With Bolt Thrower on an indefinite studio hiatus, it is a comfort to have Hail of Bullets around to keep the world flush with high quality, war-themed death metal. With its second record, On Divine Winds, Hail of Bullets is still fighting “The Big One”, but this time the band focuses on a different theatre. Where …Of Frost and War was mired in the grinding brutality of the Russian front, On Divine Winds focuses on the far-flung battle for the Pacific. Musically, however, little has changed, and that’s as it should be. Though Hail of Bullets has only been active for four years, due in no small part to the membership of Dutch death metal veterans Martin Van Drunen (Asphyx, Pestilence, etc.), Ed Warby (Gorefest) and Stephan Gebédi (Thanatos), the group has firmly established itself as a champion of death… the old school way.
The tank necessarily played a reduced role in the Navy-dominated battles of the Pacific, but Hail of Bullets has not abandoned it as its musical model. The songs on On Divine Winds tend to rumble inexorably forward, punctuated with cannon-like percussion. As on the band’s debut, however, the relentless advance is frequently tempered with somber melody that serves as a requiem for the fallen.
In addition to compositional similarities between On Divine Winds and …Of Frost and War, the albums also share a structural kinship much like Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. Both albums feature twelve tracks, the first of which is a foreboding instrumental intro. Where the debut began with the German betrayal of Russia in “Ordered Eastward”, On Divine Winds gets fully underway with “Operation Z” which tells the tale of Japan’s comparably underhanded sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. Furthermore, the tenth track of each album is designated as a bonus track, although from what versions of the albums these tracks might be absent I cannot say. I doubt Metal Blade is pressing any cassettes these days, so perhaps the tracks were left off the vinyl versions of their respective albums due to time limitations. Both albums end with the conclusions of the campaigns they feature: …of Frost and War with the fall of Berlin (“Berlin”) and On Divine Winds with the Japanese surrender following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (“To Bear the Unbearable”).
With the similarities between the band’s two albums thus enumerated, the next logical question is how does On Divine Winds stack up quality-wise to its predecessor? Not surprisingly, the album compares quite favorably to Hail of Bullets‘ well-regarded debut. The only snag is that On Divine Winds gets bogged down in some repetitive, slower material in the second half. Though each track is strong individually, the fifteen-minute stretch of “On Coral Shores’, “Unsung Heroes” and “Tokyo Napalm Holocaust” is a momentum killer.
Though no subject is so fraught with pathos and gravitas as is War, Hail of Bullets is not what one would call thinking man’s death metal. If On Divine Winds serves as history lesson or inspires the listener to contemplate the effects of armed conflict on the human condition, so much the better. Musically, however, Hail of Bullets is not out to dazzle or confound the listener. The band merely barrels through the smoke and fire leaving behind twisted steel, scorched earth and sore necks.