Friday, April 18, 2014

Hail of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles (2013)

I've been comfortable for years claiming that Hail of Bullets provides my favorite Asphyx material, because it so ramps up the tension and potential of that seminal death metal entity while also offering the same enormous clusterfuck production which the members' primary act also has capitalized on with their recent releases. That said, this Dutch act plays with such a simplistic, strength-minded sensibility that there is constantly the threat of them burning themselves out, writing a set of riffs too complacent or plain in structure that they can fail to achieve, and I do think to an extent this has happened with the third full-length III: The Rommel Chronicles, only not so much that I didn't still pump the fuck out of this thing on a number of occasions.

No, riff for riff, this is not the equal of either of its predecessors, nor does it start off particularly promising with "Swoop of the Falcon", but there is enough meat on its bones that retro death metal pundits the world over should find some common ground being tread. Van Drunen's vocals have lost nothing with age, but I would not say that his performance here is among his more memorable...that award still belongs to his old Pestilence material, on which he pretty much created every pattern he'd later re-arrange. I am surprised that his voice has held up this long, he's got such a bloodiness in there which seems like it would have cracked a million times over in 30 years, yet the ugliness persists, the desperation and hostility which is almost like Lemmy Kilminster gargling gunpowder while chomping on an unlit cigar...always about to explode! Rhythm guitars maintain that corpulent fleshiness of the other albums, only a few tunes like "To the Last Breath of Man and Beast" contained groove riffs so unfuckably exhausted that part of The Rommel Chronicles feels more like an obligation than an advancement further along enemy lines...

Many of those grooves unfortunately also remind me of stuff you'd hear on an average Six Feet Under disc, not that it's such a bad thing with Van Drunen taking the helm in place of Barnes, but stuff like "DAK" could have used an added sheen of atmosphere or complexity to help raise the roof. Like a lot of acts these years, Hail of Bullets seem to be increasingly relying on the momentum of their production values alone to mask rehashed ideas, and if that's going to be the case they might have just ended with the excellent sophomore album. On the other hand, lyrically I found this fascinating, since Rommel is one of my favorite historical military figures and perhaps the most competent of the Axis strategists, and when listened to in one lump sum in my car, the disc fucking crushed me on a number of occasions that I still consider it a solid success, even though it really lacks the surprise value of the others, and the riffs are a few tiers lesser in quality. It'd be nice now for the Dutchmen to take leave for awhile, come up with some new ideas and perhaps even attempt to dial up the complexity of what they write rather than just do the same shit time in and time out, which is also symptomatic of Asphyx. Just because you can write the same, progressively redundant riffs and stay 'loyal' to a sound does not mean that you should pursue the course indefinitely...Rommel is strong, but like the figure himself, not invincible.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (on to the next duel)

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