Hellbastard - Eco War (Selfmadegod Records)

Despite having been around since 1986, with a decade-plus hiatus in the middle, Hellbastard is still joyfully mired in the maliciously metal muck: halfway between its crust leanings and thrash influences.

The latest EP from relatively recently reformed U.K. crust-cum-thrash act Hellbastard, 2009's Eco War, features five tracks: three new, one rerecording, and a Slayer cover-that exhibit a band which, despite having been around since 1986. With a decade-plus hiatus in the middle, the band is still joyfully mired in the maliciously metal muck halfway between its crust leanings and thrash influences.

The opening intro instrumental, Gone Postal (Reprisal), is crust meets Slayer's harmonized dual lead riffs and Bostaph double bass work that provides a pretty clear indication of where things are headed. Sea Shepherd is classic thrash a la Testament and Forbidden as the guitars ride the chug of the open A and D strings, with production that is a bit too clean for bullet-belted crust aficionados. This song even includes, horror of horrors, a breakdown, and a more modern sound than one might expect. Somewhere, a humourless purist is ripping the patches from his army surplus jacket in teary eyed rage. 

Woe the People is driven by a camouflaged cargo pant load of machismo, and almost comes off like thrash's answer to a radio-friendly hard rock song. The half sung, half screamed vocals aren't done well enough in either respect to do one of those tags justice. A Deep Purple keyboard bridge adds to the surrealistic confusion of it all. What kind of beast is this Hellbastard? Are they thrash? Crust? Arena rock? A cock rock solo leans on the wah pedal like a stumble drunk hair metal guitar junkie to obscure the answer even further.

Next up is Massacre, with a feedback drenched whammy bar dive intro that falls into thrash chug, bass drum stomp, and Sodom-esque power chord slides. Tom G. Warrior grunts give way to D-beat meets palm muted chugging bombast, but by the time the meat of the song is reached, it's halfway done. It's all build up, and by the time vocalist and founding member Malcolm “Scruff” Lewty urges the piece along with a raspy Come on, the listener has probably said the same thing several times over before the one minute of payoff kicks in.

And to close things out is a cover of Slayer's Die by the Sword, which is faithful to the original save the amendment of Kick the Geordie to the end of the title. Lewty does his level best to hit Tom Araya's highs of years gone by. Is this the band they always wanted to be but got sidetracked by on the way to the arena, and found themselves lost in the land of sweaty clubs, crust punks, and lofty ambitions of bringing crust, metal, and mainstream rock tendencies together?

The song is followed by a “hidden” track that seems to be a recorded conversation at the band's rehearsal space between one of the band members, a significant other, and a small child, with the phrase “Kick the Geordie” repeatedly coming up while the crusty in training bangs away on the drums. It's a rather anticlimactic end to an EP on which, while not without its unique, grimy charms, Hellbastard fails to put its best foot forward. 

Hellbastard's Eco War is out now on Selfmadegod Records.