Review: Desert Storm ‘Death Rattle’

Undoubtedly one of the greatest pleasures of this writing gig is getting to watch a band evolve over time and seeing them grow in confidence, stature and ability. In the case of Oxford’s bruising Desert Storm this began after watching them batter the now defunct venue that resided in the Bretonside Bus Station in Plymouth supporting the mighty Karma To Burn. Since then, they have come a long way from the band that released the tentative Forked Tongues debut in 2010 to become the powerhouse band that unleashed the stunning Omens in 2020.

Desert Storm 'Death Rattle'
Desert Storm ‘Death Rattle’ Artwork

The previous album saw the band take huge strides forward, in terms of songwriting quality, that had been brewing over the course of preceding releases such as Omniscient (2014) and Sentinels (2108). There was a real sense when listening to certified ragers like Black Bile that Desert Storm were just beginning to hit their stride. Whilst the pandemic may have cut short any opportunities to take that material to the masses, it would be a foolish person to have bet against them.

The moody fallout of the last few years has resulted in the latest album, Death Rattle, and from the moment the album begins, there is a palpable air of something big. Opener Master Of None kicks off proceedings with a frantic classic rock/Black Sabbath feel that stabs with a statement of intent. Matthew Ryan’s vocals, which have always leant on his savage delivery, start using the melody-tinged mid-range that enhanced Black Bile to such great effect, as he croons over a rolling riff showing off his expanded range and sharp lyrics like ‘social suicide’.

There is a powerful and urgent feel with flavours of depth and shade introduced by the fret acrobatics and thumping drums of the respective Cole brothers, whilst new low-end specialist Matthew Tennent (Battalions) provides the robust and muscular rumble that allows the walls of riffs to crash like a tsunami.

First ’single’ (if there is such a thing these days) Cheyenne Stoking (a term referring to the respiration event that often occurs before dying, a literal ‘death rattle’ if you will), backed by the video cut from classic British revenge movie Dead Man’s Shoes, builds from a sinister, melodic guitar intro and Ryan’s clean vocals.

This softer side of Desert Storm should not be taken lightly, it masks the enhanced nuance of the songwriting on display, as after sucking you into its deft approach, the band smash you over the head with the heavy stomp of the main hook. The quiet/loud dynamic of the winding guitar ramps up into a pounding full force mix of tenderness and brutality that sees them dissolve into a classic churning of savagery.

Second single, Bad Trip, shows off the range of the subject matter, eschewing mental toughness for a personal tale of the loss of a friend, it begins with another muted guitar intro before crashing in with the accustomed power and gruff vocals that have served the band so well in the past.

the band have stepped up across the board and created undoubtedly their finest work to date…

This advanced progression to the band’s sound really elevates Death Rattle as they weave a consistent narrative throughout the album, blending light and shade to a degree that they haven’t in the past. Moments pass with almost gossamer deftness and intricate, complex passages of cascading harmonies, whilst never being far away from a scything crunch.

Melatone shows this perfectly as the Celtic flavoured introduction reveals a track steeped in classic metal tropes but with an emotional aspect that features impassioned, almost inaudible vocals. The band’s more straight forward bludgeoning anger of old has been replaced by a more restrained power, so when they let the brakes off, the nine songs on Death Rattle seethe with malevolent intent and full-throated roars.

Similarly, Salt Of The Earth takes the shimmering guitar and adds a southern blues rock slant, as Ryan’s whiskey-soaked vocals muse introspectively, like a man old beyond his years, imploring and caressing you with his soulful verses as they build towards the soaring chorus. This track, like others, employs a range of additional instrumentation to fatten the already rich sound. Captured by Steve ‘Geezer’ Watkins on home turf at Woodworm Studios and mastered at Audioseige in Portland, Oregon by Brad Boatright, the whole of Death Rattle sounds simply massive from the first note to the last.

After sixteen years of the band’s existence, it seems there is no slowing them down. Having beaten out the likes of Green Lung to win the HRH Stoner Lords Award, the band have not rested on their laurels and their seventh album sees them raising the bar across all levels; whether it is the riffs-for-days, the mid-paced range of Druid’s Heath recalling classic NOLA style stoner rock, the faster Insomniac that lurches with an abrasive hardcore edge or the downbeat Self Depreciation which cuts to the bone with lyrics like ‘Flesh decomposing, unrestrained loathing’.

Closing out with the short instrumental sign-off, New Dawn, complete with hand-played toms and tambourine, Death Rattle finishes with an atmospheric, and almost thoughtful moment, on what feels like a huge journey. It is hard to describe the sonic advancements on Desert Storm’s latest album without doing them a slight disservice considering the quality of their previous releases, but this feels like a giant leap forward in terms of the boldness and progression.

There is a far more mature depth and complexity to the structured storytelling on Death Rattle that elevates them beyond their ‘stoner’ or ‘metal’ tag. Whether it is the use of the varied instrumentation or the slightly world-weary feel that permeates the record, the band have stepped up across the board and created undoubtedly their finest work to date. It caresses and pulls you in emotionally, but equally, loses none of that Crowbar-esque none-more-heavy hammer blow.

Label: APF Records
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Scribed by: Mark Hunt-Bryden