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The synthy, Castle Wolfenstein-ish intro to Seven Are They is the only '90s sounding thing about this record. In certain hands, death metal has moved on since those days of the early Florida and Stockholm greats and the unsung Finnish beasts of ancient death, and Belligerent Intent are paragons of its ultimate form now. You could call them technical - in terms of technicality and musicality they are astounding. But the music itself has a focus on songwriting and atmosphere far beyond the noodling twiddling techy prog deathwank you listen to.
Belligerent hit you with both stomping death metal riffs and some Vital Remains on crack style catchy moments. Brutality and memorability in equal spoonfuls bitch. 'April Give Thee Eyes' features a pretty cool solo, and Luke and Mike know their way around some tasty melodic leads, like the bleakly epic climax of 'Armies of the Maskim Hex' and the leaping leads of closer 'Path of the Serpent'. The re-recorded 'Lex Talionis is Their Cry' is even catchier this time round and way, way tighter in terms of its sound. This song shows off some of the innovativeness of the two guitarists as well, with all sorts of chopping and changing guitar patterns and serrating riffs.
Highlights, tough. The whole album wants to kill you. 'Left Hand of Sacrifice' opens with almost bluesy chugging guitars and killer drum rolls - this is the sort of stuff that really gets me ready to snap the ol' neck off when the inevitable blasts come in. Atmospheric, fantastically written carnage. As is 'Fucking Burn in the Name of Satan', and I almost can't choose between these last two for my favourite, except that this latter is driven by an incendiary, droning main riff and some really pissed off vocals that put it beyond even the bulk of the material here in terms of wrathful excellence.
So that's the fucken' guitars for you, and they're totally tits. Now drums, holy balls of Buddha. I'd seen the band's drummer Matt on two occasions before finally plopping this record into my player - drumming for Draconis Infernum in Bangkok and for these guys in Sabah, and I'd heard the Belligerent demo and EP of course. But with the well-balanced, crushing sound found on Seven Are They, the guy sounds ridiculously good. There's loads of blasting. Loads of it. And it sounds mean as hell, but this isn't the guy's only trick. The speed, the fills, the pace changes, it all gives the record a vicious rhythm section - along with the meaty bass guitar.
As for vocalist Craig, I don't know whether I wasn't listening properly to their other stuff (probably) or what has happened, but the performance here took me by surprise. The bloke's range is insane - from very low and menacing bowel grunts, to malevolently unhinged Benton rasps and imposing bellows, he does it all. To be honest with drumming and riffs like this any old basic growl would do, you're already in the clear for a dominating album, but this vocal performance propels the thing into the stratosphere.
On top of the sexy cover art, a dim and hellish mural of angelwings, horns, armour and cadaverous remains in levitation, the lyrics are solid too. The band seem to have read tons of stuff about old myths and dark demigods, mentioning all sorts of cool stuff and with plenty of lyrical snatches that would look mean on the back of a t-shirt... "Gibbering loathsomely below the venom of the gods" and "Oh Kali pierce his lungs with the stings of scorpions - Oh Sekhmet plunge his substance into the dismal void." Fittingly spiteful and evocative.
Miles beyond the band's previous output and boding well for many years of happy maiming in future. Australia is already known for a healthy stable of fairly brutal and bestial bands, Bestial Warlust, Cemetery Urn, Ignivomous, Impetuous Ritual, Portal, lots of really ugly stuff. It's nice to know there's an outrageously talented bunch like the Belligerent boys there plying razor-sharp, murderously technical death metal more along the lines of Vital Remains and Deicide than Angelcorpse or Incantation. Except that after hearing this Dechristianize and Icons of Evil might sound a bit sort of... slow.