Among the greatest frustrations for metal fans, during this whole pandemic shitshow, has been the abrupt thwarting of many a young band's upward ascent. ALIEN WEAPONRY have reason to feel more aggrieved than most, as the New Zealand trio's notoriety spread like wildfire following the release of their 2018 "Tu" debut album. Widely acclaimed as a killer live band, too, they have had to sit tight and bide their time while the world ground to an enervating halt. Of course, like just about everyone else, ALIEN WEAPONRY have a new album, but "Tangaroa" carries with it the burden of the slightly unreasonable expectation that these boys — brothers Lewis and Henry de Jong (guitars and drums respectively) and new bassist Turanga Morgan-Edmonds — are metal's next big thing. Recapturing that initial momentum was never going to be easy, so the pressure is firmly on at this point, not least because the novelty appeal of the band's tender ages has, as you might expect, been erased by time.
The good news is that "Tangaroa" is a much stronger record than its predecessor. The debut's irresistible energy levels are definitely intact here, as is the prevailing musical blend of thrash and groove metal, alternative rock trimmings and that all-important hypnotic tribal aesthetic drawn from the band's shared Maori heritage. But this is a record that crackles with enhanced urgency, as if ALIEN WEAPONRY are militant and myopic in the pursuit of their musical dreams, and its finest moments seem to confirm that the Kiwis are well-equipped for the long haul.
Opener "Titokowaru" is a slow-burning revelation: embellished with disarming background chants and blessed with a gleefully malicious mid-song change of pace, it showcases a grittier and more focused take on its creators' sound, with not a moment of its six minutes wasted. "Hatupatu" is equally gripping; its staccato riffs and sledgehammer gait crying out to be inflicted on real audiences. The usual comparisons to "Roots"-era SEPULTURA still apply to some degree here, but ALIEN WEAPONRY's hybrid is resolutely distinctive, with just the wide-eyed lust for new ideas of their forebears in evidence. Musically speaking, this band have moved onwards and upwards, refining the details and tweaking the dynamics along the way.
Album centerpiece "Unforgiving" is the brash pinnacle of that evolution, even though it is also the one song here that may alienate those on a strict diet of riffs. Languid, melancholy and palpably influenced by '90s grunge and alt-rock, it's also wonderfully odd: a skewed, cracked mirror, post-rock power ballad with angularity and disquiet at its heart. Lewis de Jong's lead vocal really is quite something.
"Tangaroa" is a brave, invigorating and frequently surprising record. Even at their most prosaic, on the thunderous likes of "Blinded" and "Buried Underground", ALIEN WEAPONRY sound thrilled by the creative process and locked in total symbiosis with one another. As they pummel their way through the post-GOJIRA slam-fodder of "Ihenga", these promising young upstarts sound rather more like battle-hardened diehards with a point to prove and the conviction, and songs, to back it up.