Gama Bomb – Bats
> Thrash metal
> Released November 10
> Prosthetic Records
When you think of metal music, there are certain descriptors that become cliché – heavy, evil, aggressive. These words don’t just carry associations, but have become ingrained into the very culture and language of heavy metal itself. Words are a method of communication not just through their literal transfer of information but in shaping the ways that communication surrounding a subject is itself shaped. But when you think of those words, do you think of the word “silly”? I can think of no better word to describe Gama Bomb than “silly”, but don’t let that trick you into believing they don’t take the fun deadly serious.
The band was formed in 2002 in Newry, Northern Ireland by bassist Joe McGuigan and vocalist Philly Byrne. Their debut record Survival of the Fastest released in 2005 and turned heads online, gaining the attention of Earache Records. Over the next fifteen years they would release six more LPs, including my personal favourite The Terror Tapes, increasingly popular and growing a steady following. Joe and Philly have been the only constant throughout their history, though longtime lead guitarist Domo Dixon has been with the band since 2005, joining right after the release of the debut. John Roche has been on rhythm guitar for the past decade, and the drummer seat currently stands empty since longtime drummer Paul Caffrey stepped away before the recording of the previous record in 2020.
I think the best place to start is with the fact that Gama Bomb continuously up the level of commitment to the bit. I have heard Anthrax described by themselves and others as the “court jesters of thrash”, which feels appropriate considering their comic book-esque lyrics when compared to bands like Slayer or Testament. If Gama Bomb owe to any particular metal tradition, it is the court jester. And to this fact, it cannot be ignored that somehow, for some reason, this new album features Egyptian Lover – the legendary eighties hip hop and electronic music artist and producer, well known for his idiosyncratic pulp Egyptian aesthetic. The intro track and the feature “Egyptron feat. Egyptian Lover” are interwoven with a tongue-in-cheek cliché pastiche of “Egyptian” chords that you’d find in a Universal horror flick. But it also features Gama Bomb’s signature addictive riffing, fist-pumping gang-chants and embracement of atypical sounds like continuing that Egyptian motif. Egyptian Lover’s feature is well utilized over that motif as he smoothly raps like a cyborg mummy come to reclaim his lost empire, leading to a killer Domo solo.
Solos are everywhere on a Gama Bomb record, they’re such a welcome surge of power and shred, Domo is a fantastic lead player and the guitar playing across the board is expectedly stellar. There has always been a touch of the classical to the guitars, like the main riff in “Materialize”, and I’m sure Kep could readily identify a source. Riffs are catchy and fun, they really carry a lot of energy, though longtime fans may recognize familiar patterns that could be viewed as overwrought or a signature part of the band’s sound depending on your perspective. Byrne’s voice is readily recognizable whether he’s spitting out breathless staccato word salad or piercing shrieks that could rival Rob Halford. The drumming is the closest the record comes to having a weak point – it’s certainly not bad, but with session player Pawel Grabowski not being a full time member it’s hard for much character to develop in that sound, and that’s not a knock on his playing. It’s serviceable and well-performed but it does not reach the level the guitars do. And with a band so fully committed to maximalism through both aesthetic art and musicality, it can feel like a weakness.
That full commitment to the bit approaches a level of kayfabe not often seen outside black metal, but the Bomb approach it more like pro-wrestlers, using it to elevate the art to a level of “so stupid it’s brilliant.” Before the record came out, the band announced that their beloved mascot Snowy the Gamabominable Snowman had died in an explosion and turned his funeral into the music video for, you guessed it, “Speed Funeral”. With songs like “Don’t Get Your Hair Cut” (a hilarious anti-fascist anthem) or album closer “Bats in Your Hair” about bats being in your hair, the band continues their long tradition of ridiculousness wrapped in the rotting skin of Hollywood film history, from Robocop to exploitation films.
“Bats in Your Hair” is a standout track on the record for me. The riffs and vocal patterns are really sticky and fun. But it really shines when Byrne goes full blown Judas Priest shrieking about bats in your hair. The song eschews a standard guitar solo and instead closes on a half-track-length saxophone solo that fades out as the album finishes. It’s a good encapsulation of the awesome power of fun and silly music that’s fully committed to being seriously good – nothing is sacrificed in quality and Gama Bomb have carved out a fairly unique identity within metal by doing what they want on their terms. It’s what makes them so endearing an artistic entity.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Gama Bomb stretch themselves to find new depth to their sound and come out sounding like winners. They have maintained a consistent vision and remain one of the most energetic and refreshing bands in thrash. If you’ve been missing some good fun metal with a bit more punch to it, you should check out this record.