Writing lyrics about war in death metal is nothing new. It is the forte of bands like JUNGLE ROT and BOLT THROWER, who continue to do it very well. But I can't recall a death metal album in recent memory that was as thoroughly (I presume) researched, written in such detail, and as effectively presented as "…Of Frost and War", the debut album from HAIL OF BULLETS. Delving into the frost bitten, harrowing battles that occurred when Germany invaded Russia in World War II, the descriptions of the warfare and steely resolve required of the men involved heard on songs like "Red Wolves of Stalin", "Advancing Once More", "Stalingrad", and "General Winter" are both breathtaking and disturbing. While far more than simplistic three-liners, the lyrics aren't verbose either. Color me impressed.
Oh right, the band and the music… HAIL OF BULLETS boast an underground all-star cast of sorts that includes vocalist Martin Van Drunen (DEATH BY DAWN, ASPHYX, ex-PESTILENCE), bassist Theo Van Eekelen (ex-HOUWITSER), drummer Ed Warby (GOREFEST), and guitarists Paul Baayens (THANATOS, ASPHYX) and Stephan Gebedi (THANATOS). Together they have created 57 minutes of hideous old-school death metal that often sounds like the spawn of early BOLT THROWER and GRAVE. At almost an hour's worth of music, things may seem a little long in tooth for some folks, mainly because the songs aren't written with choruses with which you can sing along or patterns that hook you in. Hell, making the patterns work at all with this kind of in-depth story-telling must have been a bitch.
War is a nasty business and that's exactly why "….Of Frost and War" sounds like it does. HAIL OF BULLETS hangs its collective hat on ugly-ass riffs and the kind of motoring rumble heard from the Sunlight Studio bands, as well some dirty grooving. Much of the time the album shifts from slow grind grotesqueness to up-tempo battering, while somber lead work (which enhances the dreadful images one gets of battlefield horror) and iron-scraping solos are found throughout. Topping it all off are the vocals of Van Drunen, who sounds like Lemmy Kilmister singing OBITUARY tunes.
"…Of Frost and War" slams, chokes, stutters, chugs, and crawls through the cold mud, sometimes all in the same song. It's not always an easy listen, and I'm quite sure that's at least partially the point. Lyrically, it's brilliant; musically, it's solid.