Members from some of the Netherlands' most important death metal bands, namely Pestilence, Gorefest, Thanatos among others, have joined forces to form Hail of Bullets, a staggering old-school death metal band that offers uncompromising molten metal mayhem on their ambitious debut Of Frost and War.
Based around vocalist Martin van Drunen's ideas, the album is a conceptual piece of work revolving around WW2, particularly the eastern front. All tracks address the theme of war, painting a bleak picture of destruction a la Bolt Thrower during their heyday. This is further highlighted by the amazing packaging with authentic pictures and the fitting artwork. The lyrics of tracks like "The Lake Ladoga Massacre" and "The Crucial Offensive (19-11-1942, 7.30 AM)" are actually worth investigating, as van Drunen is certainly well versed in history.
This being a nod to the masters of old-school death metal, most of the songs are intentionally devoid of melodic patterns and see the band proceeding through mid-tempo to faster musical terrains. Melody is only offered at key points, in order to provide contrast to the bleak, relentlessly heavy death metal aesthetic. This actually works perfectly, as the band seems to understand the overemphasis of melodic segments would not serve the purpose of such an album, but when applied scarcely, the songs transcend their limits and turn into modern death metal anthems. Ed Warby's drumming, though a bit lower in the mix than his work on the demo, is staggering and powerful; while the guitar duo of Thanatos, Paul Baayens and Stephan Gebedi, lay down some amazing harmonies on pieces like "Nachthexen" and the phenomenal album closer "Berlin". Combined with van Drunen's dry, tortured growl and and Theo van Eekelen's rumbling bass, the tracks immediately stand out due to their epic arrangement, thick guitar layering and overall feel.
The balance of the fast and mid-tempo tracks is achieved seamlessly, as the sludgy, almost doom-metal like "The Lake Ladoga Massacre" and "General Winter" morph into crushing death metal monsters with insane drum fills and suffocating twin guitar riffery. Pay attention to the ending of "General Winter" where wah-infested guitars form a thick wall of dissonance that messes with the head. Actually almost all of the songs on the album end on a grandiose note, giving the impression that there isn't a single overplayed note on them.
As with their demo, the album was mixed and mastered by Dan Swano and therefore it sounds savage, massive and brutal. Swano also does some death growls on "Ordered Eastward", one of the best tracks on the album. Rife with machine-gun riffery, militaristic drum beats and van Drunen's abrasive vocals, it takes on a completely new vibe as Dan Swano enters the piece with some of his most brutal and punishing death growls ever. Swano sings atop an epic guitar theme thick with harmony through most of the tune, but it concludes with van Drunen in the finale.
Of Frost and War is the best death metal debut of 2008, and perhaps even the best death metal album of the year. Fans of Autopsy, Death, Bolt Thrower, Celtic Frost, and Obituary are advised to check it out. This is the true soundtrack to war and destruction.
- Before the Storm (Barbarossa)
- Ordered Eastward
- The Lake Ladoga Massacre
- General Winter
- Advancing Once More
- Red Wolves of Stalin
- The Crucial Offensive (19-11-1942, 7.30 AM)
- Insanity Commands (Bonus Track)
- Inferno at the Carpathian Mountains