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Whenever I come across a newly formed band trying to bring back the classic old school sound of their past, I always approach it with caution. Most of the time it will sound like a rehash of ideas done a million times before, without ever adding anything new to the genre. However, sometimes the life will reward me with a real gem, something that truly deserves an attention because it's evident just how much hard work has been put into it. Now, you might argue with me on that, but don't be hasty, and give this a chance, will ya?
If you think war themed death metal is easy to do, I would kindly redirect you to Bolt Thrower's HQ, which haven't released anything new since 2005, but I guess it's for the better if they hadn't come up with worthwhile ideas (still, damn you Bolt Thrower, I want a new album aaaaargh!). Hail Of Bullets is composed of members of veteran death metal bands, Martin Van Drunen from Asphyx and Pestilence fame and Ed Warby from Gorefest, just to name a few. The best part of this band is that each member brings something from their bands to this band, and music sounds so powerful, brutal and original, which tells something in 2010. The doomy sequences usually associated with Asphyx are everpresent, and so we get majestic Full Scale War, On Coral Shores and Tokyo Napalm Holocaust all packed with trademark Asphyx slow, desolate riffs. The songs themselves intersect with each other very nicely and totally undistracting, making this album a great and enjoyable listen throughout. Lead guitar is also very prominent, playing an assortment of solos and leads which all sound great. The ordeal opens with an intro (a lot of bands still haven't mastered the art of putting an actually non-boring and non-unnecessary intros, and HoB are one of them unfortunately), which leads us straight into Operation Z, with a killer set of riffs right from the get-go. It also has the best breakdown on the album, during which Martin sings one of the most memorable and catchy lines in his career which I can't help but sing along to:
Capsized, capsized, sunken vessels
Defenseless, defenseless casualties!
Massacred, massacred by treason!
A date which will live in infamy...
The next track has probably one of the best groovy riffs I've heard lately, and probably stands as my favorite HoB track. Oh and I've never heard of the Mukden Incident as a real historic event, but after hearing this I got myself informed, so we could say that good musicians make good teachers, or atleast motivators. Which leads us to the major part of the album: the lyrics. If you thought music wasn't war themed enough, the lyrics are here to enhance the entire experience. Now, where in Asphyx Martin is known for his highly graphic portrayal of things going on in the song (The Rack still has some of my favorite lyrical pieces), here he is no slouch either, so a detailed war story is guaranteed. Well, not really, but you will get a pretty decent picture of soldiers getting killed, backstabbed by their comrades, people dying in flames after napalm, and in the last track, even the list of armed conflicts throughout history.
It's nice to see so many new bands, even if their members are well known, returning to their old sound. Old school death metal is pretty much one of the best things in the world, and having that sounds back, with new albums by Asphyx, Grave, Unleashed slaying the mighty once again is an enough reason for old schoolers to start paying attention to the scene once again. But forming of some new names is also more than welcome, and I am sure Hail Of Bullets is here to stay, and rightfully so.
Favorite moments: the break in Operation Z, any part of Mukden Incident when the opening riff repeats, intro riff of Tokyo Napalm Holocaust.
I love Hail of Bullets so to say I was awaiting On Divine Winds is to put it lightly. ...Of Frost and War had become one of my favorite death metal album and the band itself harkens back to the simplistic groovy style of Bolt Thrower, war themed lyrics included!
Where on the last album HoB seemed to be almost a shadow of Asphyx with their doomy sections on this release they had cut back significantly on the doom and gone for straight mid paced death metal. Sure there are still slower parts but as a whole the album moves along a bit more quickly than before.
There is an undeniable groove to the riffs constructed here. You have the main riff of Operation Z or the easy to headbang to Guadalcanal that has a sort of bounce to the verse riffs. Like I said the slower numbers are still there, To Bear the Unbearable is kind of the epic ending track and like Berlin from the last album it marches along slowly. Tokyo Napalm Holocaust has a few chuggy sections that sound absolutely bad ass as well but a lot of the song crawls and those more speedier sections are almost separate climaxes.
Martin Van Drunen as always brings his A game. He has one of those growls where as soon as you hear it you know exactly who it is. On ODW he belts out line after line of lyrics pertaining to the Pacific theater. I like what the band has going here with the different theaters of war they are exploring with each album.
