With a sound more akin to the swamps of Louisiana than their native New Zealand, Beastwars have created a bit of stir in their homeland with this slab of sludgy heaviness. Combining the downtuned, heavy-as-a-Roly–Poly’s-reunion-tourbus riffing style of Crowbar and Corrosion of Conformity, adding a touch of Queens of the Stone Age’s accessibility and a sprinkling of High on Fire for good measure, the band have turned in an album that will immediately appeal to fans of mainstream stoner rock and hardcore doom alike.
Much of this could be accredited to the clean production that the more commercial likes of QOTSA infuse their desert-dry sound with, and makes the album just as heavy as anything that came from the underground as each instrument is allowed to breathe throughout each song, the bass rhythms rolling alongside the thick guitar riffs and pinched leads adding an early Black Sabbath vibe to proceedings.
Where Beastwars could become make-or-break for some, though, is with singer Matt Hyde’s vocals, which veer from understated, spoken drawl to gravel-throated roar, sometimes in the same song, like on the brooding ‘Iron Wolf’.
Elsewhere, like on the excellent opener ‘Damn the Sky’, his disjointed croon takes a bit of getting used to as it doesn’t immediately sit with the silky-smooth chug of the main riff, but once it sinks in his voice becomes another instrument over the interlocking bass and guitar parts.
If you are into any of the bands that have been referred to then you’ll probably get a lot out of this album. Stoner/doom/sludge is a very difficult genre to do something in that fits within the templates set by the big guns and at the same time sounds fresh and a bit different, but Beastwars may have what it takes to do such a thing.
Matt Hyde’s voice can be a bit love-it-or-hate-it and a couple of the songs – like the plodding ‘Mihi’ – just miss the mark, but for a debut album from a New Zealand-based band playing a style that doesn’t necessarily suit their surroundings this is good stuff, and if they can assert their own identity a bit more then only good things can lay ahead.