It’s been seven years since Deströyer 666’s last full-length album, the somewhat underwhelming Defiance. In those seven years, the band essentially disintegrated, leaving only founder/guitarist/vocalist K.K. Warslut from that 2009 line-up. The band’s membership has never been particularly stable, however, so a certain amount of turnover is not unexpected. But the departure of lead guitarist Ian “Shrapnel” Gray, who had played on every Deströyer 666 recording since 1997’s Unchain the Wolves, was a shocking and concerning loss. Shrapnel, in addition to being a great guitarist and K. K.’s right-hand man for sixteen years, also composed a great deal of the band’s music. Undaunted by the loss, K.K. has soldiered on, relocating to London and recruiting guitarist Roland C. (Cruciamentum, Grave Miasma), bassist Felipe Plaza Kutzbach (Nifelheim, Procession) and drummer Perracide (In Aeternum) to fill out the new D666 lineup and record the band’s fifth full-length, Wildfire.
The new record hits the ground running and only gets better as it goes. “Traitor” is a raging opener that goes straight for the throat, showcasing the more brutal side of the band. It’s lean and mean, but as is often the case with D666 tunes, there is melody woven in. As strong as the opener is, however, it’s a pretty typical Deströyer track that really only hints at the treasures this record has to offer.
The best loved tunes from this band have an anthemic quality. Classics such as “Australian and Anti-Christ” and “Satanic Speed Metal” have catchy gang choruses that draw you in and make you feel a part of the D666 wolf pack, where every night is full of leather, spikes, blood, booze and heavy metal thunder, even if your reality is a shitty day job and falling asleep on the couch most nights. Luckily, Wildfire has several such anthems, “Hounds at Ya Back” being a prime example of such. The track builds slowly with a cresting and crashing intensity until the chorus hits. And what a chorus it is – bellowed by the entire band (and likely some outside help as well), it’s a hesher’s battle cry if ever there was one. From there, it’s another excruciating, yet exquisite build to the next chorus, and it’s accompanied by careening octave riffs, blazing leads and sonorous clean vocals that give the track the feel of a hymn. Basically, “Hounds at Ya Back” is one of those songs that makes your blood run a little hotter, makes the sun shine a little brighter, and generally improves your quality of life for the five minutes it’s playing. It’s far from the only cut on Wildfire to do so, too. The title track, “White Line Fever” and “Live and Burn” all rage furiously, but in a manner that’s tuneful and memorably anthemic.
The fittingly titled “Tamam Shud” (“ended” in Persian) closes Wildfire spectacularly. The track is majestic, melancholy and somewhat similar in tone to Phoenix Rising‘s “Lone Wolf Winter,” but where that track was full of blasting black metal, “Taman Shud” is pure epic heavy metal in the vein of Viking-era Bathory. Vocals are a big part of the success of this record, and they shine particularly bright on this multi-faceted track. It’s unclear who handles the lead clean vocals here, but they capture the wistful tone of the lyrics perfectly, while the “oh oh oh’s” chanted by the choir would certainly do Quorthon proud. And of course, K.K.’s vicious snarl in the bridge colors the tune with the perfect amount of furious desperation. The band really stretched out with “Taman Shud,” and the results are amazing.
Wildfire is unmistakably a Deströyer 666 album, but in many ways it sounds bigger and certainly more expansive than previous works. While the band is still about as thrashy as it’s ever been, there is less black in the black/thrash attack, leaning instead toward classic heavy metal. To some, this might be a drawback, but to my ears it only sharpens the band’s edge and gives the songs a more timeless feel. In the end, I can’t help but think that the ultimate success of this work has mostly to do with the fact that K.K. has re-engaged himself in the songwriting process. With Defiance, he was primarily limited to lyrics, but he is listed as co-composer on every track on Wildfire. It’s cruel to admit, but Shrapnel is hardly missed.
Admittedly, I am a big fan of this band, and absence only makes the heart grow fonder. So, with only a week to digest Wildfire after a seven year drought, I am loathe to make any grand pronouncements about its place in D666’s discography just yet. However, I will say the thought crossed my mind that this could end up being the best thing the band has done to date. Everything from composition to performance to production makes this record sound like a huge amount of care went into making sure it’s the best it could possibly be. Time will no doubt enable a more clear-headed assessment. For now, I will leave you with this advice: Fuck whatever hippie horseshit you’re listening to, Wildfire is the best and most metal record of 2016 thus far. Go buy it.