Review Summary: An efficient and fun collection of thrash.
This Is Hell are a Hardcore band from New York that at the time of writing has four studio albums to its name. The fourth, Black Mass is somewhat of a departure from previous releases almost completely abandoning the punky sound that could be found on albums such as Weight Of The World to focus on crafting tighter songs which share much more of a similarity to Slayer than Black Flag. A listen to any of their previous albums however does show that the band never shied away from the sound that dominates this record but it had always been diluted with many of the characteristics that define Hardcore.
The album opens in fine style with the song Acid Rain and a listen to this track will probably decide whether you are going to like this album. Riffs sharper than a butchers knife kick in without hesitation and fill-heavy drums punctuate the guitar nicely and with impressive speed. The drumming is one of the definite highlights of the album with a nice mixture of all out snare pounding speed, slower mid paced sections and some truly killer fills. The song also has its fair share of strong hooks with the outro consisting of vocalist Travis Reilly screaming 'It burns like Acid Rain' standing up well and having a strong impact amongst the vintage power-chord that surrounds it. Good hooks are one of the main selling points of the album with Black History and The Wars: Part I being some of the strongest examples of this, the former in particular bringing one of the most memorable thrash choruses in recent memory.
Reilly's vocals work to the albums advantage and although they do sound at least slightly different from albums before a great deal of the slightly older thrash bands essentially just took the Hardcore vocal style and added too a different instrumental backdrop with the more modern style of thrash being responsible for the different, arguably heavier style of vocals. Whatever the case these vocals are just good, largely helped by the fact that a good number of the songs are pleasingly catchy. Unsurprisingly solos do turn up from time to time and while I didn't find many of them particularly memorable (largely down to another thrash tradition: playing your solos like your fretboards is burning your fingers) they don't stand out in a bad way either and the wah soaked solo on Acid Rain and tasteful lead that ends the album on The Wars: Part II do stand as testaments to both technical and subtler guitar work.
My biggest criticism of Black Mass is one that brings down a great deal of albums, especially of this type and that criticism is lack of variety, as big of a thrash-head as you are there will probably be at least one or two points while listening to the album where you just start to switch of slightly or get bored. Are those gang vocal chants over riffs very much reminiscent of Anthrax awesome" Hell yes, but only listening to gang vocals and Anthrax riffs will make you bored of them and I found this album to be much better when I only occasionally listened parts of it from time to time. The production on the record is actually pretty good and allows the guitar, vocals and drums to fit together nicely but as you can probably tell from its lack of mention just then the bass is not very easy to pick up amongst the other often quite treble-heavy instruments and musically does not seem to have much emphasis put on it , or at least compared to the bands previous output. My last gripe is a small one, mainly as I only really remember it popping up on The Last Outlaw and this is the short segments of slightly cleaner vocals harkening back to the bands more Hardcore days which may have worked with the different musical context but just sound a bit lame here and have not translated especially well.
In conclusion if your into your thrash give this a listen as you will struggle not to enjoy some of these tracks which do a very good job of achieving their aim, to give you enjoyable blasts of noise at either a very fast speed or maybe a more mid-paced one (or maybe both within a single track, if its feeling very daring) and its not hard to imagine many of these tracks going down a storm at the explosive live shows that have brought This Is Hell away from being an entirely underground band, the fact that the band is signed to Rise Records, more well known for signing bands such as The Devil Wears Prada and Breathe Carolina and who do a good job of promoting their bands surely does not hurt either. So what the hell, put it on, yell at things, hurt people and enjoy.