As always the production is massive. Dan Swano over at Unisound Studio once again did the mixing/mastering. The guitar sound is thick but not in the way you usually think. They sound like a freight train more than anything else. The mix is done pretty well and the guitars/vocals are up from with the drums not far behind. The bass guitar for the most part is no where to be found, maybe I just don't have it up loud enough though. But I think if they gave Theo Van Eekelen more room and a higher spot in the mix they could improve the heaviness of their sound even further. I always loved how Jo Bench filled out the bottom end of Bolt Throwers sound and it would be cool if that was done here as well.
On Divine Winds is an improvement on the foundations HoB laid with OFaW. This is sort of a defining record where they drop the Asphyxisms and do their own thing. Now their own thing might sound really close to what Bolt Thrower was doing but this doesn't bother me one bit. This band still has their own identity though and a sound that is quite their own. This along with God Dethroned's album is easily one of the top releases of 2010.
Originally reviewed @ http://abaddonsmetalshop.blogspot.com/
Hail of Bullets is a Dutch death metal band fronted by Martin van Drunen of Pestilence/Bolt Thrower fame. Like fellow Dutch death metallers God Dethroned, they like to write lyrics about war, and their second full-length On Divine Winds focuses on the Pacific theater of World War II.
It's not just lyrical content that links them to God Dethroned. The sound is similar as well. In other words, it's mostly mid-paced straight death metal with a distinct Swe-death flavor. "Guadalcanal" sounds like a fast-paced Unleashed song, and "The Mukden Incident" resembles Amon Amarth (though the melo-death is kept to a minimum). They do tread some more unique ground at times, like the vaguely Egyptian-sounding riffs of "Full Scale War", and go faster ("Kamikaze") and slower ("Strategy of Attrition") enough to keep things interesting. Some of the best tracks are the slow-to-mid-paced, heavy steamrollers like "Tokyo Napalm Holocaust".
None of the instruments ever go around showing off--this band is about songs, not technicality--and they have not let the concept album storytelling hurt the songwriting in any way. The vocals are in a hoarse, gruff voice you might recognize from van Drunen's other work. The solos tend to be par for the death course, but check out "Operation Z" and "Tokyo Napalm Holocaust" for some Slayerisms. While you'll probably never notice the bass on this one, the drumming is of particular interest. It's nothing groundbreaking, but it has a great tone and perfect timing, and just the right mix of the whole kit is used.
The Verdict: This is very high quality death metal. There's no innovation, but the songwriting is superb and if you listen closely enough to the lyrics, you just might learn something about history.
originally written for http://fullmetalattorney.blogspot.com/
Review originally published at http://www.teethofthedivine.com by Erik Thomas
After a critically acclaimed debut (2008′s …Of Frost and War), Dutch supergroup (members of Gorefest, Asphyx, Thanatos and Houwitser) left fans wanting after a strange digital only EP last year, but have now fully satiated fans with a full-length follow-up that continues the quality of the debut.
Though still a war themed album, On Divine Winds sees lyricist Martin Van Drunen switching fronts from the grim Eastern Front to the Pacific Theater but the quality of the music and delivery has not changed. Hail Of Bullets still play a heavily Bolt Thrower (maybe more so than the debut) and Stockholm influenced, crunchy, classic Euro death metal that culls from all of the band members’ other projects. While the immediacy and impact of a second album from such a quality line-up isn’t quite as dynamic as the debut, On Divine Winds shows that the chemistry of the members is as good as any supergroup out there right now. With the exception of Bloodbath.
Of course Van Drunen’s unmistakable voice is front and center, but the rest of the collective are as sharp as you’d expect. And while the production does seem to sound a little cleaner and lighter, it doesn’t stop the albums impact. The album leans more heavily on mid-paced, mud churning rumblers (“The Mukoden Incident”, “Full Scale War”, “Guadalcanal”, “On Coral Shores”, “Tokyo Napalm Holocaust” and standout “To Bear the Unbearable”) highlighting the bands increased Bolt Thrower throes. A few fierce up-tempo numbers (“Operation Z”, “Unsung Heroes”), strike with the precision and relentless force of a Kamikaze-attack (by the way, Kamikaze means “Divine Wind”). And while most of the tracks have a simple, permeable Bolt Thrower-with a chunky Dutch accent-tone, a hint of Stockholm gallop arises for the enjoyable trot of personal favorites “Strategy of Attrition”, bonus track “Sugar Loaf Hill”, and the numerous scrawling solos that arise in most , if not all the tracks.
