WASHINGTON, Nov. 2, 2010 - “On Divine Winds” is a collision between history and heavy metal. The latest from Amersfoort, the Netherlands’ Hail of Bullets, it continues the band’s examinations of World War II delivered via death metal. This record finds the quintet scrutinizing the Pacific Theater by exploring Axis Japan’s bloody reign. Shouldering this arduous task like marines, Hail of Bullets stride confidently forward, leaving large footprints to follow in this (or any) year’s death metal output.
It’s unsurprising given the band has trod the genre’s path before. Hail of Bullets is death metal royalty, culling its ranks from legends like Pestilence, Gorefest and Bolt Thrower. This pedigree has produced a killing machine mastering the style’s guttural howls, raw guitar tones and blast beat drumming.
“On Divine Winds” is thus a nuanced album. The guitars are booming and repetitive like artillery barrages. The drums and bass provide lockstep grooves fit for military marching. Leading the charge is vocalist Martin van Drunen’s frantic, raspy howls, perfectly exuding the desperation of men fighting for their lives.
Music so intricately crafted provides ample support for a theme as ambitious as Japan’s wartime imperialism. Clips from the conflict accentuate the album’s atmosphere while the lyrics provide historical context. The band avoids picking sides, focusing on the warfare’s brutality instead. It’s an interesting narrative device, insinuating ideology is irrelevant amidst human blood lust and suffering.
The battle begins with “The Eve of War,” an orchestral sample which sets the stage for “Operation Z.” Blindsiding listeners with raw riffing and pounding drums, it builds into ominous grooves tinged with mournful melodies. “The Mukden Incident” is next, its ponderous guitars barreling past like tanks. “Strategy of Attrition” ups the ante, letting drums scout ahead before guitars trample everything in sight. “Full Scale War” tightens the tension, its slow pace paired with grim guitar notes and increasingly wild percussion.
“Guadalcanal” goes for the jugular by capturing the insanity of that infamous battle. Mammoth guitar riffs trudge by, leaving listeners unprepared for the upcoming onslaught of blistering metal. “On Coral Shores” plumbs the depths of low guitar tones, rumbling along like a troop transport in choppy waters. Midway through, it erupts like a mine into blitzkrieg speed before sinking back into murky riffing.
“Unsung Heroes” kicks off with inspiring guitars and taps-worthy drums before zooming through a war zone of speed-picked melodies and skull-ratting percussion. “Tokyo Napalm Holocaust” glides by with notes sparkling like the titular incendiary only to fade into restrained riffing. “Kamikaze” sneak attacks the ears, dive bombing repeatedly with tempo shifts and fiery melodies. “To Bear the Unbearable” is the perfect finale, a massive epic summarizing the defeat of Japan with dirge-like death metal, somber choruses and sound bites from the war. It’s so expertly-paced “Sugar Loaf Hill,” feels anti-climatic given it gallops along, leaving one wanting more. Despite its misspent energy, its soaring guitar solo renders it victorious.
“On Divine Winds” wins a war on two fronts by slaying the sophomore slump and retelling the Pacific Theater’s history with gritty savagery befitting its tale. This is death metal done right – primitive in its simplicity, aggressive in its passion. Have your marching orders – get this album immediately.
“The Eve of Battle”
“The Mukden Incident”
“Strategy of Attrition”
“Full Scale War”
“On Coral Shores”
“Tokyo Napalm Holocaust”
“To Bear the Unbearable”
“Sugar Loaf Hill” (limited edition only)
Rating: 9 out of 10
Website: Hail of Bullets
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