originally written by Craig Hayes
New Zealand four-piece Beastwars has been on the receiving end of high praise at home and abroad since forming in 2007. The band’s steadfast maxim, “Obey the Riff,” might seem like a simple enough rule to follow, but it’s seen Beastwars get nominated for multiple music awards in New Zealand; have their latest album, Blood Becomes Fire, go straight into the local charts at #2; play sold-out shows in New Zealand and Australia; play alongside bands like High On Fire, the Melvins, Fu Manchu, Kyuss Lives!, and Black Cobra; and hit the stage at huge festivals, like The Big Day Out.
Beastwars have also made a series of acclaimed videos, including, for their latest album, for the tracks “Dune,” “Realms,” and “Rivermen.” All of that success comes down to the band’s meshing of psychedelic sludge, doom, noise-rock stoner-rock, and whatever else fits the mood, and the result is one seriously bludgeoning sound that ignores genre boundaries in the search for, well, that aforementioned riff, man.
Last Rites sat down with Beastwars’ drummer Nato, to catch up on what has been a very busy year for the band.
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You guys have recently re-released your debut and latest album, Blood Becomes Fire, on vinyl. What’s inspired you to take on that task?
We were just getting kind of annoyed that our fans couldn’t get our music on vinyl. The first pressings sold our pretty fast, so now you could only really get them online for stupid amounts of money. I saw one of our albums sell for $150 recently and that is just crazy! We’re all vinyl lovers ourselves and we made these albums to be available on vinyl; you know, the playing length of 40(ish) minutes of both albums is specifically for vinyl, and of course the gatefold art, too. So we bit the bullet and got more of each album pressed, and we were stoked that people were so hungry for it. The response has been great and we’ve almost sold out of these extra records.
Beastwars has had a lot of success in New Zealand and Australia, and you’ve got a growing fanbase in the US and Europe too, but what have been some of the true highlights for the band over the past few years?
Yep, we’ve been really lucky that we’ve found an audience that is responding to what we do. Success is a weird word to use as I associate that with perhaps bigger things than what we are doing – like say a European tour or something like that. But we have a very happy with where we are, and you’re right, we are getting good crowds at our NZ and Australian shows, audiences are steadily building so we’re just taking on one continent at a time I suppose. Playing the long game to world domination, haha.
As far as highlights go, I think supporting Kyuss Lives! [now known as Vista Chino] to a sold out crowd in our hometown when our first album had just been released was pretty fucking cool. We ended up touring New Zealand and Australia with John Garcia’s other band Unida, and it was cool getting to know John a little but. Our vocalist Matt really hit it off with John, and I think it’s because we’re pretty much from the desert here too. We’ve just got mountains surrounded by oceans, in the New Zealand desert.
Stylistically, Beastwars isn’t exactly easy to pin down. That’s obviously a good thing, and I hear elements of noise-rock, sludge, hard rock, stoner metal, doom, and even post-punk and traces of legendary New Zealand label Flying Nun’s noisier bands too. How do you see it all? Do you guys have any clear-cut musical inspirations?
Well, we don’t just listen to metal. In the case of our guitarist Clayton, I don’t think he listens to much metal music at all. Everyone is into classic rock, and I think that the way we all play our instruments is in an untrained basic way, and Matt’s voice just makes you want to hit everything harder and make everything louder. That’s probably where the sound comes from. It’s quite primal. It just comes out.
One thing Beastwars is definitely famed for is the band’s monolithic tone. How do you achieve that in studio? And what’s your live set-up like these days?
That monolithic tome gets mentioned a lot, and I think it is just the fact that we are a very no frills band. There are very little guitar effects, just a little reverb and some wah wah, and James uses about two or three distortion pedals on his bass, depending what mood he’s in. I play with hardly any drum fills at all, so it’s very AC/DC is it’s simplicity, which means that all the sounds really lock together.
So what does the future have in store for Beastwars? New album, tour or break away from it all?
We were planning to take the rest of the year off to write a new album, but we keep on getting offers to go back to Australia, so I’m not sure if we’ll be sticking to that plan. The new songs are sounding really good, I’m stoked that I think we’ve found something that feels fresh, but still sounds like us. I’m hearing a lot of blues influence in the new music that we’re coming up with. You know, really fucking heavy blues though!