Hammercult’s Sophomore LP Is An Intentionally Over The Top Slab Of Metal

Courtesy:  SPV/Sonic Attack Records

Courtesy: SPV/Sonic Attack Records

Anyone that keeps up with the news of the world each day knows that there is a lot of trouble going on in the Middle East right now. Tensions between the Palestinians and Israelis have really stepped up again in recent weeks as have the attacks. It’s really a sad state of affairs. For all of the negativity coming from that part of the world, at least one positive has come from that war-ravaged land this year. That one positive is the sophomore album from the Tel-Aviv, Israel-based band Hammercult. Steelcrusher, the band’s follow-up to its 2012 debut album Anthems of the Damned, is a full on assault on the ears that will make any purist member of the Metal Nation worldwide proud. The album’s songs are sung with tongue planted firmly in cheek. One look at the obviously intentionally over-the-top album cover, the cover photo on the band’s Facebook page and one listen through this album proves this to be the case. The band pokes fun at the stereotypes placed on metal and its legions of fans from start to finish. The end result is an album that will have audiences both laughing and rocking along throughout every song. One of the best examples of that satire comes in the form of the metal anthem ‘Metal Rules Tonight.’ There is also the full throttle song about the stereotypes of metal bands on the road in the album’s penultimate song ‘Heading For War.’ And then there is ‘Unholy Art,’ which seems to poke fun at the stereotypes of metal and hard rock in general created by certain groups. It’s one more example of the works on this record that will again, have audiences laughing and rocking along from start to finish.

Audiences will note in listening to Hammercult’s recently released sophomore album Steelcrusher, that there are some pretty dark sounding songs, lyrically and musically speaking. But the reality of the albums on this record is that they were obviously written with tongue planted pretty firmly in cheek. One look at the cover photo on the band’s Facebook page drives home the argument that the band is anything but the dark, evil entity that others such as perhaps Ghost, Emperor, etc. One piece of evidence in that argument comes in the form of the anthemic ‘Metal Rules Tonight.’ Not only does the band encourage the metal legions of the world to put their collective metal horns in the air, it also goes so far as to pay tribute to one of the biggest names in metal in the form of Metallica. Front man Yokir Shochat sings in this full-on anthem, “I’m so wasted/I can’t stand/Grab a *&$$%/Get some #&@%/Speakers blasting through the wall/Master of Puppets and Balls to the Walls.” He goes on later in the song singing to listeners, “Bang your head in full conviction/Raise your fists and show the horns/No remorse or lamentations/Play it loud/Or die/Metal rules tonight/Trends will come and fade away/Heavy metal is here to stay/We are damned but we are free/It’s our way of life/The way it should be/Metal!” That last line sort of echoes AC/DC’s ‘Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution’ in which front man Brian Johnson sings that “Rock and roll ain’t noise pollution/Rock and roll it will live on.” The song’s speed/thrash metal musical backing will have its fans putting their horns high in the air with pride as they sing along to this metal anthem.

‘Metal Rules Tonight’ is one of the highest of points on Hammercult’s new album. It is only one piece of evidence in the argument that despite the band’s speed/thrash metal sound and its seemingly dark lyrics, it should be taken with a relatively large grain of salt. Another piece of evidence in that argument comes late in the album in the song ‘Heading For War.’ Right off the top, Shochat makes that clear once again as he screams, “Thrashing hotels every day/Heads are banging/Ears are bleeding/Raise your hammers/Ready to explode.” He sings in another verse, “Racing to another city/Party hard tonight/Heavy drinking/Never stopping/It’s the only way we stay alive.” These two verses alone more than tell audiences everything that they need to know about this song. If that’s not enough, the song’s chorus makes painfully clear that there’s nothing evil at all about the band or its album. Shochat sings in the chorus, “Heading for the stage, heading for war/Yes, we live or the fight/And die for the cause we believe to be right/Giving it all with fury and force/Spreading the sound of destruction.” Shochat likens being on the road, performing on stage after stage to like being in a war. Though, interestingly enough, one could argue that there is a lightly veiled reference to the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians there and the lack of sense in it. Instead of being involved in that conflict though, the band lives and dies for metal in that “battle” to spread metal’s word to the world. If that veiled commentary on the war in the Gaza strip is in fact there, then that double meaning in this verse makes the song in whole all the more interesting. And along with ‘Metal Rules Tonight,’ it makes the album in whole all the more worth the listen, too.

‘Metal Rules Tonight’ and ‘Heading For War’ are both prime examples of what audiences can expect from Steelcrusher. Both songs show that despite the album’s similarity to works from the likes of Exmortus, Arch Enemy, and others of that ilk, it actually stands out quite a bit from those bands. There is one more example of the band’s tongue in cheek delivery on this album. That example is the song ‘Unholy Art.’ The band’s commentary is perhaps at its strongest in this song as Shochat and company point the finger right back at those that would judge the metal community, singing, “The blackest hearts and darkest minds/You never know just what you will find/It’s not for the faint of heart/This is the Unholy Art/Dishonored/A branded kind/The masses will burn in the flames of our pride/We’ll rise to our own blackened skies/And devour the worlds/And we’re starting tonight. The band singing together, “It’s not for the faint of heart/This is the Unholy Art” is itself a sarcastic statement. It’s Shochat and his band mates almost laughing as they say, “oh it’s such evil stuff. It’s not for the faint of heart.” Again, it’s just one more example of how firmly in their cheeks the band members’ tongues are planted in this record. The statement of “The blackest hearts and darkest minds” is something of a statement against the stereotypes created by certain groups against the metal masses around the world. Those judgmental groups are so fast to throw the first stone even without knowing the full story or doing their research. It’s such searing commentary in so few words. It makes for one of the most powerful statements of the album’s entire body of songs. Of course together with the previously noted songs (and those not noted) it makes the entire collection of songs an album that any true-blooded member of the metal nation worldwide will enjoy and appreciate.

