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Bulletbelt - Album Review: Burn It Up

28 Sep 2023 // A review by Steve Shyu
Though nobody can claim they know every Kiwi metal band to have ever existed, to know anything about heavy music in Aotearoa, the name Bulletbelt should at least ring a bell. To say their career thus far has been impressive is an understatement.

Toured Japan, Australia and Aotearoa? Tick.

Opening for the likes of Sepultura, Arch Enemy, DragonForce, Vio-Lence, Napalm Death and other international giants? Hell yes.

Having a cult-following Kiwi film with the namesake song as part of the soundtrack? Huge tick.

Over half a dozen EPs and four full-lengths charting to immense success? You bet.

With their fifth and newest LP, Bulletbelt set out to “take their songwriting to a different place, with classic/power metal influences introduced and giving the band a much broader appeal.”

Now, I admit, of their close-to fifteen-year career I’ve only watched them perform twice in passing and I am familiar with two songs: The closing song Warlord off their 2020 record, and the brilliant and stinging “World Famous in New Zealand” movie tune, Deathgasm. Year upon year, I kept telling myself I needed to give this band a proper listen, despite enjoying what I’ve already heard. An opportunity never arose until now!

As it turns out, Bulletbelt have had some personnel changes recently, with new vocalist Diego Attinger added to the line-up of Steve Francis on drums, Tim Mekalick handling bass duties, Josh O’Brien on guitars, plus second guitarist Isaac Johnston-Lundy for live performances.

For now, let’s light the torch, and step forth into this eight-track offering.

No time is wasted, it’s straight into the metal: Album opener Burn It Up is an all-out attack of thrash riffs. With guitar-work sounding somewhat Judas Priest-y, the ferociousness is amped up by classic death-metal barks and growls. Amid the fast guitars, equally fast drums, and gang vocals, comes a spot of gruff-clean singing, showcasing that melodic hook the band had promised from the outset. My metal horns are raised; this album is off to a magnificent start!

In a big step toward the field of power metal comes Arminius, seeming to borrow a leaf out of Sweden’s Amon Amarth’s tomes of mythology and ancient war. And no kidding, there are split-seconds when Diego’s bark-growls on Arminius sounds sort of like Johan Hegg’s. The similarities don’t end there, the song appears to tell of a battle-hardened warrior on a path of vengeance.

City of One sees a quick return to thrash, this time with some fantastic strings and choir employed, likely by way of keyboards. Diego switches between full-throated clean singing for the choruses and his now-familiar growled vocals during verses. The symphony of galloping drums, relentless basslines and muscly guitars punches with passion and power - But boy does that big, grand chorus sweep you off your feet!

There’s even ground covered in one of the oldest metal genres, the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Burn the Witch makes its way with a simple guitar riff, lilting with a blues tinge. The 70’s heavy metal vibes are inescapable here, and it’s glorious. There’s a massive singalong chorus (You guessed it, it’s “Burn the witch! Burn the witch!”) supported by fevered backing vocals all chanting the words. It’s personally hard not to get into this one, though one imagines fans of Bulletbelt’s black metal sound might be as easily lit up by the tune. There's not a shred of scream vocals, but who cares - I’m here for it.

Never letting the tempo stay low for long, Incendium Magnum Romae blasts through like a storm of palm-muted guitars and explosive drums. A few interesting production choices were made here, from the nylon-string guitar intro to the falsetto backing vocals in the chorus.

Possibly the most personal track on this LP, No Afterlife is presented in a sombre, doom-laden, Gothic metal format. The song’s emotive heft is delivered well with a mix of super gruff scream vocals and semi-clean singing, all the while addressing subjects of suffering, sadness and an impending death. Gotta love the staple metal music topics.

In the vein of personal-sounding pieces, my favourite track is second-to-last on the album.

Acting like a companion piece to No Afterlife, Cosmic is a hard-rock ballad sung with great emotional weight, telling of the protagonist’s acceptance of their grim fate and impending death. There is an enormous theatrical feel, with Diego’s dominating and soaring vocals capturing the gravitas well, then pushing the emotive power even further with touches of grunginess in his singing. Capping things off with the wistful keyboard passage with which the song begins is a brilliant touch, evoking theatrical atmospheres even more.

Oh, but don’t be fooled, this is still a metal album! House of Death whips listeners into sitting up straight and paying attention with machine gun-esque blast beats and sonic barrages from bass and guitars. Diego serves forth all of the vocal ground he has showcased on his debut album with Bulletbelt, reinforcing his mark of being able to shift between soaring clean singing, shrieks, and death metal growls. One could say this final track seriously Burns Things Up (sorry, but really that sorry).

Musically, all instrumentation on Burn It Up is impressive, adapting to the variations in styles and genres perfectly. The vocal work across almost every track ought to be the defining feature of the record; Diego’s versatility could not be understated here.

It’s been said that many established bands could be categorised as those who stay to the tried-and-true staples and formula over prolonged periods, and those who change their sound. Call it what you will, but nothing ventured, nothing gained! Even for someone who’s only mildly familiar with Bulletbelt’s work, it’s easy to hear the stylistic shift between prior releases and Burn It Up.

Catering to a wider listenership by broadening influences, styles and genres is not a haphazard decision to make. In doing so, they may yet make new fans out of those with a wider appreciation for the classic and old-school heavy metal. Hell, I’m one of them!

There’s lots to love on Burn It Up; fans new and old must give it a few spins if they haven’t already.

Oh, and I also wish the Bulletbelt team all the best on their European conquest, set to kick off in just a few days! We know you'll make us Kiwis proud.

Now. Excuse me while I go hit play on their back-catalogue.

 

About Bulletbelt

There are two types of metal bands in the world today: those who innovate and those who are content to merely imitate. Bulletbelt have risen above the hordes of imitators to firmly establish themselves as innovators, successfully straddling the divide between thrash and black metal.

This five-piece from Wellington, New Zealand, have proven themselves time and again amongst their peers. Since forming in 2009, nationwide tours, including alongside Goatwhore (US) and Impiety (Singapore) on the Underground Legions tour of New Zealand, and supporting The Black Dahlia Murder (US) and Bolzer (Switzerland), have shown that they can rival any international metal band with their intense and energetic live performances.

Their 2010 EP The Black Army Stands smashed expectations and showcased the band to an unsuspecting world, while 2011’s Writhe and Ascend cemented their reputation for unforgiving, primal metal. The forthcoming album, 2012’s Down In The Cold Of The Grave, described by the band as their proudest moment, will see the band continue to hone their craft and challenge their collective musical boundaries.

Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Bulletbelt

Releases

Burn It Up
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Warlords
Year: 2020
Type: Album
Faster Than Death
Year: 2018
Type: EP
Nine Centuries
Year: 2017
Type: Album
Rise Of The Banshee
Year: 2014
Type: Album
Down In The Cold Of The Grave
Year: 2013
Type: Album
Live And Ascend
Year: 2012
Type: EP
Writhe And Ascend
Year: 2011
Type: EP
The Black Army Stands
Year: 2010
Type: EP

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