The Need To Kill
posted on 12/2009 By:
British punk/thrash unit Hellbastard’s 1986 demo Ripper Crust is credited with putting the "crust" in crust punk. Back then, Hellbastard were an Amebix-like metallic punk band, ragged and raw, as heavily influenced by anarchist collectives like Conflict and Crass as they were by Venom and Celtic Frost. By the time they signed to Earache and released 1990’s Natural Order, Hellbastard had moved into more polished thrash territory, blending their anarcho-punk themes with an increased influence on cleaned-up Slayer/Exodus-styled riffage. I’ve seen Natural Order touted as something of an unsung Brit-thrash classic, but I’d be hard pressed to describe it as anything other than a step down from earlier ‘Bastard releases, capably executed but less filthy and less fiery than its predecessors. As a crusty apocalyptic punk band, Hellbastard was a front-runner; as a thrash band, they were enthusiastic but second-tier.
After a seventeen year pause, Hellbastard picks up pretty much right where they left off. The Need To Kill feels like the record they would’ve released after Natural Order—this is vintage thrash with a modern touch, both in production and in moments of performance. For the most part, the same King/Hanneman/Holt/Hunolt riffs are there, as are the sociopolitical punk lyrics—as are, in fact, some of the same songs. Re-recordings of Crust’s "Death Camp" and "They Brought Death" and Order original "Justly Executed" sit alongside re-recordings of tracks from 1988’s Heading For Internal Darkness as bonus tracks—a total of six, fully one-third the running time of this newest effort. (Hellbastard has made a two-decade trend of plundering and repackaging their back catalog. More of their releases are archival than original, and all but the first of their original releases feature at least a few old tracks. Two of the bonus tracks here appeared as bonus tracks on Order, in yet another recorded version.) Since I hold crusty Hellbastard to be better than their thrash incarnation, it should be no surprise that, in my eyes and ears, those re-recorded "classics" are more compelling than the new material, especially since they benefit from more current (read: less awful) production values.
Structurally, Hellbastard has always relied more upon their Sepultura-n riffs to carry the songs than upon Scruff’s vocal—which is thankful as his voice is the weakest part of the equation—but that endless riff-after-riff-after-riff approach has also led to some disjointed songs throughout the years. Also, for whatever reason, Need features multiple tracks with only whispers for vocals ("Stressed" and "Cheyne Stoking")—I’m assuming it's intended to be creepy, but in fact, it’s just irritating, a waste of space or, in the case of "Stoking," a waste of an otherwise decent instrumental song. The two parts of "Anthropological Angst" feature some interesting and unexpected Southern-isms—the COC-ish main riff of the first part, a brief tasteful slide guitar bit in the second, plus the banjo-driven interstitial moments. Both parts of that album centerpiece and the largely instrumental "Business Pig Hole" are highlights of the newer material, doing their best to salvage the record from the dreadful whispering and bland and/or stitched-together nature of its lesser tracks.
Overall, The Need To Kill is a solid effort from some returning elder statesmen, although it’s also coming from a band that has released better records and is kind enough to provide examples of them. Thrash completists and old-school fans will want Need, and anyone interested in the development of the crust punk scene should familiarize themselves with the work of Hellbastard immediately. For me… well, if Hellbastard would write a record that sounded and felt like these re-recorded versions of "They Brought Death" and "Death Camp"… well, now, that would be something to really get excited about.
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