Back home in Finland, Death Hawks currently have a virtual monopoly in music influenced by sounds from the bygone days when the idealistic highs of the late ’60s started to lose altitude, the music moving correspondingly from the sweet harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash towards the arena-humping heaviness of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath et al.
This unique stance has earned the band led by period ‘tache-sporting songwriter Teemu Markkula positive notices in the domestic music media. But in a musical market as tiny as Finland’s, such marginal pursuits place the four-piece from Tampere on the outer reaches of obscurity. As such, it’s necessary to start fishing for attention abroad, where there’s hardly any dire need for yet another outfit peddling a heavy-lidded sound that welcomes few ingredients from this side of 1974.
As oversubscribed as the time-travelling music club is, the murkily alluring Death and Decay deserves our full attention. On paper, the musty points of reference may seem wearingly familiar. We’ve been here countless times before in recent years, with the likes of Jonathan Wilson and Fleet Foxes excelling in acoustically orientated contemplation and, for example, Black Mountain gaining distinctions from the Tony Iommi school of ominous riffage. But by hopping unpredictably between chest-beating racket and languid – if always slightly unsettling – calm, inserting plenty of arresting twists to the tunes and arrangements, and maintaining a foreboding atmosphere that suggests the band are channelling seriously heavy vibes in some destruction-ridden alternative world still stuck waist-deep in the Dark Ages, Death Hawks manage to excel in areas where most retro-minded missions struggle to succeed: producing surprises and cultivating a unique musical identity.
Whilst the likes of ‘Blue Void’ – an ominously churning sermon seemingly situated at the onset of a biblical flood – and the none-more-heavy crunch of ‘Priest’s March’ bow reverently towards the bluesy decibel-binges of vintage hard rock, wailing organ of Tenho Mattila to the fore, the downcast desert folk of ‘The Beast’ and the superbly doomy ‘Death Has No Reprieve’ knock on Neil Young’s door with equally convincing results. Better still are moments that defy categorisation. The chorally-enriched funeral procession of ‘The Peace Maker’ practically demands entry to the soundtrack of a classic spaghetti Western. The foam-mouthed Kraut-boogie (50% Neu!, 50% Deep Purple) of ‘Shining’ gallops like a herd of untamed beasts on a rampage, Markkula’s heavily treated vocals proclaiming some unnamed dread with a declamatory weirdness rarely heard since the glory days of the furthest-out likes of Hawkwind; suggesting Death Hawks possess a healthy sense of humour alongside their other strengths.
In theory, there’s not a lot to connect, say, the frantic rockabilly boogie of ‘Roamin’ Baby Blues’ to the high and lonesome, folk-hued wail of ‘Dead Man’, yet everything on Death and Decay eventually winds up sounding exactly, unmistakably like Death Hawks. And that’s a rare achievement for a debut album from a band so openly and proudly indebted to repeatedly recycled inspirations.