Monday, March 11, 2013

Ragehammer - War Hawks DEMO (2012)

I hate to admit it, but I feel like the past few years are starting to see an over saturation of the blackened/thrash niche. It's getting to the point at which I almost dread hearing the things, because for every Antichrist level gem (Forbidden World) you're going to get dozens of drawling, derivative enticements to faux-Satanism that are pretty much intellectual and compositional clones of worshiped influences: Venom, Possessed, Slayer, Sodom, Bathory, and so forth. Poland's Ragehammer might be pretty easy to write off as just another in this endless tirade, but I do feel that the band has some promise on their War Hawks demo which seems to spare them from the tired, crass redundancy. In short: while these guys are hardly something to get excited over, they at least endow the five tracks here with some variety and genuine enthusiasm which would be criminal to ignore.

At times, I was almost reminded of a more raw, bulldozing version of the first few Witchery albums, back when the group was blood thirsty, riff hungry and invigorating. The vocalist Heretik Hellstörm is not unlike a Toxine if you took the reins off and let the guy blare through the mix. While at times the feral snarls climb over the top a little too far, this uncompromising and unhinged approach to the blackened vocal aesthetic injects a lot of vibrant energy. I actually preferred his lower register growl in "The Wolfpack" which was almost like a grittier, growling evolution of Snake from the old Voivod records. The riffing isn't too shabby either, whether they are laying out some savage speed metal licks somewhere between Jeff Hanneman, Patrik Jensen and Mantas ("RageHammer Rising"), a more directly driving and punk fused chord progression ("Prophet of Genocide") or a surprising level of melodic tremolo picking ("The Wolfpack"), they aren't ever really duplicating themselves on any two cuts here, though certainly they could push this variation further.

The bass is fluid, pumping and constant, and they also use a lot of machine gun double kick drums to keep the music in line with the more modern extremities of contemporary death and black metal (the latter of which they occasionally tackle head on). Though the other instruments and vocals were always clear and raw through the mix, I did feel that the drums were a little too brazen and brick-like, laid on a little too thick. Not to the point where they become a serious detriment, but their ever present thundering does detract a bit of the nuance that might otherwise be experienced through the bass and guitars. Also, while there are 4-5 sweet licks through the demo, the rest often feel like your garden variety black/thrash that I was complaining about earlier. Ragehammer perform these better than most, but some added experimentation, dissonance, or even a more unusual use of melody through more of the material would have enhanced its lasting impact. But all in all, War Hawks is a decent demo likely to appeal to fans of Cruel Force, Deathhammer, and even Nifelheim, so if you're a dedicated follower of this style, don't miss out.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

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