tandem with bassist Summer Welch (Baroness) is precise and biting as always. As the imagery (thankfully the lyrics are printed in the liner notes — suck it, downloaders) of The Hellpreacher becomes incrementally more vile, the music responds in kind, with “Taking on Our Winter Blood” making reference to Suicidal Tendencies‘ hit single “Institutionalized” being just about the closest thing to a chorus throughout.
Parts are repeated, but the lyrics change, and so the structure of the material is almost entirely linear, minus the interludes “As the Field Mice Play” and “The Owl Closes In.” As such, and since the words Hogg preaches basically make The Hellpreacher a 12-track monologue, reading along is essential for at least developing an initial appreciation for what Birds of Prey are doing here, much more so than on Weight of the Wound or Sulfer and Semen, where despite offering plenty of Six Feet Under on meth type of fun, they were nowhere near as central to the proceedings as they are now.
That’s not to downplay the riffs or construction of the songs at all. With a burly Vince Burke (Hail!Hornet, Beaten Back to Pure) production, the groove of “Blind Faith” is harsh, punishing and immediate, making The Hellpreacher a multi-faceted killbeast and a welcome addition to the band’s quickly expanding discography. Here’s hoping we get another one next year.
Tags: Birds of Prey, Relapse