On Divine Windsis 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 Windsis 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 bloodlust 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 warzone 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 Windswins 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.
Hail of Bullets Interview
Dutch death metal squad Hail of Bullets’ 2008 debut …Of Frost and War instantly turned heads with its mix of genre mastery and World War II lyrical themes. Two years later, the Amersfoort, Netherlands natives are at it again with this year’s On Divine Winds. Hail of Bullets has turned their attention to the Pacific Theater, producing an album which analyses the violent lifespan of imperial Japan. I e-mailed drummer Ed Warby and got the scoop on history, heavy metal and a recurring mixture of the two.
Mark Hensch of Thrashpit.com: First off, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to speak with me. It’s an honor.
Ed Warby (drums): You’re welcome Mark, the pleasure is mine.
Thrashpit.com: Let’s talk about the band. How did Hail of Bullets form and what goal (if any) did all of you set out to accomplish when you started playing together?
Warby: We formed after a night of hard drinking in Amersfoort. Hungover as hell we woke up the next morning and decided we’d just started a new band (laughs).
The only real goal we set for ourselves was that we wanted to bring back the old school values that we felt were sorely missing from modern day death metal. We also wanted to score a good record deal within a few months (laughs).
Thrashpit.com: Hail of Bullets has quite the roster if you’re a fan of old school death metal. How did members of bands as diverse as Bolt Thrower, Gorefest, Thanatos and Pestilence end up getting together like you guys did? Did you know each other beforehand or no?
Warby: Actually, we didn’t know each other beforehand. I’ve known one of our guitarists Stephan Gebedi for ages, and through the band Thanatos I knew our other guitarist Paul Baayens. Our bassist Theo van Eekelen and our vocalist Martin van Drunen were complete strangers to me. Martin and Stephan had also never met apart from a brief exchange back in the day. That’s why we decided to go out together first to see if we liked each other. Safe to say we did and by now we’re very good friends and brothers in heavy metal.
Thrashpit.com: You’ve personally played in a large number of bands. Who have you drummed for and how has it prepared you for your current work in Hail of Bullets (if at all)?
Warby: I started playing in bands when I was 13 so it’s quite a resume by now. My career started when I joined Elegy with whom I recorded one album called “Labyrinth of Dreams.” The style was highly technical power metal so that’s where I got my chops. After Elegy I joined Gorefest which was quite a departure for me musically. I had to adapt somewhat to playing a more brutal style. During my time with Gorefest I became involved with Arjen Lucassen with whom I worked on several Ayreon and Star One albums. I also did some session work for Dutch bands before my career came to a bit of a halt in the early part of the millennium. That ended when Gorefest reunited and a while later Hail of Bullets was formed. I also joined Swedish death metal “supergroup” Demiurg, formed a doom metal band called The 11th Hour and renewed my association with Arjen through new Ayreon and Star One releases. In Hail of Bullets I take a very song-oriented approach as opposed to the more flashy stuff I do in other projects. It’s the sum of all my previous experiences that enables me to be a good band-drummer, and I’ve also learned to arrange songs effectively.
Thrashpit.com: How does Hail of Bullets differ from recent death metal, if at all?
Warby: I think we differ a lot from modern death metal in our approach. We don’t try to be the fastest or most brutal band, but instead recognize the importance of writing good songs with memorable hooks and riffs. In that sense we have more in common with the old masters like Autopsy, Death or Entombed.
Thrashpit.com: World War II is a lyrical focus your band has used on all its recordings so far. What is it that interested you guys about that particular conflict?
Warby: As soon as Martin heard the first demos for the band he had visions of war, so it was an obvious choice for the lyrics to focus on World War II. There’s nothing more metal than a huge Tiger tank rolling across a muddy battlefield, destroying everything in its path. That’s pretty much the feeling we’re trying to create with our music as well. Martin is the resident historian by the way – he devours tons of books on the subject and can tell you all you need to know about bombers, machine guns and tanks.
Thrashpit.com: Is it difficult writing an album about World War II and not picking particular sides from the conflict?
Warby: I’d think so, but fortunately Martin is talented at keeping things objective by focusing on the horror of war in general instead. Obviously in a war there’s no clear cut right or wrong – even the good guys do heinous things sometimes – and likewise it’s possible to admire certain tactics used by the bad guys. Martin’s writing style is vividly descriptive, and he has a keen sense of condensing huge subjects into a verse and chorus song format.
Thrashpit.com: I’m especially interested in On Divine Windsas a relative of mine won a Purple Heart fighting in the Pacific Theater. How did your band approach writing an entire album on that set of operations during the war?
Warby: Martin started by compiling the different events he wanted to cover, and assigning them to the songs we’d written so far. For others we wrote songs specifically. Once we had the basic outline Martin basically disappeared with a tower of books and didn’t come up for air until he had a set of highly detailed, realistic lyrics.
He even scrapped
a large chunk of his work because he felt it didn’t do justice to the events at hand, preferring to start over after paying a visit to the U.S. fleet for inspiration.
Thrashpit.com: Is there anything which has changed between …Of Frost and War and On Divine Windsbesides the lyrical focus on a specific theater of the war?
Warby: There isn’t anything in particular. The only thing that happened semi-subconsciously is that we incorporated more melody this time. I think this happened because the Pacific has more epic connotations and as such translates into huge musical themes in our heads, whereas the Eastern front topic on the last full-length album inspired a more bleak, stripped down musical style.
Thrashpit.com: What can you tell me about any music videos corresponding to songs off On Divine Winds?
Warby: A brand new video for “Operation Z” just premiered on MySpace and is now available through our YouTube channel and from other locations. It’s an effective little video with live footage from the Summer Breeze festival we played intercut with war footage.
Thrashpit.com: They say a musician is his harshest critic. What song is your favorite off the new album and why?
Warby: That goes double for me as I can be positively savage in my own criticism (laughs). On the other hand I can deeply enjoy a song that works well, and I think there are several songs like that on the new album. My favorite is still “Operation Z” as it’s the classic album opener I set out to write. “Tokyo Napalm Holocaust” is arguably the most accomplished song; it’s absolutely horrifying in its marriage of music and lyrics, so real you can almost smell the burning bodies.
Thrashpit.com: What touring plans (if any) does Hail of Bullets have coming up?
Warby: Hail of Bullets is not a touring band. We prefer to do blitzkrieg style attacks on different countries. We’ve been working like this since we started and it’s a very effective and enjoyable way to reach locations that are hard to cover on a conventional tour. We’re booking shows at the moment and so far we’ve been confirmed for Germany’s Party.san and Maryland Deathfest in the U.S., as well as assorted club shows. Keep an eye on our Web site or MySpace account for additional dates.
Thrashpit.com: Last question! What does the future hold for Hail of Bullets?
Warby: Nothing but death, mayhem and destruction. You can also expect massive amounts of old school death metal for all you crazy bastards out there.
Thrashpit.com: Thank you for your time. I wish you and the other Hail of Bullets members the best of luck.
Warby: Thanks for the support, until next time!
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)
Mark Hensch is the editor of Thrashpit. His writing also appears on his Heavy Metal Hensch blog at The Washington Times.