Review Summary: A disappointing effort from a once-great band.
The late 1990s weren't very kind to thrash metal. Slayer's "Diabolus In Musica," released in 1998, was panned by critics and fans who claimed that Slayer had completely abandoned their thrash roots in an exchange for a more alternative, nu metal sound. Metallica was continuing their tradition of destroying everything that once made them the biggest thrash band on Earth with the release of "ReLoad" in '97. Megadeth's "Risk," released in '99, successfully alienated their fan base and destroyed any evidence that Megadeth was once a thrash metal band. The story is essentially the same for the once-thrash metal giants known as Anthrax. Ever since the mid-1990s, Anthrax's sound became increasingly mediocre and uninspired. It seemed as if every metal band that was famous for their work in the mid-to-late 1980s had lost their touch around this time. Unfortunately, the same goes for Stormtroopers of Death.
Stormtroopers of Death (or simply S.O.D.), a crossover thrash band from New York, made underground metal history when they released "Speak English or Die" in 1985. The album was full of nonstop heaviness, hilarity, and energy. The mix of lead guitarist Scott Ian's thrash-oriented riffs, offensive and politically-incorrect lyrics, and Billy Milano's belting vocal delivery made "Speak English or Die" an instant classic. Despite the album's success, however, S.O.D. remained somewhat dormant throughout the late '80s and '90s. That is, until they released "Bigger Than the Devil" in 1999.
Most of the elements that made "Speak English or Die" such a classic have either gone stale or are simply nonexistent on "Bigger Than the Devil." The album is a victim of its time in several respects, the most obvious being Milano's voice echoing that of Pantera's Phil Anselmo. As for Scott Ian, he seemed to be losing his touch. Despite one or two songs, his guitar riffs are never too catchy nor impressive on this album; similar to the Anthrax albums released in the mid and late 1990s. His riffs also fall into groove territory quite often. Because of this, tracks like "The Crackhead Song" and the title track sound like nothing more than terrible Pantera songs.
Stormtroopers of Death's humor is partially what made them so great. Unfortunately, most of it is lost the second time around. The once-hilarious politically incorrect lyrics, while still present, aren't nearly as comically offensive as they were on their debut album. For instance, because the references to masturbation and drugs on "Free Dirty Needles" aren't clever nor intentionally stupid, the song loses all of its humor. There are also joke songs on the album that simply don't work. "The Song That Don't Go Fast" is somewhat humorous when it begins. However, the lyrics on the song begin to repeat themselves, so the joke ultimately becomes boring. "L.a.t.k.c.h." and "Frankenstein and His Horse" are bizarre joke songs without punchlines which add nothing to the album. The S.O.D. "Ballads" were funny in a shocking kind of way on "Speak English or Die." However, on this album they seem overused and predictable.
This isn't to say that all the humor is lost on "Bigger Than the Devil," however. "Celtic Frosted Flakes" is a clever satire of the band Celtic Frost; it is one of the funnier and catchier songs on the album. "King at the King/Evil Is In" isn't just funny; it is downright hysterical. A song about King Diamond ordering a whopper at Burger King, it boasts the funniest intro in S.O.D. history (Milano does a spot-on impression of King Diamond's singing). "Fugu," "Dog on the Tracks," and "Skool Bus" are hilarious, albeit incredibly short songs. Despite the fact that they are humorous on the first listen, the extremely short songs on the album could be considered to be throw-away tracks.
Fortunately, S.O.D. is still able to retain some of the energy they once had in the 1980s. "Shenanigans" and "Kill the Assholes" are energetic and aggressive, showcasing catchy, thrash-oriented riffs. "Moment of Truth" is easily the best song on the album. The song is reminiscent of S.O.D.'s glory years in many ways; Milano's vocals are confident and brutal, the riff is extremely contagious, and the drums are undeniably powerful. The guitar solo outro is masterful, one of the greatest moments on the album. Bassist Dan Lilker has his moments as well. The distorted, pounding basslines on songs like "Shenanigans" and "Aren't You Hungry" give Lilker his time to shine and showcase his skill. As for Charlie Benante, he is an all-around fantastic drummer on practically every track. S.O.D. has always been a band where each member is remarkably skilled in their respective field, and little of this changes on "Bigger Than the Devil."
Milano has stated that their EP "Rise of the Infidels," released in 2007, would be the final release by Stormtroopers of Death. This is unfortunate; many 1980s thrash bands have been releasing new albums lately that have been met with both critical and commercial acclaim (Megadeth's "Endgame," Metallica's "Death Magnetic," Anthrax's "Worship Music, etc.). Why isn't Stormtroopers of Death entitled to a 21st Century comeback? After all, most of the problems with "Bigger Than the Devil" can be attributed to the fact that it was released in 1999, a horrible year for thrash metal. Any thrash album released that year would likely be doomed to mediocrity. Hopefully some day Sargent D and the S.O.D. will rise again, in all their politically-incorrect glory.
All-in-all, "Bigger Than the Devil" isn't anything special. It may not not satisfy thrash metal or hardcore punk fans as much as "Speak English or Die" did, but S.O.D. fans should still have a good time listening to it.
King at the King/Evil Is In
Moment of Truth