Review Summary: In a little over a year, Warbringer have improved from just a solid band to a premier thrash revivalist act. But they still lack originality.
Revivalism is nothing new in music. Blues revival artists have existed since the 1960's. "Retro" is often a term of endearment for bands of all types. But in the past few years, some of these revival movements have become oversaturated with uncreative bands rehashing each others ideas to make something ultimately boring, monotonous and dated on release.
One of the more notable retro movements has been in thrash metal. As teenagers of the 90's and the "aughts" have discovered alternatives to top 40 radio, budding metalheads have gone time and time again to many of the same albums: Metallica's Master of Puppets and Ride the Lightning, Megadeth's Rust in Peace, Slayer's Reign in Blood, etc. These influences are present all over the place. Even if they aren't straight thrash, bands like Trivium and Machine Head have risen to the top of the metal mainstream. But even below them, bands that spurned Metallica and Megadeth for Exodus, Destruction, and Kreator are re-creating the old-school's knack for non-stop musical assaults and violent live shows.
One of the most recent members of the scene is Warbringer. Their 2008 debut, War Without End, made a splash in the metal world that was often divisive. While some labeled them as a boring clone of thrash legends, others simply didn't care. The songs were loud, catchy, and most of all, fun. I tended to agree with the latter.
To be fair, Warbringer are not a very unique band. The closest you can get to calling them original is saying that they combine Bay Area thrash with the German sound. But what does that really say? I think it means that thrash is as stagnant a genre as it ever was, and that what it comes down to now is pure entertainment value.
After a tour with Exodus, Warbringer have gotten guitarist Gary Holt to produce their sophomore outing, Waking Into Nightmares. It turns out that getting your album produced by one of your heroes may have brought out the best in this band.
On that note, the production is one of many reasons why this is a big step up from War Without End. Whereas WWE's vocals and guitars sometimes drowned out everything else, all of the instruments here have room to breathe. Most noticably, bassist Ben Bennett is loud and clear on every song. This is especially true on the instrumental, Nightmare Anatomy, where he lays down some incredible licks.
Drummer Nic Ritter is also improved here. With the more open production, he shines much more than before. His fills are much more noticable than before, and he shows that he is a more than capable thrash player.
Vocalist John Kevill sounds pretty much exactly the same as he did before. A classic thrash screamer with little variation, except for some shockingly heavy sections in "Shadow From the Tomb," where he does a semi-death growl. The band does have even more gang vocals than on the debut, but the choruses are less integral to the sound then they were before.
But the biggest improvement? The riffs. John Laux and Adam Carroll had a few good leads on the debut, but now they have bring at least one awesome riff to the table in every song. It is in this department where Warbringer transcends being just another thrash band and becomes one of the most promising new bands around. It may take a few listens before you're getting them stuck in your head, but the riffs on this album are far more satisfying than anywhere on WWE.
Overall, Waking Into Nightmares is not something you need to go out and buy immediately. If you think you know everything you need to know about thrash, you don't need to get it. And if you're a novice, pick up some classics first. But if you're just looking for a fun, moderately short (40 minutes), satisfying listen, then get this album. You won't be disappointed.