January 2018 saw the release of ‘Nine Centuries’, the third full length album from Wellington metal act Bulletbelt. Since then the band have lost impressive metal vocalist Jolene Tempest and guitarist Seth Jackson have both split from the band, replaced by Scott Spatcher-Harrison and Josh O’Brian. Bassist Ross Mallon admits to Mike Tweed that being in Bulletbelt is a big commitment, that even international support tours can be a drain, not only on time but finances.
Clocking in at just under 47 minutes, the latest slab of heaviness from Wellington’s Bulletbelt sees an incorporation of increased melody and groove, something bassist Ross Mallon is only too happy to point out.
“We weren’t afraid to put a melodic line or solo into proceedings this time around. We really tried to inject as much melody into the songs as we could handle! It’s not about being the heaviest band in the world, it’s about finding our sound. We want to be able to pull back and groove from time to time, but still maintain that intensity.”
A follow up to 2014’s ‘Rise Of The Banshee’, this new offering continues the theme of pummelling blast beats and ferocious vocals, while maintaining a meticulous attention to detail. Tracked in only a week at Auckland’s The Lab, it’s clear that the step up in recording facility helps make this new batch of songs sound more cohesive than ever. From the galloping riff of the title track to the brooding string sections of Hypatia, each song flows effortlessly into the next. Kam Lee of U.S. metal stalwarts Massacre even lends guest vocals to the hardcore-influenced Show Me Your Throat, a standout track.
The band had spent the year leading up to the recording of the album writing and demoing new material, with each song honed before they entered the studio. Bulletbelt remain an independent unit, so time and money are both resources that need to be used wisely.
“This band is a full-time job you don’t get paid for, with no time to do it in,” as Ross wryly points out.
It seems their hard work has paid off however, as ‘Nine Centuries’ received a blanket of positive reviews on release. ‘An avalanche of aggression,’ is the phrase metal-temple.com used to describe the record, and that seems to sum up the nine songs perfectly.
Formed by Mallon and drummer Steve Francis in 2009, Bulletbelt has provided a steady stream of self-funded releases, from their debut EP ‘The Black Army Stands’, through two other short players, a split EP and three full length records. Even with the latest album still hot off the presses, there is a batch of new songs just waiting for vocals before they too will be released into the world.
With only having a week to record ‘Nine Centuries’ they maintained 12-14 hour studio working days. Ross praises The Lab’s head Olly Harmer and engineer Cam Sinclair, himself an experienced metal producer and drummer for Auckland outfit Bridge Burner, for their support.
“After a couple of days of being in the studio Olly could see that we weren’t some kind of party band and were there to work, so he just threw us the keys and told us to lock the door on our way out!”
Produced by Mellon and Francis, the album has a common theme that threads a narrative between each song.
“It isn’t a concept record per se, but the lyrics are definitely story-based, and delve into the religious persecution of women throughout the ages,” Ross explains.
The research was provided by vocalist Jolene Tempest, whose fearsome growl plays a major part in making ‘Nine Centuries’ such a brutal piece of music. Since album’s release, she and guitarist Seth Jackson have both parted ways with the band. Scott Spatcher-Harrison (formerly of seminal Christchurch metallers Human) and Josh O’Brian have taken their respective places. Ross maintains the departures were amicable.
“Steve and I are the first to admit that we ask a lot of the people who come into the band. It’s time away from family and friends, and it’s a big time commitment. We don’t always break even, especially with international support tours, so it’s a big drain on time and resources.”
Luckily for Bulletbelt, as well as many other independent bands, there are venues and promoters dotted around NZ who make sure that acts, regardless of genre, have a place to play and a support network in place to attract people to shows. Ross highlights the efforts of local venue promoters and bookers throughout the North Island.
“People like Ben at Valhalla in Wellington, Lucy at Whammy in Auckland, and Ivan at Nivara Lounge in Hamilton, they’re the ones who keep it ticking.
“Real strong places to play are key to a healthy scene. You really need a sense of community. A lot of the time the fight is to get folks out to shows. You need people on the ground promoting, and even things as simple as posters and flyers go a long way.”
Both the founding members of Bulletbelt are from smaller centres, with Mellon being from Milton in the deep south, and Francis growing up in Masterton in the Wairarapa, where the band has played twice. As well as sharing the stage with international heavy hitters such as Sepultura, Napalm Death and Carcass, they were perhaps the first metal act to play in the small northern town of Kaitaia, with up and comers Alien Weaponry opening the show.
In May, Bulletbelt will embark on a four-show run with legendary Japanese black metal outfit Sabbat in NZ and Australia. An international tour, plus vinyl and cassette releases, are also in the works for the second half of the year. Ross believes that hard work is key to any longevity and success, regardless of stature.
“Even at our level there is definitely a certain amount of administration that happens, otherwise it would just turn into a big mess. We’re still looking long term, even nine or 10 years into it. Nothing gets done without hard work. If a big offer or opportunity comes our way I’d like to think that we’d be prepared for it.”