Stamp your name on the world of heavy music hard enough, and your band’s not only going to live forever in the halls of Valhalla, it’ll also be ingrained in the minds of generations of fans. I’m guessing that’s exactly the kind of quest for immortality that Beastwars set out on when writing their latest album, The Death of All Things, because the new release from New Zealand’s burliest band wasn’t just meant to be the final piece in the celebrated post-apocalyptic trilogy that Beastwars began with their 2011 self-titled debut. The Death of All Things was also meant to be their final artistic statement—their last raging sermon from the mount of dark and destructive rock ’n’ roll.
Beastwars originally formed in 2009, as a heavyweight instrumental trio featuring drummer Nathan "Nato" Hickey, guitarist Clayton Anderson, and bassist James Woods. The band became the Southern Hemisphere Herculean rockers they are today after singer Matt Hyde unexpectedly turned up at one of the band’s early rehearsals, and promptly announced he was going to be Beastwars’ vocalist.
These days, Beastwars melds hulking doom and sludge metal with earth-quaking noise rock, and they’ve reaped increasing amounts of critical and commercial success over the past few years. Their last album, 2013’s highly praised Blood Becomes Fire, debuted on the local charts at number 2; the band’s also made a number of acclaimed videos and been nominated for multiple music awards at home, including New Zealand’s prestigious Taite Music Prize.
Beastwars’ live prowess is downright legendary south of the equator, too. They’ve opened for international touring bands galore –– including like-minded sonic kin such as The Sword, Mastodon, High on Fire, and Red Fang –– and played plenty of sold-out headlining shows of their own. Much of the band’s success, live or otherwise, hinges on the charisma of their enigmatic frontman, Hyde, whose most iconic stance is center stage, arms aloft, calling down the Gods.
I caught up with Hyde, the band’s gray-bearded shaman, to talk about The Death of All Things. It’s an album born from self-destruction and tense personal and artistic struggles and might well be Beastwars’ last. If that’s the case, be assured that The Death of All Things transcends death’s embrace in absolutely monolithic terms.
Buy it here, and check out the new video for the track "Witches" below.
Noisey: Beastwars has achieved a hell of a lot in a relatively short period of time. What are some of the highlights of the past few years?
Matt Hyde: Evenings with Unida, Mastodon, Red Fang and Kyuss Lives were such great nights. It’s unbelievable to think now that when I joined the band I would get to share the stage with such legends. A highlight for me was our appearance at Cherry Fest 2015 in Melbourne, a rock festival like no other in the greatest rock ’n’ roll city in the Southern Hemisphere. I believe it was one of our best live shows… we were truly in the zone.
The band’s made significant leaps in commercial, critical and creative terms with each new release. And you had a lot of success in New Zealand and Australia with your last album, Blood Becomes Fire. How does that play into your expectations for The The Death of All Things?
The new album is a testament to the trials and tribulations of being in a band, of giving it your all, and, of course, of losing so much along the way. This is our final statement, the last ledger entry found on the ghost ship. Is it any good? Will it be loved? The listener will decide.
The Death of All Things is the final album in a post-apocalyptic trilogy you began with your debut. Was it always the plan to tell an epic tale over the course of three albums?
I remember just after our debut record had come out, we had just played a show with Helmet in Auckland and there was a lightning storm on our way to the venue. Great evening, great crowd, things couldn't be better. I believe the next day we were all talking about how music can transcend you; how do you make that into music? Birth... life... death... Nato said we must make three albums, and that seemed such an easy answer at the time, but the task would test us all, some more than others.
Writing the album, you knew it might be your last. How do you see the tensions and struggles playing into the sound of The Death of All Things?
I'm very proud we made it, because if you had asked me a year ago I don't believe I would be sitting here with a finished album answering these questions. I have a lot of love and hate for each and every member of this band. At various stages I would hold them personally responsible for the band’s woes and selfishly blame them. But maybe we all had to become monsters to make this record –– become the snake to kill the snake. The record is almost an exorcism of all these things. It is how I imagined Beastwars would sound in the end.
The new album is a lot grimmer than your last. And it’s slower, and trippier too. Was it always the aim to amplify the darkness this time around?
I look back and see tension, and I felt frustration at the speed we were working. I believe Nato had a vision, and Clayton had a vision just as strong; this caused arguments, delayed songwriting. I always felt we were losing time and the doors were closing. We had to make it now or never. It was a storm, but it cleared. The music flowed, the songs began to take shape, and once we had the material and the ideas, it all fell into place. The delays and the fights all worked in our favor. It's all on the record for the listener to hear.
The band’s using Weta Workshop artist Nick Keller to create the album’s amazing art once again. Keller won a New Zealand Music Award for Best Album Artwork for your debut, but how crucial do you see Keller’s artwork being to the band’s overall aesthetic?
Nick has become part of our story, and we are part of his. Nick is our dear friend, and we are honored to have been on this journey together.
Beastwars has an incredibly fervent fanbase in NZ and Australia, and increasingly so in Europe too. What do you put the strength of that relationship down to?
It’s a combination of our live shows and finding great artists from all around the world to work alongside us on our shirts and merch. All this combined seems to have created its own world that people want to be part of. Hopefully the art and music will live forever.
You guys aren’t exactly spring chickens. Does that give you a different perspective or add any pressure to what you want to achieve with the band?
The frustration and life’s challenges you experience in your youth are only the beginning. Life is full of rewards, and also trying times; these things don't change as you age. In your 30s and 40s many new things arrive to test you. Music has always been, and continues to be for me, a great way to express all these emotions.
Beastwars routinely sell out shows in New Zealand, and the band’s played jam-packed dates in Australia a number of times now. So is the US and/or Europe on the agenda soon?
We would love to undertake a US and Europe adventure in the future. A new album always creates new opportunities. Europe in 2017 is the plan at the moment, but we would love to tour earlier if the right situation materializes.
"Obey the riff" has been the band’s mantra since day one. I’m guessing that’ll stay the same until the Grim Reaper arrives?
Yes… long live the beast… OBEY THE RIFF.
Craig is being beastly on Twitter.