Svart Records Roundup: Brutal Africa, Death Hawks & Wizard Rifle
New stuff from everybody’s second fave Svarti-daddies.
Brutal Africa – The Heavy Metal Cowboys of Botswana
My knowledge of African metal is not exactly enough to fill a veritable wellspring. Last year’s documentary Freedom In The Dark made an attempt to rectify this, but alas, it failed, as I’ve yet to see it. Fortunately its director Samuli Pyykkönen and Svart Records have joined their forces for Brutal Africa, a compilation of Botswanan heavy metal culled from the handful of bands that have been able to record their material to any degree (reportedly the Botswanan—Botswanian?—scene consists of ten or so active bands, and about the same number of defunct ones, many of whom have not been able to record their music, as any such activity is difficult in Botswana, but especially for a rock band).
I don’t see much of a point in trying to review or criticize the compilation itself, its merit lying rather in bringing availability and attention to a scene that would otherwise get little coverage. But that isn’t to say Brutal Africa would be without musical merit of its own. Crackdust’s modern, thrashy and even at times -core-afflicted death metal, and Overthrust’s dirtier, more vile take on the genre especially, are pleasing to these ears. Wrust and Stane bring a mix of groove and death metal to the table, the former relying heavier on the latter, and even having what sounds like local, African/Botswanan influence in their music, though on this compilation at least, it seems restricted to “The Day of Sacrifice’s” intro. I definitely wouldn’t mind hearing more regional musical influences melded into metal in general, so all the better for me.
PMMA’s garbled mix of falsetto vocals, growls and vague musicianship is not something that I readily enjoy but brings variety to the fold, and it’s importance, I believe, lies rather in its age. As does Metal Orizon’s. Being, perhaps, the first Botswanan metal band, their thrashy heavy metal sounds a whole lot like what it is, creating something into a vacuum where nothing exists, as a colleague put it. In any case, Brutal Africa is an intriguing look into the metal scene from another side of the world, and you should at the very least check out the bits below and some of the links above.
Death Hawks – Psychic Harmony
On their first two records Death Hawks combined psyched-out space rock and easy-going prog for a fairly fresh sounding outcome, whereas Sun Future Moon (reviewed here) took some steps towards more balanced and, tonally, indie rock-inspired grounds that gave them more room for the keyboard arrangements—resulting in a more airy experience while keeping their style intact. It’s been a few years since, and in the time between Death Hawks decided to become an 80’s pop band.
Well not really, as their music is still built on a mix of psych, prog and space rock-like tendencies. But the rock has been drastically reduced and guitars basically discarded for a synthesizer lead approach, and pop sensibility has snuck into both structures and melodies, with especially Markkula’s vocal department coming close to Fish at times, which in itself is a welcome change. Though never a hindrance, he was never a particularly convincing vocalist, and as Psychic Harmony gives his vocal melodies a more central role, any assistance and improvement is to be welcomed here.
At its heart, Psychic Harmony still sounds like Death Hawks—though first-album-only folks may have difficulties in recognizing the band—the sense of melody that prevails throughout the record was already carefully cultivated on the self-titled sophomore, the sax arrangements are comfortably familiar and Sun Future Moon already sow the seeds of this transition, though no matter how you look at it, Death Hawks sounds like they set out to reinvent themselves.
The newfound pop sensibility fits the band’s new aesthetic and style, and becomes a working part of their songwriting, though I would have been intrigued to hear at least a little more of how their new sound would have fit over their old style. Especially as the instrumental (and likely least pop-like) “Aleya” with its delightful horn arrangements, reminiscent of Oddarrang, proves a definite highlight. Nevertheless, the band has gone to convincing depths with their new sound and managed to integrate it in such a manner that does not rob them of their previously held identity either. But something is missing, and it’s adventurousness. Perhaps the band felt Psychic Harmony as an album was already such a big step that there was no need for it to sprawl as its predecessors have.
But adventurousness was one of the finest qualities of their prior records, and its lack leaves Psychic Harmony in stasis, operating melodically, and otherwise, at a narrower range. The album is almost unequivocally ruled by one emotion, and unfortunately it’s the mild, drowsy kind of melancholy that doesn’t carry far on its own. Though, perhaps, a successful experiment, Psychic Harmony is the least intriguing and interesting album Death Hawks has produced. On the other hand, Sun Future Moon has grown on me immensely after initially being rather disappointed in it too, so perhaps, three years from now, I’ll jam Psychic Harmony with delight.
2,5/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Wizard Rifle – Wizard Rifle
THIS IS MY WAND. THERE ARE MANY LIKE IT, BUT THIS ONE IS MINE. MY WAND IS MY BEST FRIEND. I MUST MASTER IT AS I MUST MASTER MY LIFE. WITHOUT ME MY WAND IS USELESS. WITHOUT MY WAND, I AM USELESS. I MUST FIRE MY WAND TRUE. I MUST SHOOT STRAIGHTER THAN MY ENEMY WHO IS TRYING TO FINISH FIRST (Has anyone ever realized how obnoxious and disgusting the Wandman’s Creed is? Hecking pervs, dude. So glad we have the Marines to protect us from this fanatical filth).
DO YOU LIKE LIGHTNING BOLT BUT WISH THAT THEY HAD MORE QOTSA AND/OR MASTODON-LIKE VOCAL MELODIES EXECUTED WITH FAR LESS ELOQUENCE? WELL YOU’RE IN GOOD GODDAMN LUCK! WOULD YOU ALSO LIKE THEM TO NOT BE COATED IN A THICK DESERT ROCK-REEKING MOLASSES? TOO BAD, SLUDGE RIFF! WHAT DO YOU MEAN THIS SONG NEEDS MORE STRUCTURE? I’LL TELL YOU WHAT IT NEEDS, IT NEEDS A THRASH-ASS BREAKDOWN FOLLOWED BY A TREMOLO PICKED BLACK METAL RIFF INTERJECTED WITH A SLOW AND QUIET AND AIRY PSYCH ROCK SECTION BECAUSE CHICKS DIG SLOW AND QUIET AND AIRY PSYCH ROCK SECTIONS! MORE PARTS, MORE LENGTH, MORE WIDTH, MORE GIRTH, NO SONGS UNDER SEVEN MINUTES AND MAKE IT EXPLODE!
AND TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION: IT’S A SENTIENT, MAGICAL RIFLE THAT SHOOT PROJECTILES CARVED IN THE LIKENESS OF YEN SID HIMSELF, OBVIOUSLY!
3,75/5 Flaming Toilets ov Hell
Visit each band’s linked Facebook sites for more information, or drop a dookie and order a pile, at Svart Records’ home.