Ahead of their new album release, Toby Morris wore a different Beastwars t-shirt every day. He reflects upon his week and the entire Beastwars catalogue.
This week the impossible is happening: the mighty Beastwars, probably New Zealand’s most beloved metal band are back from dead (almost literally) with a new album. I’ve decided to pay tribute in a uniquely metal way – wearing nothing but Beastwars t-shirts all week. There aren’t many bands I like enough to wear the t-shirt, and even fewer that I own more than one, and only one that I own more than five. It’s special part of metal fandom to show your loyalty and membership by wearing the band’s shirt, and with Beastwars I’m in deep.
On the way to work I listen to ‘Omens’, the first single from the new album IV. Over a pummeling riff singer Matt Hyde’s lyrics paint clear picture of a classic Beastwars setting: “Empty house at the foot of a hill / gravel road to the holy mountain”. It’s the perfect opening chapter for an epic new journey. The album is out on Friday – I can’t wait to get onto that gravel road later in the week and see where it goes.
At work, no one mentions my t-shirt. Why would they? I wear these all the time. In the kitchen Alex Twentyman, a secret teenage metalhead, gives me a nod and a sneaky goats sign, and in the afternoon Don Rowe sends me a DM: “This new beastwars goes so hard eh.”
And then a minute later: “i don’t know a whole lot about them but this is tough as fuark.”
OK, full disclosure: I illustrated this one, but to be honest I have mixed feelings about it. Back in 2017, the final Beastwars album The Death of All Things was out and the band was dead too. Nato the drummer had left the country and by all accounts the band had run its course. On top of all that, in October they announced that Matt Hyde was receiving treatment for cancer. For a band so obsessed with mortality and destruction it felt like the cruelest twist.
But metal gives more than metal takes. The band put up new vinyl pressings of the albums and three new t-shirt designs up for sale to raise funds for Matt’s chemo, and the community of fans responded, raising thousands of dollars, half of which Matt ended up donating to Leukemia NZ. This t-shirt was created for that fundraiser, and while I wanted it to be a hopeful powerful visual, to be honest wearing this t-shirt reminds me of feeling scared.
Fuck, I’m starting to cry at my desk.
Again, all day no one mentions my t-shirt. To be fair, I haven’t traveled too far off brand yet, I wear these all the time.
This is probably the simplest Beastwars t-shirt design, but it’s maybe my favourite. I love that it’s specifically Kiwi – the Haast’s eagle is truly New Zealand’s most spectacular creature and it makes me so happy to see Beastwars sneak it into a deserved place in the great hall of metal iconography.
The third day in a row feels good. At the least it’s making getting dressed in the morning easier. But will anyone notice at the Spinoff office?
Last night when I got home I got a box in the mail – new merch, like I didn’t have enough already. A hat, a patch, a badge and a new t-shirt. Opening it made me so happy – happy to have another new t-shirt, yes, but mostly happy to see the band up and running again. Every little piece of this box feels like a middle finger to the world. Beastwars wasn’t supposed to be here, Matt wasn’t supposed to be able to sing again.When the lows were so low, the highs feel fucking great.
There’s a tape in the box too, which I don’t think I even ordered, as I have no way to play it. It’s a tease: I wanna get into a maroon 1996 Mitsubishi Magna and drive to the edge of the water, park up and crank this to the seagulls.
But for now I’m back at work, so the singles on Spotify will have to do. On the new song ‘Raise the Sword’ Matt sings “search for the light / in the time of dying” and it’s clear he hasn’t shied away from drawing directly from his health struggles. The riffs, as usual, are colossal, like a fistfight between sentient mountains and the lyrics on these new songs are more powerful and defiant than ever, but somehow this time also… triumphant. “Breathe long, breathe wise,” he sings. “Don’t fall. Raise the sword.”
This is another one I drew, back in November 2012. It started life as the 7″ cover for ‘Tower of Skulls’, the first single in advance of the second album Blood Comes Fire, and it references a statue that stands near the Christchurch Cathedral. The band mentioned they liked the statue at the time, and I think I know why: it survived while the city shook, a classic Beastwars theme. Strength among chaos.
I remember I was really busy the week it was due. I had a big project on at work and I remember staying up all night and swearing about having two really important things to do in the same week. But do you think I can remember a single thing about what that other project was now? In the moment sometimes it’s hard to see which things will really matter in the course of your life. Beastwars matters to me.
I listened to that song a thousand times while I was coming up with ideas, so it’s carved into my brain. Again, it touches on mortality – to me it always seemed like a call to accept the inevitability of death, to find some reverence in how small we all are compared to the earth, and to time. “Come join us here, deep in the river,” Matt sings. “Cut all your time, that is just human / when in the end we’re just born to die”.
I wonder if they’ll still play this one now. In the new songs I’ve heard so far, the attitude to death has changed. Shit got real, as they say. There’s a a new video for the song ‘Storms of Mars’ up online. It was the first of the new songs they made and Matt, fresh from finishing chemo, had a lot to get off his chest. For fans of the band it’s shocking to see him without his trademark white beard – like Samson without his curls. He looks vulnerable but energised. “Let me live / Give me more ten more years,” he howls. “I want to be alive / to see my child grow”.
Fuck, now I’m welling up at my desk again. Beastwars matters to me.
Album day! Last night my wife finally clocked my run of t-shirts and laughed at me that I thought anyone else would notice. “You always wear them,” she said. “People might notice after about a month maybe.” All of sudden, now that the impossible album is actually finally really seriously here, my t-shirt idea seems indulgent and frivolous.
I decide to go in late to work so I can properly listen to the record at last. I put headphones on and lock myself in. ‘Raise the Sword’ makes my hair stand on end. I’m surprised by the strings: they swell on ‘Storms of Mars’, and swirl on ‘This Mortal Decay’. Goosebumps on goosebumps. This thing is immense.
The cover, by Nick Keller, is stunning and sets the scene. It’s Hygeia, the Greek goddess of health, rising up in defiance over symbols of death and decay, with a sword aloft and light on her face. Matt’s been in the news this week, telling his story: his daughter’s messages of hope that he would live to make music again were what spurred him on through the darkest days, and here we are. Here we fucking are. You can hear it in the music too – four men in a room together, knowing how much they mean to each other, knowing how much this music matters.
I decide to walk to work to listen to it again, and it’s the best decision I’ve made all week. Thirty-six minutes of pure slow-motion-walking-away-from-explosions power. The sun cracks through the clouds as ‘Omens’ peaks, and I feel twenty metres tall.
I arrive at work feeling fucking invincible. The album’s got me feeling charged up – a testament to life and living and overcoming bullshit, and the deep healing power of a big chugging riff, some big fuck off drums and a good scream.
The last song ‘Like Dried Blood’ starts off slow, with a moody piano, and ends in triumph. “My great war is over / just a bitter bitter memory,” Matt sings as the guitars build. “Like all this blood / it will wash away”.
No one comments on my t-shirt.