The only thing lacking from an otherwise excellent album, is something quite intangible: Atmosphere. To me, …Of Frost and War conveyed a grey, bitter and barren landscape where a war of attrition and the elements claimed the lives of millions. On Divine Winds just never evokes the hostile climate and sheer ferocity of the conflict and its fearless, suicidal antagonists (depending which side you were on). The exceptions here are a brief sample in closer “Kamikaze” and the somber “To Bear the Unbearable, which admittedly addresses Japan surrender after the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The album’s largely mid-paced middle section just isn’t as feral and brutal as the jungle war fought in that theater.
Still, On Divine Winds is an ample, excellent follow up to …Of Frost and War, even with a more controlled pace and lacking the wow-factor of the debut, but it shows that Hail of Bullets are more than a one hit wonder, unlike many other supergroups.
I'm a massive Martin van Drunen fan here, in particular his early work on the first two Pestilence records, which I consider perfection, so naturally I've been crossing my fingers for ages that he'll keep turning up on records. There's just something about his voice I find exemplary, a bloodied and battered edge through which one can truly feel the torture, something I simply don't experience through so many of the generic guttural throats out adorning death metal albums. Thus, the Hail of Bullets debut ...Of Frost and War was a godsend of hammering, straightforward war death which basically filled in the void that might earlier have been filled if van Drunen had wound up fronting Bolt Thrower longer than he did.
On Divine Winds picks up right where that leaves off, of course, which is to say it achieves a similar and suitable level of excellence. The lyrics continue to explore WWII, but they move into the Pacific theater of operations, and the music once again manages to carefully teeter on the brink of absurd, effective simplicity and superb songwriting. A balance of subtle melodic sadness and powerful, crushing force riffs make it almost impossible not to feel 'moved' here, and though some cite the wide vistas of the band's assault as underwhelming, I really don't see how any self respecting fan of Bolt Thrower, Asphyx, Grave or other old school bruisers could not come away feeling impressed here, because these Dutchmen know exactly what buttons to press to shove a tank barrel straight up the listener's arse. There is absolutely nothing technical about what Hail of Bullets write, and the album is insufferably primitive, yet it lands more powerful blows than about 90% of the wanking, progressive necronauts dotting up the landscape.
A glorious symphonic intro "The Eve of Battle" heralds "Operation Z", business as usual for the veteran generals, low and punching old school guitar rhythms so thick that even the single note rhythms feel almost chord-like, arching but morose melodies informing us that we are still clearly in the war zone, and very little good will come of our futures. "The Mukden Incident" functions off the colossal grooves of its verse, and "Strategy of Attrition" is faster and choppy like something Entombed might have written in their transition from barbaric Swedish death to rock & roll. "Full Scale War" teases a slower, graceful death/doom glaze not unlike a few of the earlier Asphyx albums, before returning to the field of battle, and ditto for "On Choral Shores", one of the most powerful juggernauts on the album. "Kamikaze", "Tokyo Napalm Holocaust" and "To Bear the Unbearable" are all likewise delicious, as least as delicious as an artillery shell being forced down your gullet with unswerving velocity and certainty.
On Divine Winds captures enough of a range in its pacing and performance that it never hinges on dull, though many listeners might now be feeling the weight of all the old school death metal that has clearly become a trend, and is bordering on a nuisance. The band realizes they can't simply look to the past, and thus there is a level of melodic integration here which transforms the sorrow stricken, heavy as balls subject material into something slightly more multi-dimensional than your average Bolt Thrower clone. I dare say that they are one of the 'catchiest' death metal bands out there, at least among the newer crop, and the collective experience of the band's constituents has once more ensured a primal, impartial glimpse into the oppression of warfare and the menace and far-from-obsolete majesty of death fucking metal.