Beastwars, IV: Searching for the Light in Your Time of Dying

beastwars iv

Beastwars were done after their third album, The Death of All Things (review here), in 2016. The Wellington, New Zealand, four-piece issued that as the final installment of a trilogy following 2013’s Blood Becomes Fire (review here) and a 2011 self-titled debut (review here), and thereby rounded out an unfuckwithable course run over a five years that seemed to take them too soon. They were there, they were epic, they were gone. It wasn’t until vocalist Matt Hyde, whose guttural sneer is second to none, in sludge or otherwise, underwent cancer treatment in 2017 that the prospect of a fourth long-player — whether an epilogue or a new beginning, I don’t know — was broached. From the always-stunning Nick Keller artwork through the massive crunching groove that rolls through “This Mortal Decay” courtesy of returning guitarist Clayton Anderson, bassist James Woods and drummer Nathan “Nato” Hickey, the eight-song/37-minute IV is very much a Beastwars album.

Its impact is hued from heavy and noise rocks, brought to bear with a progressive metal sense of grandeur particularly in lead lines like that of “Storms of Mars,” “This Mortal Decay,” “Omens” and “Sound of the Grave,” and its rhythmic plunder is still sludge despite a coherence of purpose both rare for the genre and consistent throughout Beastwars‘ studio work. More perhaps than anything they’ve done before, IV centers around the context of its making and the lyrical processing borne out from Hyde‘s confronting his mortality in a very real way before eventually entering remission, as opener “Raise the Sword,” “Wolves and Prey” and “Storms of Mars” would seem to couch personal experience in metaphor, but in truth, they’re pretty up front about what’s happening in them, as the lines in the leadoff go, “Breathe long/Breathe wise/Don’t fall/Raise the sword.” Maybe without knowing the situation around which the album came together, one might just think it’s a story about a battle on a hillside or something, but once one knows what’s really going on, the relation of what Hyde went through existentially and literally is fairly direct. Beastwars have never been a band to shirk confrontation.

Each side of IV begins with its longest track (double points), as “Raise the Sword” and “Omens” set the stage for their respective halves of the tracklisting, the former with its unmitigated largesse and the latter with a broader range that continues to play out across the subsequent pieces. Throughout, Beastwars‘ efficiency of songwriting and hard-hit pummel is well intact, as Hickey shows early on in his snare battery and Woods in the punch of chugging bass that coincides. The initial salvo very much establishes Beastwars‘ core approach, with a sampled speech from 1985’s The Quiet Earth included in the 6:40 “Raise the Sword” for maximum dramatic effect ahead of a feedback-soaked transition into the apex and the faster and immediate push of “Wolves and Prey.” Tense in the guitar and bass and as powerful as the band have ever sounded in the complete affect, the second track rolls out relatively quick but is still well in line atmospherically with “Raise the Sword” before it, and the same applies to “Storms of Mars” after, with its slower, nod-ready pace and punctuating drums behind Hyde‘s maddening snarl, an almost punkish thrust taking hold at around 2:45 to signal the shift into a cacophony as pure as anything I’ve ever heard from them, Anderson‘s guitar cutting through with a moment-of-clarity solo even as the track readies to cut out all the instruments behind the lines, “You can never get away/From your mortal decay.”

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Short of setting a treatment diary to verse, I’m not sure how much more direct IV could be in its subject matter. It does not make for easy listening — particularly if you’ve ever dealt with or dealt with a loved one in similar circumstances, which I think counts basically everybody on the planet — but the directness extends to IV‘s overarching purpose of expression as well, a very real catharsis playing out amid all this tumult and questioning. I don’t know what the deal was with Beastwars‘ breakup following The Death of All Things — seems fair to speculate they knew it was coming at least on some level, given that title — but they obviously came back together united around a purpose, and IV manifests that palpably for the listener.

Perhaps all the more so in its final four tracks, as “Omens” indeed proves to foreshadow a wider sonic reach with highlight guitar work and a fierce emotionality that will soon enough come to fruition on the raw highlight of the penultimate “The Traveller” after the bass-led turmoil of “Sound of the Grave” unfolds in a three-and-a-half-minute linear build that comes on in brooding fashion and ends up in a wash of noise. Unlike “Omens,” which retains a subtle hook throughout its 5:41, “Sound of the Grave” feels more about the tooth-pull/gut-punch resonance that stays heavy even when the band reels back for a final shove heading into the last minute. A sudden stop brings on “The Traveller,” which is gorgeous and flayed with far back vocals over atmospheric guitar at its start and building forward from there also in a linear way, but with an infusion of avant guitar melody and lyrics from Hyde that seem to evoke an out-of-body experience, blessing travelers and homes and, ultimately “…this world that we all must leave.” In a universe of many kinds of heavy, I don’t think there is one meaning of the word to which that doesn’t apply.

Still, it’s not until the piano starts in “Like Dried Blood” that one fully realizes just how far Beastwars have taken the thread since “Wolves and Prey,” and as the finale plays out over its 4:40, it is more culmination than summation, but still righteously weighted in its last movement, using the crush that the band have always so ably wielded for maximum emphasis before cutting with a quick jolt of feedback and amp noise — a cold end that feels no less intentional than every bit of facing death that’s happened before. I won’t profess to know if Beastwars‘ reunion/reignition is an ongoing thing — if they’ll do a fifth record or what — but IV doesn’t strike me as having such considerations. That is, certainly Hyde and company have plenty to say, but these songs are more about their own urgency than about longterm band plans. It’s not a record they made to go on tour with. It’s a record they made because life is fucking precious and sometimes you come to realize what matters to you and what you need are the same thing. As such, it is all the more essential it be engaged in the present. Because it is.

Beastwars, IV (2019)

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One Response to “Beastwars, IV: Searching for the Light in Your Time of Dying”

  1. Charlie says:

    Brilliant review, gives words to my feelings about this album and band.

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