Hail Of Bullets - III: The Rommel Chronicles
Hail Of Bullets did something remarkable with their first album; they made a record that actually sounded like an army of enemy tanks storming into town ready to crush anything in their paths. These death metal veterans made a statement right out of the gate, becoming one of the biggest and most important death metal bands since the nascent days, all with one record. That they were able to then turn around and use their second album to further their sound with new elements and more expansive songwriting meant that this was no one trick pony. For all the success that the members had achieved on their own, Hail Of Bullets was quickly the most important band any of them will have been a part of.
We now arrive at album three, another foray into the human abyss that was World War II; the perfect medium for death metal.
The first riffs in “Swoop Of The Falcon” reassure you that nothing about Hail Of Bullets has changed. Those guitars are still as massive as ever, a wholly unique sound that is essential to making the music convincing. I'd think that without such a crushing sound backing the material, it would fail to work nearly as well as it does.
The song itself has enough of a traditional structure, returning from forays into doom to what amounts to a chorus, an essential quality to making the songs sink their teeth in. When the churning fury stops, and turns into a chugging dirge like it does in “Pour le Merit”, it's hard not to find your head banging along to the simple groove. They pull these moments out from time to time, again in “DG-7”, and every time they do, the wall of sound becomes even bigger, the songs more vicious.
Nowhere are they better than on “DAK”, a song that alternates from a stomping doom march to a sinister groove, all the while tearing your face off. The shorter, more immediate blasts lack the same kind of killer identity, blending together in the wash of distortion. It's in their slower moments that Hail Of Bullets are at their most effective, when each chord is able to die off and the weight of silence reminds you the depth of the void.
Martin Van Drunen gives you exactly what you'd expect from any album he appears on. His voice is the rasped croak of death, and while he rarely gives you a vocal cadence that is memorable, the very tone of his voice is all that's needed to make this music work. No other death metal vocalist can sound as weary at the very nature of humanity as he can, which means no one else can sell these songs.
The one thing I'll say is that this album can't make the same impact “Of Frost And War” did. That album came out of nowhere with it's flattening power, and the invaluable guesting of Dan Swano, a luxury the band no longer has. We've heard all this before, which doesn't negate the quality of what Hail Of Bullets is accomplishing, but barring some sort of re-invention of their sound, they aren't going to be able to catch anyone off-guard again.
That being said, “III: The Rommel Chronicles” is everything you could want from Hail Of Bullets. It's another chapter in the soundtrack to war, one only Hail Of Bullets seems qualified to write.