Review Summary: A merciless sonic display of fully realized potential, style and seized momentum, Death Angel’s eighth album sets a remarkable precedent on how to deliver thrash metal in the 2010’s.
As big of a fan I always was towards the Bay Area thrash metal scene, for a long time Death Angel was one of those bands that I felt was a bit overhyped compared to their equally talented yet lesser known peers. Granted “The Ultra-Violence” is a record as good as anything that came out of the golden age of the genre but their subsequent releases have felt a bit short on what I expected from them (hell I don’t consider “Act III” a classic like many people). This opinion slowly started to change for the better around their first post 2000’s releases, but it’s the last two records that managed to win me over.
Doubling down on characteristically energetic, intense and speedy thrash roots, while maintaining the melodic, infectiously catchy vibe and mellow harmonies often displayed in their songwriting, “Relentless Retribution” and “The Dream Calls for Blood” were both hugely enjoyable displays for well-written and executed thrash. On these records the band showed complete confidence and maturity in their songwriting, thus finding a perfect balance between aggression and well-timed melodies. And just when I thought they can’t top themselves, “The Evil Divide” arrived, marking not only one of the band’s highest achievements, but also a clear sign, that even these veterans have some tricks in their sleeves.
This balanced duality between the pummeling Bay Area thrash and the more melodic vibes of classic heavy metal instantly showcased in the opener “The Moth” where the aggressive Slayer-like riffing during the verses are contrasted with the Trivium-like choruses. Or “Father of Lies” the crunching mid-paced headbanging are intersected with unexpected twin guitar sections, not to mention even the solo is two parted. A quieter, melodic relaxed phase with only cymbals, clean guitars and Damien Sisson’s humming bass to support the lead…before it explodes into the chaotic yet controlled shredding we usually expect from a thrash song.
But that’s not to say that there isn’t some more formulaic yet enjoyable wrecking on this album. In fact most of the songs are representors of Death Angel’s highly energetic, almost punkish intensity and take-no-prisoners delivery, with cuts like “Cause of Alarm” or “Hell to Pay” which not only stomp the listener into the ground with their fast, blood-boiling riffworks, but also don’t overstay their welcome with a healthy three minute runtime. The longer affairs like “Breakaway” or “The Electric Cell” introduce not just a dynamic jumping between the faster and slower sections but also a heightened sense of musical technicality which always appreciated (at least for me).
The tight and precise rhythm section (including longtime drumming beast Will Carrol) and Jason Suecof's raw and palpable production give the album a major boost but the key players in this game are Rob Cavestany and Mark Osegueda. A founding member and the major driving force of the group, Cavestany once again displays his ferocious and creative musicianship with technically proficient, sometime raw, other times harmonic guitar work which always gave the band a clear sense of identity. And once again whether it’s just solitary outbursts or trade-off duels with fellow axeman Ted Aguliar the lead guitar work is nothing short of greatness.
But Death Angel would not be recognizable without the trademark voice of Mark Osegueda. I don’t know how he does it, but time haven’t done a shred of damage in his voice, his snarly word-spitting, the screams, his clean singing are just as fierce, impressive and instantly recognizable as it was back in 1987. His vocal fury drives the music like a well-oiled engine but it’s also the heart and soul of what I consider my favorite song on the record: “Lost”. An electric guitar driven ballad, this song could surprise most with its restrained and hard rock like approach pushing thrash metal to its radio-friendly and accessible limits. But not only it doesn’t becomes cheesy, it’s a powerful and heartfelt song, mostly due to Osegueda's passionate and emotional vocal performance which certainly elevates the song into the upper realms.
It is often said, that the older a band becomes, the harder it becomes for them to remain musically relevant or consistent, especially if we’re talking about a more saturated and limited genre like thrash metal. However Death Angel proved once again that just like Overkill, Testament or Exodus, there are good reasons why they managed to stay in the game for so long. Their top notch, sometimes even daring musicianship, and seemingly undrainable amounts of energy and passion gives them the fuel, to deliver vibrant and fist-bumping sonic destruction even after 30+ years. And if anything this is the thing, most starting young bands should take notes from. These dogs might be old, but they are very reliable in biting throats.