Sometimes life kicks you in the teeth. Sometimes it kicks you again when you are down. Sometimes it keeps kicking you and you have to fight. Sometimes that fight manifests in an album like Beastwars’ IV — raw, ragged, angry, revelatory, and uncompromising. Sometimes it results in needing an album like IV without knowing it.
I am sure many words will be spilled about singer Matt Hyde’s conquest over cancer, and I’ll let those words be said by others. I am ecstatic to see them release another Beastwars album when after The Death of All Things I heard rumors that they were done. I loved that album so much that I taught myself some of the songs. I still play “The Devil Took Her” when I pick up an acoustic guitar. But I’m going to take a different angle here. This album hits me personally. From losing people I care about to facing my own mortality head on. “You can never get away from your mortal decay,” cries track four, “you can never give in, you can never give up.” Nothing drives this home like a chronic, crushing illness. I don’t talk about my issues much, and I won’t go into details here, but it’s the battle cry I needed in the face of overwhelming, constant, soul-grinding pain. In these lyrics, in Hyde’s gravelly croon, I hear understanding and authenticity. He knows. He understands.
Beastwars are a lesser known band, which nevertheless is on par with those who’ve achieved greater levels of popularity. Baroness, Mastodon. Those who know Beastwars rank them amongst favorites. With catchy riffs and infectious grooves, they demand that you throw the horns high, and yet with melancholic and melodic songwriting, they deliver you moments to breathe, to consider. Like Mastodon, they easily merge these elements together, and like Baroness they can deliver them with an emotional gut punch.
There’s something about sludge that always hits me right where it counts. It’s a genre of metal that always seems to capture emotions more complex than the anger and rage that’s so prevalent in metal. Maybe it’s the slower tempos. Maybe it’s the noisier mix. Maybe it’s the fact that so much of it flirts with progressive elements. IV has all of these things. Take “Like Dried Blood,” for example, which starts out as a piano waltz you could fool your grandparents with only to eventually build into something so heavy, so dark, it’s hard to believe where it started. Kind of like life, I guess.
(As an aside, 3:40 into “Like Dried Blood,” where you hear the original piano rhythm only played on heavy guitars and drums, is easily one of my favorite moments on IV, and is a fitting end to a powerful album.)
“Let me live, give me ten more years,” the strongest emotional call of the album, punctuates “Storms of Mars.” “Count the days, the nights slip away,” is a sentiment close to my heart. When you face the end of everything you’ve known, and recognize that nothing can be the same, you become painfully aware of how little time we have, despite the fact that it seems to constantly accelerate. “Blessed is this world, and we all must leave,” reminds us that regardless, the end comes for us all. Savor what you have.
There is so much to love about this album even beyond the truly mountainous lyrics. Musically, it shows a clear improvement over previous efforts, with greater attention to song structure and rhythmic elements. Songs build and change over their length, and the drumming, rather than just being there to tie the songs together, is a notable part of the musical compositions. Guitar and bass tones are a little dirtier, with a denser mix, but it works well for the content. Beastwars have never been shy about using a variety of instruments, and on this album piano makes a strong showing. The human tempo of the album contributes to the raw feel, with enough subtle shifts it’s obvious that this is a band that isn’t interested in playing to a click track, and it feels far more honest because of it. Altogether these details result in what is clearly Beastwars’ best effort to date.
This is one of those rare albums worth more than the sum of its parts. Sure, you can listen to it as just another sludge album. You can enjoy it, rock out to it, blast it from your car on a summer day. All valid. But what really makes this album special is its authenticity. Too often metal albums are filled with tediously boring lyrics which bang on the common themes; religion, satan, evil, nihilism, etc. Here we have an album that’s an affirmation of life, a cry of victory, a statement that says, “No, we will not give up. We will fight entropy as long as we’re able, and we won’t go quietly.” And if you’ve ever had to fight that fight, IV reverberates through your being like a resonant frequency, amplifying what you already know and feel, making it bigger, louder, and causing your very soul to sing. Good luck not screaming “Let me rise!” along with “Storms of Mars.”
So here’s to Beastwars, conquering that which might have ended them. Fighting to make their fourth album, and doing it with style, grit, and aplomb. And in the process, making IV, which is easily going to be a contender for people’s end of year lists. Give it a listen, soak in it, and let its energy power you through what’s to come.