Deströyer 666
Wildfire

I sit here today holding a copy of Wildfire in my grubby hands, the fifth full-length album from black thrash titans Deströyer 666. Wildfire arrives seven years after 2009’s Defiance, with an entirely new band in tow behind lone (wolf winter) mainstay KK Warslut. A lengthy break between releases, Defiance itself was released a full six years after 2003’s Terror Abraxas, coupled with significant lineup turmoil might cause one to raise an eyebrow questioning if everything is humming along smoothly under the hood. There is a strong correlation between inner-band strife and a subsequent weakening of creative vitality, witness the half-assed chucklefest that was Repentless, where one could hardly be blamed for clinging to some degree of suspicion before hitting play. Have KK and the lads returned to the dominating might that defined the likes of Unchain the Wolves, Phoenix Rising and Cold SteelFor an Iron Age or has the torch carried by these iconoclasts begun to dim? Gather round dear readers and leather-clad iron legions for we have much to discuss!

To frame Wildfire in a proper context we first need to travel back to the mid-2000s and the years following Terror Abraxas. That release would ultimately prove to be a punctuation mark on an era of fertile creativity that had marked the band since its inception. In the years following the geographic distance between members would pose a significant hurdle and the band would nearly dissolve before a European tour with Revenge pulled them back from the edge and provided the inspiration to press onward and upward.

The eventual fruit of this period of uncertainty was Defiance, a strong outing that largely upheld the band’s penchant for dominating, fist-in-the-air songwriting but yet didn’t quite feel like a Deströyer 666 album. The production seemed too overly polished and clean for a band so strongly rooted in a classic metal spirit but something else was missing. The writing credits revealed that KK was responsible only for the album’s lyrics while long-time lead guitarist Ian Shrapnel and bassist Matt Razor penned the music. Keith’s absence from the songwriting resulted in a noticeable lack of the iconic, white-hot “Mike Sifringer channeling Quorthon” riffs that defined the band’s greatest work. Ian and Matt could hardly be accused of bringing sub-par material to the practice space, Defiance lays claim to more than few great tunes including an utterly triumphant quasi-title track in “A Stand Defiant”, but yet they were unable to match those “Satanic Speed Metal”, “Australian and Anti-Christ”, “Lone Wolf Winter” and “Raped” moments that never failed to drive die-hards to clench their fists and bang their heads against the stage. The two-song See You In Hell 7” released the following year provided a more amicable production against Defiance’s brickwalled sound and neither song was a dud but yet it didn’t quite scratch the itch.

Things didn’t look any rosier when in 2012 Ian returned to his native Australia leaving the band’s lead guitarist position open. Deströyer 666 had filed through a litany of bassists and drummers over the years but the guitar duo of KK and Shrapnel had long remained intact since 1997’s career-defining Unchain the Wolves and Ian’s incendiary soloing had come to represent a prominent element of their sound. Into this void stepped Roland C (Cruciamentum, Grave Miasma) as the new lead guitarist along with new drummer Perra Karlsson (Nominon, Die Hard, In Aeternum) and bassist Felipe Plaza (Nifelheim, Capilla Ardiente, Procession). With this new stockpile of heavy artillery now added to the band’s ranks and a host of festival appearances under their belt sharpening any rough edges into a cutting blade, the band entered the studio in the summer of 2015 to record Wildfire.

The album steamrolls out of the gate with “Traitor”, wielding the same brand of high-octane barbarity that recalls openers “Rise of the Predator” and “Black City Black Fire”. The credits this time around attribute 100% of the writing to KK and seconds into that first track a kinship to their earlier days becomes palpable. This is classic Deströyer 666 in sound and in spirit, removed from the more measured elements of Defiance which never truly felt like it was out for blood even at its most aggressive. “Live and Burn” follows in its wake brandishing a chorus you’d be hard-pressed not to shout along to after a single listen and a main riff that harkens back to the speed metal glory of Canada’s Exciter. These guys have never been subtle about their love for classic heavy metal, especially KK’s fondness for Destruction, but nor have they showcased it as brazenly as they do here. “Hounds at ya Back” and “White Line Fever” (no, it’s not a Motörhead cover) continue this newfound direction of employing slightly cleaner vocals in the chorus and riffs that step back to a time before black metal existed. For anyone who was hoping for a return to the bestial violence of “Sons of Perdition” or those without an ear for older metal, these songs might prove unwelcome but the band can’t be accused of catering to any retro trends and the quality of the material never wavers. Personally, I wouldn’t have minded one or two tracks showcasing such a high-speed attack but the band rarely ever explored that sound in earnest and haven’t since Cold Steel. The title track comes to the closest to that level of viciousness, while never stepping over the line into full-on blasting black metal, and establishes itself as one of the high points of the album.

Ian’s absence does not go entirely unnoticed (the album is dedicated to him) and it’s not easy to overcome the absence of an iconic lead guitarist, but Ronald proves himself more than adequate to the task and every song on Wildfire is packed full of excellent guitar solos. As great as the man’s playing is with Cruciamentum and Grave Miasma, it’s refreshing to see how ably he takes to this material on his first studio outing with the band and doesn’t miss a beat. Likewise even as he follows a succession of very capable drummers, notably Jarro on Phoenix Rising and Mersus on Cold Steel and Defiance, Perra proves himself to be perhaps the band’s most technically capable drummer. If there were any worries that the new blood might result in diminishing returns well, you can safely lay those fears to rest.

The biggest deviations are “Artiglio del Diavolo”, a rare instrumental, and closing number “Tamam Shud”, a mid-paced number that nudges the band towards Primordial territory. Deströyer 666 have long had an ear for epic compositions such as crowd-favorite “I Am the Wargod”, “Trialed by Fire”, the title track to Unchain the Wolves and the fifth track on Wildfire, “Hymn to Dionysus” which features a soaring melodic line gliding over the raging bombast underneath but “Tamam Shud” represents a departure and further exploration of the promise hinted at on Defiance’s closing track “A Sermon to the Dead”. Here they transition from the aggressive attack of the first eight songs into a more introspective and mournful perspective as KK asks “as the journey ends, and your mortal coil unfurls beneath the drowning waves. How will you look back upon your days?” The band is no stranger to lyrical themes in that realm but this is the first time they’ve been delivered with such a somber musical accompaniment.

I won’t hide my status as a long-time ardent fan of this band. Just last year I traveled to Dublin to watch them headline the first ever Fires of Samhain fest and have seen them before many times on US tours over the years. Their dynamic songwriting which merges the serrated-edge violence of black metal with the propulsive energy of Teutonic thrash and epic swagger of classic heavy metal has long resonated with me and came to occupy a prominent space in my musical consciousness years back after my teenage obsession with Slayer began to wane. I enjoyed Defiance upon its release, and still do, but I also counted myself among those fans who hoped Deströyer 666 would return one day with something altogether more primal and befitting of their legacy. To those people I state with confidence that the Australian wild wolves have come storming back with a vengeance. Wildfire stands as nine tracks of anthemic, brilliant heavy metal and will find itself sitting comfortably at or near the top of my 2016 year end list.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Ryan Skow
March 28th, 2016

Comments

  1. Commented by: E. Thomas

    Great review, but i didnt dig this at all


  2. Commented by: krazykin

    Nice Review. Very solid album


  3. Commented by: gabaghoul

    Super passionate review! Love getting this depth of detail about the band and how this album stacks up with the new members. Going right onto my to-listen playlist.


  4. Commented by: Old Pick Axe

    This album is choice. I dig it very much.


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