You know fun when you see it. Sometimes it’s a massive water slide on a hot summer’s day. Sometimes it’s a tapped keg in a bucket of ice with your best friends in the backyard, burgers on the grill and a hammock no one’s laying in yet. And sometimes it’s a vicious mix of blackened thrash from Australia, emphasis on the thrash (for once), a logo with not one but TWO inverted crosses with pentagrams etched in, and a picture of Old Scratch himself on the cover.
Sometimes, just sometimes, it’s At the Devil’s Left Hand, the second album from Bloodlust.
Here’s what we are told about the band: they are, according to their Facebook page, “infernal soldiers risen from Hell to spread a plague of blasphemous darkness against the light and all that is holy.” Here is what we can see of the band: bullet belts. Lots and lots of bullet belts. And muscles. And spikes. Nary a smile. These guys mean business, and have been meaning business (that business again being to spread the aforementioned blasphemous plague) since 2011’s Thrashing Black Devil Worship, where tracks like “Rite of the Goat” channel early Slayer and Venom with the speed metal glory of Exciter circa Heavy Metal Maniac. Gang vocals summoning goats, paeans to Satan…the demo is everything I loved as a kid thinking this music was even remotely dangerous or illicit. The good news is as the band moved from demo to demo the flamboyance of the lyrical content continues to grow, evenly matched by the musical chops, which get tighter and tighter without losing that early shine of a band out for blood. By the time of 2015’s debut Cultus Diaboli opening with a reworked version of “Apocalyptic War Command” from the Death Magic Rites demo the entire package is nailed down and firing on all barbed metal cylinders.
Featuring a beefed up production and even tighter harmonies and riffing, At the Devil’s Left Hand kicks off with the title track demonstrating everything great about thrash and why emphasizing it over the blacker elements makes this a winner. You get ridiculously fast chugging, harmonized leads that instantly recall classic King/Hanneman, chanted vocals mixed in with the screams, and guitar solos that dive and vibrate like they’re seized by demons. Whether it’s the speed changes of “Deadly Force” or the percussive assault of the amazingly titled “Wolves of the Warcursed Earth” the duo of Spectre (bass/guitar) and Disaster (drums/vocals) provide a history lesson that doesn’t feel calculated: it feels like they never left 1983 and really don’t care to. Leads are handled by someone named General, and at this point I don’t care to know anymore about the band because how much more insane goodness can there be at this point?
Well, that question is answered with “Witchfyre” which might have the best chorus on the album and also of 2017. And 1983. If we’re just talking about the music it’s still one of the strongest tracks, racing back and forth with a groovy mix of speed and an almost funky break between verses. But it’s that’s damn earworm of a chorus which my brain might be deceiving me but I swear I hear it like this:
Fight! Light! Fire without Fire! / Fight! Light! Fire without fire! / Which fire? / WITCHFYRE!
If this is wrong I don’t care. I love it and it’s how I will always scream it in my car on the way to work.
If I make any of what Bloodlust doing seem a little silly it doesn’t take away how damn good At the Devil’s Left Hand is. It’s a brutal whiplash of a record with breakneck riffs, gallops galore, and a sense of fun that hasn’t been around in decades. Channeling the best of the metal that made you shiver when you walked through a record store as a kid, there’s a glee to be had listening to it now. Serious? No. Amazing?