It would be a short-sell to say that Finland’s Death Hawks are simply recapitulating an era long gone, repeating a formula which was sowed by the likes of Sabbath and the Doors. Instead, on their latest release Death and Decay, you are privy to an instance of synergy in influence and inspiration on difficult terrain. They weave a path through sparse, blues driven stomps to dark, desolate surf rock – creating an engaging, immersing album where contemporaries in retro rock often fall short.
Opener ‘Blue Void’ swells with reverb-laden vocals channeling a mellow version of early Ozzy. A fuzz-infused bass keeps things chugging along, while the percussive guitar pulls the song ahead, fighting to be let loose. The breakdown comes, and with it relief for the guitars, as they’re sated with overdrive and shear volume.
Continuing the treatment, with a solid reverb soak, ‘How Dark Was the Land’ draws you in with a swinging rhythm, bouncing along with a 70’s swagger all to familiar – but, all the while with the Death Hawks’ distinguishable vibe. In the second movement, a classic build to overdriven psychedelic-synths erupt to evoke the spirit of the acid experiments before bringing you back to a firm footing.
With the third track, ‘Roamin’ Baby Blues’, energy levels are kicked up more than a few notches, quickly putting your ears in the epicentre of a rockabilly barn-dance. In the wake of this stormer, ‘The Beast’ floats along in 12-string- and organ-fuelled balladry. A slight respite from the breakneck shuffle.
Standout track ‘Shining’ steams along with another absolute beauty of a riff – you have no hope but to bop with the infectious guitar line as you’re enveloped in a swirl of synths, losing yourself in meditative repetition. With a firm hand the drums keep chaos at bay, while still guiding the song to its next destination.
‘Holy Water’ opens with some spine tingling slide work taken to the brink of fuzz. Haunting lyrics and an ominous ambiance bring to mind, unimaginably, a moresinister Jefferson Airplane.
With ‘Death Has No Reprieve’, the intoxicating guitar riffage returns to the fore, this time to a more anticipation-inducing result. You’re lead through peaks and valleys ranging from full-on wall-of-sound to a slinking bop.
‘Priest’s March’ evokes the dark, jazz leanings of early Sabbath/late-Earth. The song delves deeper and deeper into the gloom and growl of seventies metal, and leaves you salivating over the next twist or turn in Death and Decay’s trip.
Without disappointment, ‘The Peacemaker’ rattles with surf-Western twang – a crescendo from lone guitar to thundering ensemble. The meat of the song is fuzzed-out, foreboding beach rock – envision Waikiki following a volcanic eruption. The track meanders back to the opening drawl of a pace, fading out on an atmosphere that leaves you with what can only be called ‘the willies’.
The often overdriven graininess of the album’s tone wraps you up in a virtual blanket of classic rock comfort. It feels as though it would be doing Death Hawks a disservice to neglect acknowledgement of their influencers – although attempting to compareDeath and Decay within the same time and space as this bygone era seems absurd, it may be the only choice given the authenticity and conviction with which Death Hawks pull it off.