New Zealand’s really an underappreciated region for metal. Really, all of Oceania is. Today, you get to see what I mean with Beastwars, a quartet from Wellington that revel in a dense stoner/sludge metal sound with a nice twist I never saw coming. Their maxim, via their Bandcamp page, is “obey the riff” and boy do they ever.
Tyranny of Distance makes a great immediate impression. After a few listens, its stronger notions really stick with you, and they flood your ears from early on. Album opener “Identity” is ferociously competent and crunchy, as if gritted up from the arid landscapes in Rangipo Desert. “Waves” is a gangbang of solid melody and robust instrumentation, complete with a soaring hook that really latches onto you. Every player is immaculately audible, even the bass which is often buried in the mix of a lot of sludge and stoner metal.
With “Emmanuelle”, Beastwars finds this pocket of groove to occupy that feels so good. The song’s got a lot of drive even if it’s melodically calmer than the last two tracks. If you want real calm though, “Dark Child and “High And Lonely” are where you need to be. The first of the two has this gothic rock, almost post-punk feel to it. It’s different - still employing that groovy stoner lurch from earlier - but it doesn’t hit as hard by design. The vocals are also a lot more demure and pensive as a result. “High And Lonely” doubles down on this with marching rhythms and dramatic vocals. It’s moody, but still among the album’s weaker tracks.
“Spooky” is the one dynamic track on Tyranny of Distance that really works for me. Starting with just a lone descending bass riff, it builds up to heavy rock urgency like the first moment of the album and varies the tone and mood throughout its almost four-minute runtime. A solid ender for the album, and one that tidies up all it has to offer. Although there’s some songs and moments that feel a bit ill-fitting in the whole picture, there’s a pretty good reason for that.
Ready for the twist? Tyranny of Distance is completely made up of cover songs. I wait until now to say it because I didn’t find out until I sat down to write this. Although this does change my overall thoughts on the album - I was slightly disappointed to learn the writing wasn’t wholly of Beastwars - it does still show the band’s ability to completely transform a track into their own while keeping the original spirit alive (just check out the original “Waves” done by Superette to see what I mean). It’s up to subjective taste if you think these are better than the original songs, but if nothing else it shows the band’s great passion for their own grungy stoner sound and their ability to contort it to fit over skeletons that weren’t borne of metal.
Bottom line: the biggest asset that Beastwars has is excitement and invigoration. Even when covering the works of other artists, they own it all and provide their own thick metal bombast to get lost in. Tyranny of Distance is great fun whether you’re familiar with the original songs or not because when it comes down to it, they come off as wonderfully charismatic and heavy as hell.