It’s rare to find a band that are still a) interesting and b) experimenting after three or four decades. But UK crossover legends Hellbastard have managed to do just that. After their original run from 1985-1991, the Geordie four piece reformed in 2008. Feral (Patac) is just the fourth album from the band – “Scruff” Lewty (Vocals, Guitars), Pete Salvage (Guitars), Laine Pearce-Rees (Bass) and Nathan Ellis (Drums) – and second since they regrouped.
Hellbastard are seen by many as the pioneers of crust punk, and reinforce the heritage with guest appearances from fellow UK crusties; Amebix’s Rob “The Baron” Miller and Andy “A. Droid” Wiggins, as well as Sabbat’s Andy Sneap. The PR guff describes Feral as “primal, back-to-nature shit,” which translates as “pretty simplistic, but still heavy”. Which is strange, because for the most part, it’s not particularly crusty.
For much of the record, it’s pretty route-one thrash album chock-full with political observations and snide phrasing from Scruff’s spat lyrics. Or at least it seems that way on first listen. ‘Outside of the Year’ or ‘And the Point of Your Being Is…’ are prime examples of classic crossover the likes of Municipal Waste have taken to a wider audience. ‘Social Hand Grenade’ features some classic squealing guitar work while ‘Engineering Human Consciousness II’ is the kind perfect mosh pit fodder WarBeast would be proud of.
After a few listens however, you start to realise there are some surprises. The switches between raw aggression and a melodic chorus on opener ‘In Praise Of Bast…/Feral’ catch the listener off guard, while the impressive 8-minute three-part epic ‘We Are Coven’ strays into progressive territory. The left turn of ‘4-Paws’ could pass for a gothic power ballad with it strings section and spoken word passages. The extra twists that are thrown into the traditional thrash/punk mix ensure that what could have easily been a tired rehash remains fresh.
Feral isn’t perfect and it’s not all quality or inventive. ‘Shame on Us’ is a passable mid-paced stomper, and though ‘Wychcraft’ has plenty of menace it meanders without going anywhere. But two duds isn’t bad for such a surprisingly varied album. For a band celebrating their 30th year, HellBastard still sound as angry as their name suggests. More impressively though, Feral shows a band willing to experiment and expand their palette into new grounds. There’s enough nodding back for legacy fans, but more than interesting enough material to make them worthwhile for anyone looking for a new spin on thrash.