If you’re in a metal band, it’s almost as if having sick riffs and school-suspension-friendly merchandise just won’t cut it these days. You need a unique angle, no matter how absurd, if you really want to cut through to the promo piles of jaded bloggers across the world. And metal’s been no stranger to odd gimmicks, from leather-clad Marvelettes to satanic popes reveling in anonymity to a band of orcs that literally call themselves A Band of Orcs.
One of the strangest, though, is avian death metal band Hatebeak. Yes, a bird—in this case Waldo, a 21-year-old African Gray Parrot—growling death metal and calling for the feathered enslavement of humanity. Death metal vocals often sound inhuman anyway—with a diverse range of styles from “angered warthog” to “dying snake hiss,” to name a few—it was only a matter of time before a non-human vocalist got in on the action.
Waldo’s human servants are guitarist Blake Harrison, who also handles electronics for acclaimed grindcore group Pig Destroyer, and bassist Mark Sloan. (Both also handle drum programming.) They deliver a stumbling mechanized rhythm, kind of like early Carcass with a drum machine. Not breaking a whole of ground there, but does Waldo deliver?
His random vocalizations sync surprisingly well with the sloppy, raw music. Squawks and screeching sound especially evil re-purposed as death metal vocals. There are no lyrics, but Harrison and Sloan have bird puns for ages, like “Bird Seeds of Vengeance” (Nile’s Black Seeds of Vengeance), “Hellbent For Feathers” (Judas Priest’s Hell Bent For Leather), and “God of Empty Nest” (Morbid Angel’s “God of Emptiness”). Waldo even showed solidarity with fellow animal freaks by releasing a split with Caninus, a grindcore band whose vocalists were two pitbulls. (Sadly, one of the dogs, Basil, was euthanized in 2011 due to a brain tumor.)
Hatebeak are committed to the theme—or were for a while, anyway. After an extended hiatus since 2007, they will release Number of the Beak on June 26 through Reptilian Records. It’ll compile all of the band’s releases, plus a few new tunes for unleashing demonic pigeon shit on your enemies. Why the long wait for new material? A lot of it has to do with Harrison’s tenure in Pig Destroyer, a much more popular band.
Here’s the harsh truth, though: Hatebeak is an interesting novelty, but it’s just that. There’s not really a whole lot you can do with a parrot as your singer. Waldo’s vocals may work with the music, but there have been human vocalists who push to greater extremes. He can’t match former Kataklysm vocalist Sylvian Houde’s frantic, unpredictable delivery; the workmanlike groans of Cannibal Corpse’s George “Corpsegrinder” Fisher; or even the alternating screeches and growls of Cradle of Filth’s Dani Filth.
With these novelties, the humor doesn’t go deeper than the song titles and album art, which are funny but don’t offer much reason to revisit the music. And death metal’s morbid seriousness doesn’t lend itself to humor within the music itself, which is actually one of its strengths. It’s easy to mock the humorless metal fan, and it’s totally possible to be really into metal and have a rich sense of humor, but parody metal just stretches itself too thin to prove it can smile. Trying to be funny often comes at the expense of musical inventiveness, or at least decent songwriting. Hatebeak, like Green Jelly and Gwar before them, simply aren’t memorable for long.
But hey, judge for yourself. Your parakeet might be the next Rob Halford.
Screengrab via NekroMonty/YouTube