Before we get too far down the rabbit hole with Hammercult’s “Steelcrusher,” let’s take a minute to appreciate the art in front of us. Take a look at that album cover. If you click on it, it’ll show full size. Have you ever seen something so masterful? That album cover, which like a certain rug tying the room together is made whole by the prominent middle finger in the middle of the image, is among the greatest iconography in heavy metal. No joke. The album art has all the requisite pieces of heavy metal bombast, bravado and bullshit; a demon who doubles as a scantily clad woman who by the way is riding a wyrm; a musclebound barbarian warrior braving combat without armor while protecting his standard; a field of corpses on a blasted landscape in front of an ancient, crumbling city; plus, a middle finger. It’s like Manowar, Bolt Thrower and Frank Frazetta got together to draw up some art. I’m not someone who likes to be a prisoner of the moment, but this artistic concoction is instantly placed in my pantheon of favorite album covers, right alongside Dismember’s “Massive Killing Capacity.” Shoot, it even looks like they might have been photographed in the same area, if such were possible.
Naturally, the next question is ‘can the music match?’ You ever been out in the yard playing football or something and you get running so fast that you actually outrun your body’s comfort zone and lose your balance? That’s sort of what “Steelcrusher” is like.
The opening riff of the title track is promising enough, as this Israeli metal act winds up into higher gears. As soon as the breakdown comes though, the song descends into a sort of madness until it hits the bridge. There’s a lot going on, but the confluence of elements feels like they’re red-lining the band’s engine. That’s really one of the central themes of listening to this record; there are plenty of promising moments, but it’s hard for Hammercult to maintain them for more than a moment or two before the chaos resumes.
The press release that accompanies this release talks a great deal about the band wanting to pay tribute to punk records of the ‘80s, and it’s really through this lens that “Steelcrusher” starts to have appreciable value. The gang chorus and blistered vocals of “Metal Rules Tonight” speaks to the band’s punk sensibility, but the solos are decidedly metal in flavor, which culminates, however briefly, in an innovative and interesting product. Same goes for the uncommon rumble of “We Are the People,” which sounds a little like an Unearth knock-off, but that’s perfectly okay. It streaks ahead without losing containment of the rhythm and likely serves as the album’s best cut. Moments like this show the promise of Hammercult going forward.
Still, there are more selections than not that feel out of control, and not in a good ‘I’m listening to Pantera and want to break my couch’ kind of way. “Unholy Art” shows a lot of promise, and so does “Into Hell” and “Satanic Lust,” but even while the choruses and main riffs are excellent, the verses and bridges disassemble into unorganized smashing and banging. Unfortunately, this makes “Steelcrusher” a slightly frustrating listen, because it’s easy to see the talent and potential here.
Finally at the end, we get a total curveball for “In the Name of the Fallen,” which takes on the personality of a Soilwork clone, interspersed with the aforementioned Hammercult frenzy. The song is concurrently the album’s most interesting and most confusing listen, because the disparate parts shouldn’t fit, and they don’t fit totally, but they work just enough to cause your brain consternation in determining what’s really going on.
Said and done, “Steelcrusher” isn’t a bad record, provided you have some taste for punk and can tolerate thinking about it as a singles album. If nothing else, it shows a lot of glimpses of a possibly very bright future for Hammercult, an upstart band who is only in their fourth year. Still, they’ve got to learn to apply the brake every now and again and stay within themselves. With a little discipline, this band could do some nice things. And hey, if I were sixteen years old, I would totally have album cover posted on my wall somewhere.