Succeeding their impressive 2008 full-length debut, "...of Frost and War," HAIL OF BULLETS have anted up with a sequel-of-sorts that is perhaps even more plodding and destructive than its predecessor. Marching from Eastern Europe and the tundra of Russia and into the volatile Pacific Ocean theatre, HAIL OF BULLETS' World War II theme is kept ferociously intact with "On Divine Winds," or, in Japanese translation, Kamikaze.
While 2009's "Warsaw Rising" EP tided fans over, it was a mere warning shot to the glory of "On Divine Winds." Back is the churning vocals of Martin van Drunen, the thunderous hammering of Ed Warby, and the calculated riff troika of Paul Baayens, Stephan Gebedi, and Theo van Eekelen. Where "Frost" grew infrequently weary with trench foot, "Divine" soars high into the golden airways of Imperial Japan and proceeds to drop 11 fist-clenching tracks of historically-based brutality.
From the album's orchestrated opener, "The Eve of Battle," the mood is set with tactical precision, enabling "Operation Z" to blast in with the scream of jet engines and that Old School Death Metal charge that remains simply inexhaustible. Sounds of war echo and ring throughout "Divine," none as noticeably dynamic as the dive-bombing Japanese fighter pilots within "Kamikaze," but what HAIL OF BULLETS carry on so well is the ever-trudging groove and demolition that van Drunen's 'other' band, BOLT THROWER, crafted to near-perfection; the breath-sucking strength of huge Doom blasting and the crooning weaponry of hard-buzzing guitars.
Beyond an improved focus on song structure that yields a peculiar 'catch' to each track is the prominent and aforementioned guitar work. "Divine" harbors tremendously dense action, thick with smoke and flying steel, but in between the gunfire and cannon booms is a well-conceived melodic counterpart, successfully backing up the chopping angst with a melancholy struggle of wills. It's this coupling that allows "Divine" to be so much more authentic - violent and methodical and explosive, war also wears a terrific guise of sadness and pain, and in songs like "Strategy of Attrition," soldiers bleed out, wail, and succumb while shells crush everything in view.
In a genre of music saturated with songs about warfare and genocide alike, no Death Metal band composes or sonically reimagines the grit, gore, and grandeur of our world's greatest conflicts. HAIL OF BULLETS treat the material like grizzled veterans and wear their red badge of courage proudly.
Akin to its subject matter, the megaton force of "Divine" will stand the test of time within Metal culture. Fierce in its sound, commanding in its lyrical content, HAIL OF BULLETS are manipulating the spoils of war by honoring it with one of the year's most devastatingly heavy albums.
Kill shots: "Full Scale War," "Guadalcanal," "On Coral Shores," and "Kamikaze."
Me(n)tal Note: Dan Swano mixed "On Divine Winds."
(Online November 18, 2010)