June 27, 2019

Beastwars - IV

By Calen Henry. Beastwars never promised a fourth album. After going on hiatus upon completing their apocalyptic trilogy, followed by singer Matt Hyde’s Non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, more from the trio seemed even less likely. Matt’s diagnosis, it turns out, catalyzed creativity.
By Calen Henry.

Artwork by Nick Keller.

Beastwars never promised a fourth album. After going on hiatus upon completing their apocalyptic trilogy, followed by singer Matt Hyde’s Non-Hodgkin lymphoma diagnosis, more from the trio seemed even less likely. Matt’s diagnosis, it turns out, catalyzed creativity. Booking studio time straight after Hyde’s chemo treatment ended, the band recorded IV; a harrowing journey inwards through guilt, fear, regret, and hope.

IV brings together the sound of each album in the trilogy; the straight up riff worship of Beastwars, the more angular riffing of Blood Becomes Fire, and the psychedelia tinged, slow burning riffs of The Death of All Things. The longer songs and component riffs on IV often bring all these parts together in a single track while solos twist and turn leading from heavy passages into ambient sometimes post-rock tinged sections. It feels more like a journey than before due in part to the frequent compound metering that drives songs forward, but it also sounds grungier, adding more guitar effects, and doubling down on the loud/quiet verse/chorus structure. The core approach of huge riffs supported by fuzzed out bass remains the same.

Matt’s vocals have changed, though. His quiet, seething vocals still drip with menace, but his huge rafter-rattling howl is thinner, more pained. It’s pleading, bleeding emotion. It could be confronting mortality, recording an album straight after chemo, the crushing weight of torment that pours forth, or it could be all of that. Matt’s performance is gripping. It’s his most nakedly emotional performance and this from the man who opens the band’s catalog with "Damn the Sky," a howling sermon to a dying world.

"Raise the Sword" opens the album on a note of hope and defiance. A short feedback build crashes into a trademark trudging guitar riff supported by fuzz bass with a howling verse before breaking into a quiet bass-led chorus. The verses focus on the toll of regret and guilt, while the chorus frames it with hope,

Breathe long
Breathe wise
Don't fall
Raise the Sword

The song’s bridge breaks into a sample from “The Quiet Earth”, about science in the wrong hands which, at first, seems incongruous with the themes of guilt and hope, but its inclusion becomes clear over the course of the album as Matt couples personal guilt with deep guilt and regret over the state of the earth.

An ambient interlude then brings back the main riff, underscoring another hopeful verse, before a chorus reprise into an unresolved chord while Matt howls “Raise the Sword” one last time. A perfect set-up for the album, hope and defiance in the lyrics, with the unresolved chord emphasizing the beginning of something, not the end.

"Wolves and Prey" opens with effect drenched drums, before the heaviness starts. Again centering on regret, it begins to introduce the colossal societal guilt hinted at in "Raise the Sword". Not only personal guilt, but guilt at the state of the earth and what it means for future generations,

Speak of old kings
Hands of your loss
Let everyone say
What have we done

The song’s bridge introduces a new permutation of the band’s sound; their characteristic extended, stomping bass-led sections underneath long, lyrical guitar leads lending the album an introspective and dream-like quality.

"Storms of Mars", with it’s wah drenched intro, hearkens back to The Death of All Things, before launching into the one of the fastest riffs on the album supporting dual guitar leads with lyrics adopting classical and sci-fi imagery to beg for more time,

Let me live
Give me ten more years
Let the child grow
Let me see new Rome

At the same time it warns not to repeat the mistakes of the past,

A refugee
A world as cruel as the last
Remember thee old Gods
Remember their rage

The song shifts into crunchy bass-led riffing, reminiscent of Blood Becomes Fire, and back before an ambient interlude, led by Matt’s bubbling mid-range rage builds to the song’s climax, over top of octave doubled tremolo riffing he begs to “let the child live, to build new Rome”.

"This Mortal Decay" opens with a classic mid-tempo riff, supported by faster than average drumming, and confronts death more directly, describing looking down from a mountain to see what humanity has wrought, and how despite it all, we can’t give up or give in, or escape our “mortal decay”. The vocals hit a sweet spot with the lurching guitar line; never quite out of control, but never settling down to the simmering rage of the more menacing passages on the album. The only exception is after a string swell to support the song’s bridge, an indictment of reckless technological advancement, where the vocal intensity perfectly matches the instruments

Oh God, oh God
Bring us your neon cross
Oh God, oh God
Drive your speed machine

"Omens", the album’s lead single, opens with a pseudo-gallop reminiscent of “Damn the Sky”, and is classic Beastwars through and through, but with flashes of the more psychedelic from the pre-chorus wah guitar to the almost post-rock outro. It was an extremely well chosen single to show fans the band’s triumphant return as well as their subtle sonic shift both instrumentally and lyrically with lyrics that are more esoteric and closer to the band’s older material than the rest of the album

After brief ambiance, "Sound of the Grave" is a torturous guilt-trip driven by rumbling, fuzzed out bass as the guitars build into the fury of the chorus underneath Matt’s seething sermon on forgiveness, death, and nothingness. The consistent rumbling riffs match the off-kilter tone of the lyrics, wondering what it’s worth in the end,

And I try for forgiveness
In the time of the damned
And nothing is better
Than being in the ground

"The Traveller" may be the album's most tortured vocal showcase. Matt wails over nothing but a solo guitar track until the laid back groove kicks before switching to a classic New Wave drum beat supporting a wicked lyrical twin guitar line through the chorus. It leads into a dissonant, chorus-drenched guitar solo ripped straight from the Nirvana playbook before (again, Nirvana-style) the song gets heavier and almost falls apart as Matt intones,

Blessed is the world
And we all must leave

"Like Dried Blood", in contrast to it’s morbid title, starts with clean vocals accompanied by piano and drums before the typical Beastwars (circa Death of All Things) sound bursts forth then parts and brings piano back to lead. Lyrically it bookends the album; ending the fight started with "Raise the Sword" but far more general with Matt saying his great war is over, but

Like all this blood
It will wash away

IV is a towering achievement. Beastwars have always been darker than average for stoner rock, dealing obliquely with environmental ruin and existential angst. IV turns the lens deeply inward and delivers their most emotionally raw and engrossing album yet. It’s as harrowing as it is addicting to listen to and it’s my favourite album of 2019.

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