With the release of their fourth full-length, the aptly named ‘IV’, Wellington metal heroes Beastwars confronted a topic more personal than anything they’d tackled previously. Namely, the mortality of vocalist Matt Hyde.
Conceived and written by Hyde while he was recovering in hospital from Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma, ‘IV’ is a stark and fearless album of self-analysis and considerations of the things that really matter. Topics such as his daughter and his life so far are broached, exposing the band to their fans far more than on any previous releases. And it was in the shadow of such a record that Beastwars took to their home city for a run of two gigs, kicking off a tour that includes multiple other NZ dates as well as a string of stops in Australia.
Accompanying them on the majority of those dates is a band that, while sharing some of the stoner rock foundation of our headliners, imbue it with energy more furious and untamed. Australia’s Witchskull, who released their second record ‘Coven’s Will’ early last year, are admirably singular about their commitment to play as hard and fast as possible, an approach that translated in an impressively raucous style on stage.
Tracks such as Raise The Dead showcased a tightly crafted combination of blues, stoner rock and classic metal, vocalist/guitarist Marcus De Pasquale a man lost to the pace and power of his music and flawless in his execution. Flying through an assault of grooves and howls, it was easy to forget momentarily which band the evening revolved around, a lapse that is to the total credit of Witchskull’s half hour or so on stage.
As San Fran reached what was bordering on, if not reaching, full capacity, and Hyde and co. began to emerge beneath the lights, any temporary misconceptions, however, were quickly righted. From the opening riff, the claustrophobic and cacophonous sound of Clayton Anderson (guitar), James Woods (bass) and Nathan Hickey (drums) shocked the audience into a stunned, swaying mass. Hyde, adopting his introspective, shamanistic stance at the front of the stage, shrieked and yelled in his distinctly wrenching style, belying his skinny, almost fragile physical state.
Tearing through a combination of new music, such as Omens and Raise The Sword, as well as revisiting numerous old favourites, the uniqueness not just of Beastwars as an entity but of what they mean to their fans was hard to ignore. Not just those in the crowd proudly wearing their acquired band merch, but those, similar to Hyde, who willingly sacrifice themselves to Beastwars’ dense, highly emotive brand of metal, hands alternately writhing through their hair and being thrust into the sky at the suitable opportunities.
Even a quick time out when Woods’ bass amp blew up failed to affect the collective sense of awe evident in the room, everyone remaining transfixed and erupting in mass relief when the band were eventually able to get the set going again.
Given the background to the release of ‘IV’, the anticipation hanging in the air at the first of Beastwars’ Wellington gigs took no one by surprise. What gradually became increasingly clear however was just how deep-rooted the reverence those in attendance held the band on stage was, the discernible love for the four men indicating the audience weren’t just there for the music, but also as a legitimate support network.
A relationship developed over the years as Beastwars have given their all for their fans, ‘IV’ marked an occasion for those that have spent the last decade or so adoring the metal heroes’ music to return the favour. And when Hyde and co. needed them most, on this basis at least, they certainly weren’t found wanting.