April 21, 2013

Bulletbelt - Down In The Cold Of The Grave

Written by Craig Hayes.

Artwork by Nick Keller

These days, New Zealand metal is being hailed from well outside the country's borders; see accolades for Diocletian, Witchrist, Vassafor, Ulcerate or Beastwars for evidence of that. All that attention is well deserved. The New Zealand metal scene has never been healthier, and amongst its best you'll find vicious Wellington-based horde, Bulletbelt.

At the root of the five-piece band's sound lies black metal in its most ill-tempered form. However, Bulletbelt's fans range from patch-vested traditional metal veterans to old-school kvlt aficionados and skateboard-wielding gutter punks, and the reason for that crossover is simple. Bulletbelt play the kind of metal that adheres to the genre's fundamentals. It's aggressive, impassioned and rebellious, and accordingly the band reeks of integrity.

Formed in 2009 by metal warhorses Ross Mallon (guitar) and Steve Francis (drums), Bulletbelt have released a number of ferociously raw EPs—including 2011's toxic gem, Writhe and Ascend. The band's debut full-length, Down in the Cold of the Grave, has recently been made available on Bandcamp, and while it honors the past with a nucleus of first- and second-wave black metal bitterness, the album also draws in thrash, NWOBHM, traditional metal, and punk. (See the album's blazing cover of "Mistaken Identity" from New Zealand punk legends No Tag.)

Down in the Cold of the Grave mixes Aura Noir's blackened venom with Bathory and early Iron Maiden, but there's nothing unimaginative in Bulletbelt's desire to look over their shoulder for inspiration. By digging into what makes metal so intrinsically visceral to this day, the album’s 29 minutes argue that breakneck, acidic and biting tunes never go out of style. Bulletbelt's enthusiasm for metal's aesthetic strengths is obvious. The clue is right there in their name, of course, and you only need to see bassist Tim Mekalick's neck-cracking whirlwinds, or vocalist Fergus Nelson-Moore's clawed hand raised to the sky, to recognize that the band are here to celebrate metal, not, necessarily, to wallow in darkness.

Tracks such as "Storming the Armoury", "Icarus" and "Into Battle" meld frenzied, frosty riffing with pummeling drums and malicious shrieks and howls. The album's two longest tracks, "Locust" and "Ironclad", make room for more grinding voyaging through bitterly cold and scorching realms—with galloping bass and cyclical, quarrelsome riffs throughout. Bulletbelt sound highly energized in their blitzkrieg delivery, and the album’s production amplifies the belligerence even further. Mixed on vintage gear, the album has plenty of thick muck to wade through, yet icier tremolo tendrils still bleed from the tracks. This gives the album plenty of gut-punch grunt, followed up by a cold-blooded kick to the teeth.

Down in the Cold of the Grave features fittingly menacing cover art from Weta Workshop's award-winning conceptual artist Nick Keller. The album was released on Bulletbelt’s Headless Horseman label (under which the band also have a distro and promotions venture), underlining their DIY ethic.

In all, Down in the Cold of the Grave is first-rate thrashing black metal, and Bulletbelt are a reminder of the deep-rooted joy to be found in forthright and bloodthirsty underground metal that cuts straight to heart.

[Go to the post to view the Bandcamp player]

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