Slovenia has been on the fringes for awhile mixing Eastern Europe and neighboring countries like Italy and Austria together in this weird stew that somehow is crammed into a landmass hardly the size of Vermont. For an area that's been thrown in and out of history via footnote, you might not expect much musically. But, truth be told, we've actually received a few Slovenian bands of high merit in the past year that we simply couldn't review because they weren't eeeeeeeexxxtreeeeeme enough. Buy hey, it was bound to happen that one or more of them would feed Deaf Sparrow's desires. Hellcrawler has been tagged as 'death n' roll', which gives something of an accurate depiction of the feeling of their sound, but honestly speaking, Wastelands has a lot more to offer than Elvis playing Samhain. Fans of Entombed and early Carcass should feel right at home with these guys and are in for a few surprises
"Devastation" opens the album, featuring a rather cool sample or perhaps spoken-word section that provides the backdrop for the whole; a post-apocalyptic wasteland where raiders run around amidst nuclear fallout. Once the first track gets going, these guys present a punchy form of thrash or early death metal to be more accurate, though there is certainly a sense of 'rock'. If you're looking for a clearer explanation, they basically combine the distortion level of Reek of Putrefaction with the hook capacity of the two or three good songs on Symphonies of Sickness, and they do it consistently. That's perfect for those of us who pretend either of those albums are owned for more than the 'have to to be a true fan' factor.
Wasteland is like a rusty meatgrinder churning out pound after pound of bloody meat without stimulating your palette until it no longer tastes pleasant. There's enough marbling to keep it tasty instead of overwhelming you with too much iron, or let's say metal to be clever. One noticeable feature is Hellcrawler's tendency to take risks and push the envelope on their own approach. Songs like "Motosluts from Hell" feature odd vocal trills straight from the Caucuses and catchy hooks that walk a fine line between at least four different styles. They even mess around with acoustic work, integrating it nicely into the foreground and taking it back. The only problem with this approach is that Hellcrawler sometimes does it in an unrefined fashion, and other times they successfully branch into the right direction. So there's a bit of misdirection at times due, but they pull it together when it counts, and the few moments where it doesn't, well, it's easy to forget about.
It's also worth nothing that the drums can sound a bit dead at times with some tom sections recorded at way too high of a level and the singing might be a little too monotone, which might have something to do with lower production quality. Wasteland falters here and there, but not for long. If anything you might be looking at mere seconds throughout the entire album where they slip from the direction they decided to take, but thankfully have the balance to jump back on. Having a lot of experience with this kind of music, it's all too easy anymore to throw out the usual '3' or '3.5' because a lot of it is so average, but these five Slovenian boys prove they have what it takes to mark higher. For a debut, Wastelands shows a dormant energy that's ready to burst, so let's hope these guys push it some more in years to come.