Beastwars

21:53, May 10 2011

This Monday the band Beastwars released its debut, self-titled album (you can check out the tracks here/download digital copy of the album). It's available on CD but you might want to aim for one of the vinyl copies - gatefold with artwork by Weta artist Nick Keller. (Keep reading, you might be in for a chance to win).

I've been listening to the Beastwars album for a while now - I was lucky to be given an advance copy, so I had a chance to get to know the album before it was released; before I talked to the guys in the band.

The best thing about listening to Beastwars is that you can hear all the Mastodon, Iron Maiden, Soundgarden you want - and you might even hear some of that in Beastwars but what you actually hear is Beastwars. The best thing about listening to Beastwars is Beastwars.

If you are unfamiliar, Beastwars is a Wellington band. The group formed about five years ago, all of the members have played a range of music, including a lot of metal, punk and rock. What you hear when you listen to Beastwars (the album) is a band that has put in the time to create a sound, to hone it, to develop their sound. This is a ferocious, snarling debut album - one that sounds like it's a third, fourth or fifth album.

This is Badmotorfinger or Crack The Skye or Powerslave rather than just a self-titled debut. But, as I said above, this isn't Beastwars being Soundgarden or Mastodon, or for that matter Kyuss or High On Fire. This is Beastwars - a band that has released a stunner of an album. They just happen to come from New Zealand, that shouldn't matter beyond the fact that it means Kiwis will get more of a chance to see them.

Last week I spoke with drummer Nathan Hickey (aka Nato) and guitarist Clayton Anderson, ahead of the start of their album launch tour. The band played Wellington last Saturday, in what I heard was a fuse-blowing performance at Bodega. The will be opening for Kyuss this Sunday (see here for details for that show) and the rest of the tour dates are here.

Hickey and Anderson gave me some insight in to the band's philosophy, aims, ambitions and the making of what - to me - is an album that has the makings of a metal classic.

"Well, we don't even really think about metal or not", Anderson tells me. "We have no issue with being a metal band but we come from a lot of different places. Nato listens to metal but also punk and all sorts of other stuff, all of us have different musical backgrounds. I come from listening to a lot of Sonic Youth, Fugazi - that side of punk and noise and experimentation".

Hickey adds, "there were definitely some bands we looked at for ideas in terms of approaching this, way back when we started - I was very interested in the stoner-rock and desert-rock and metal bands. It's a sound I haven't heard a lot of in New Zealand - but it's there, there are some great bands out there doing it. I was in to bands like High On Fire and of course we're stoked to have the gig opening for Kyuss - which just happened to coincide with us being on the road to promote the album".

Anderson and Hickey agree that one of the band's (not so) secret weapons is lead singer Matt Hyde.

"He's a guy who always gives 100 percent on stage - and what you're seeing is him. He lives and breathes it, but if anything he goes to another level on stage", Anderson reckons.

"Yeah, Hickey confirms, "it's really important to have a singer that embodies the songs, the attitude of the band and the music and we're lucky there".

Bassist James Woods helps bring the noise, not only as a sludge-shovelling bottom-end specialist but also as something of a sonic architect, helping with arrangement ideas. Woods has worked with Dale Cotton and was the band's link to Cotton recording the album.

"We did it in about four days", Hickey explains. "The band produced it with Dale down at his place - and it's the result of us working on these tunes for, in some cases, years, hammering the tunes so that we know them. Then we wanted to get in there and pretty much just record live, get that live sound".

He and Anderson feel the album is a good representation of what the band does live - but both are sure that live it is "bigger, louder".

Opening track Damn The Sky is huge - low-slung, low-tuned guitars and bass growl, singer Matt Hyde providing the bark. From there through Lake Of Fire to Mihi the album does not let up. And on to the truly epic Cthulhu. (Remember you can click here to sample any/all of these tunes). There are nine tracks in total and I can't identify a weak number; it's an album that grows with every listen. It's an album that reminds me of my experiences listening to Clutch; an album to lose yourself in, one that builds up around you.

I look forward to seeing Beastwars opening for Kyuss this weekend - I think they'll wow several people that haven't heard them before.

And it was nice meeting up with Clayton and Nathan, finding out the humble approach. The band made 300 copies of the vinyl and are hoping (of course) to sell them. They have a number they need to reach to break even - that's the first goal. Beyond that they're just hoping the music finds an audience - and pleases fans. There is no world domination hope; there is nothing unrealistic in the plan. There'll be another album - the aim is that it will be released on vinyl also. Beyond that it's about having fun, playing some shows, working on music.

"We're lucky", Anderson tells me. "We're all really in to this. We all want the same things from this and we're all a bit older, in terms of playing; we've all played in other bands - so we're not thinking this is a ticket to rock'n'roll stardom. It's not about that at all".

Cunningly - although I get the feeling it is without even trying - Beastwars will appeal to those submerged in the subculture of Heavy Metal. And yet there will be music fans that don't consider themselves metal heads at all that will love this band's work too. That's because it's the music that shines through - there is no image or trick being pushed here. Beastwars is about the music. And they're making some of the best metal, rock, hard-rock, desert-blues/rock, stoner-rock, whatever you want to call it, that I've heard in a while.

They have also - very kindly - agreed to offer one band T-shirt (the shirts glow in the dark!) and one copy of the gatefold vinyl LP to one lucky Blog On The Tracks reader.

That's a prize-pack for one reader - a T-shirt and an LP - so all you have to do is leave a comment telling me why you would like to win a Beastwars LP and T-shirt. You don't have to have heard the band to be in to win but I am also interested in hearing from those who have.

Are you a fan? Have you seen them live? Will you be going when the band reaches your town on this tour? Have you heard the album already? Is it on your list to buy/check out?

And remember state clearly in your comment why you think I should choose you as the lucky winner of a Beastwars record and T-shirt.

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