Bull Elephant – The Long War Review

London’s Bull Elephant stampeded into the metalsphere out of absolute nowhere back in 2019 with their fun and wacky self-titled debut. A reimagined take on the rise of Nazis in a world driven by Lovecraftian forces and philosophies and set just before WWII, that debut detailed the reanimation of a felled bull elephant by a Nazi official for use as a weapon. Unfortunately, a witch interfered with the Nazi’s plan, and stole the bull elephant to stomp the Nazis and carry out her own will. Follow up Created from Death sees the rebirth of our hero elephant as a human raised by a giant orangutan in hiding while Allied and Axis powers fight for supremacy in meatspace and squidspace. Now, three years later, Bull Elephant unleashes the conclusion to the Nazi-stomping elephant’s trilogy as our hero enters the fray of war in Berlin once again. Meanwhile, main antagonist Himmler holds his last stand to finally unveil Germany’s eldritch secrets and Imperial Japan’s Unit 731 engages in a final showdown in occupied China. Get ready for The Long War.

Bull Elephant are a wild bunch, and their particular approach to metal reflects that wildness in full measure. A bonkers combination of death metal, doom metal, stoner metal, prog, heavy metal, and the occasional dalliance with thrash, Bull Elephant’s sound offers much in the way of variation and permutation. Throughout their career, the band took full advantage of that flexibility to twist and writhe between Incantation doom death, tender Boss Keloid psychedelia, King Diamond theatrics, and Bütcher bloodthirst. Nothing about that changes with this final installment, as The Long War features both the band’s most aggressive material and their most delicate reprieves. Their kitchen sink approach somehow never feels disjointed or out of place, as every composition’s constituent pieces fit together in a beautifully twisted manner with tight seams and smooth surfacing.

The Long War by Bull Elephant

While the album’s concept is multifaceted and admittedly tricky to follow, The Long War’s musical writing is focused and enthralling. Opener “Expansion from Perceived Reality” and brutally heavy companion “Blackened Chaos Horizon” marks some of the most engaging material penned to date. Riffs trample the earth with a complete disregard for the planet’s structural integrity, while vocals span the gamut between subterranean reverberations and chilling serrated wails. Smartly, Bull Elephant allow their strongest moments to land by using slower, lighter instrumentation as explicit rest periods before the next assault (“Berlin Falling,” “The Long War”). Furthermore, the band’s knack for dynamic songwriting allows for greater rewards with repeated spins. For example, “Zentrum der neuen Welt” blends high-impact prog-death riffing with low and slow stoner doom, but it was only after my third spin that I gained full appreciation for the charismatic vocal performances, the subtle tremolos in the supporting leads, or the sneakily acrobatic drum performance.

Unfortunately, I am not sure the storytelling is as strong in this conclusion compared to previous efforts. In the past, the worldbuilding took on an immense scale, but the core plot taking place within it was relatively compact and easily managed by this musical format. The Long War, on the other hand, bites off more than it can chew in the allotted time. In an attempt to wrap a bow around all of the various subplots that Bull Elephant set up over the last four years, much of the action feels rushed, the characters left undeveloped, and the final climax rendered underwhelming. Considering how much depth the previous two records created in service of their alt-universe world-war scenario, The Long War feels shallow by comparison. What might’ve been more successful would be to make this story a tetralogy rather than a trilogy. This third installment could conclude with Himmler’s last stand, while the final engagement of Unit 731 could’ve supplied the final chapter with plenty of intense content and a worthy conclusion.

Alas, it is too late to make those adjustments. We must live with the story as it is. While I maintain there were some missed opportunities to greatly strengthen this material in concept, the album itself is still quite strong and wholly worthwhile. There’s a lot to love and a ton of representation across the gamut of metallic styles here. If you’ve got three-quarters of an hour to spare, you can’t go wrong with Bull Elephant’s The Long War.

Rating: Good!
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Eat Lead and Die Music
Websites: bullelephant.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/bullelephant
Releases Worldwide: November 17th, 2023

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