Steelcrusher is available now in stores and online. It can be downloaded via iTunes and Amazon or purchased at the band’s next upcoming performance. The band is currently scheduled to perform live August 9th at Brutal Assault in Jaromer, Czech Republic. Audiences can pick up Steelcrusher at that performance, too. More information and tour updates are available online via the band’s official Facebook and Twitter pages. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog.

Emperor An Underrated WWII Drama

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Movies based on the events of World War II make up what could be argued to be the single largest genre in the history of movie making.  They have been churned out since the days of the war, many of them filled with some truth and an equal mixture of fiction.  While there is some fiction added to the stories, there is also enough fact to justify them being made.  The world needs to remember what happened during that horrific conflict.  And Lionsgate’s new WWII based drama, Emperor is one more welcome addition to that long line despite its overlying romance story line.  If viewers can allow themselves to get past that and the story’s slow start, they will find that it is a surprisingly interesting work.

Emperor is a surprisingly interesting film first and foremost for the fact that it isn’t just another of the standard flash-bang-boom movies that have become all too commonplace in the current era of moviemaking.  Rather, it takes place in the days following Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces in WWII.  Some might ask why this is so important.  It’s important because being that it isn’t one of those films. It is forced to rely on story rather than on sex and violence.  It really forces viewers to stop and pay attention to everything going on throughout the story.  It’s just a nice change of pace for those that are truly interested in the history of World War II.

The fact that Emperor isn’t just another flash-bang-boom action based WWII movie is probably a big reason that it perhaps didn’t achieve the success in theaters of other WWII centered movies.  So be it.  Those that have a true appreciation for history will overlook that and look toward another of the movie’s positives.  That secondary positive is the movie’s casting.  Despite the inclusion of mega-star Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur, Jones is not the star.  Rather, he turns out to play more of a supporting role as General Douglas McArthur.  This is made even more interesting in watching the movie with bonus commentary.  Audiences will learn from director Peter Webber that apparently Jones didn’t immediately jump at the chance to play McArthur.  Rather, it took months of phone calls to get him to sign on to the films.  This is made even more believable in the bonus “Making of” featurette when Jones himself jokingly notes that he knew he looked nothing like McArthur.  So he beat the critics to the punch on that.  All of this aside, he still turned out to be the perfect fit for the role, especially considering his resume.

Jones was convincing as General McArthur, even being a supporting role.  Just as convincing was the movie’s real star, Matthew Fox.  Fox fills the role of General Bonner Fellers.  Getting back to the bonus commentary for a moment, audiences will laugh as Webber compares Fox to a Gary Cooper style actor in his role as Fellers.  Fellers is sent on a mission to find out if Japan’s Emperor did in fact order the attack on Pearl Harbor after Japan’s official surrender to the Allies.  His story starts rather slowly thanks to the time shifts that set up the movie’s underlying romantic subplot.  But thankfully, it does manage to catch itself somewhere along the line and speed up.  The underlying romantic drama plays a certain role in Fellers search for the truth of what happened on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked.  But again thankfully, writers Vera Blasi, David Klass, and Shiro Okamato on whose book His Majesty’s Salvation this story is based, don’t allow that aspect of the story to overpower the primary story.  Because of that balance, Fox actually becomes quite believable in his role.

Fox’s acting and the ability of the story’s writers to balance its serious war based drama with its underlying romantic subplot are both positive aspects of this story.  The story’s historical accuracy is just as important as anything in this story.  It has already been noted that throughout the history of WWII based movies, many of them have been very liberal with fictitious elements just as much as with factual elements.  This story includes a certain fictitious element in the inclusion of Fellers’ romance with Aya Shimada.  It’s even noted in the movie’s bonus “Making of” featurette that it’s not known if the pair actually had a romance.  That kept in mind, it makes it even better that their romantic drama didn’t overpower the primary story of this movie.  The potentially fictitious element noted, Emperor also boasts quite an amount of factual elements.  The most important of those elements is the note of America’s oil embargo on Japan.  Many people may not know this, but it was in fact an oil embargo on Japan that led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.  It made the war in the Pacific a completely different war than the one fought in Europe.  In direct correlation, the flashback segments help to make the story even more believable.  That’s because of Aya’s mention that not every Japanese citizen was in favor of Japan attacking the United States.  Because of the way history has been taught, this is something else that is not largely known.  The story presented in Emperor contains much more that history buffs will appreciate.  And they will find those elements for themselves when they rent this movie or buy it for themselves.   The movie is available now in stores and online.  More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at http://www.lionsgate.com and http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at https://philspicks.wordpress.com.