Review Summary: 3 stages of Toxik's return to form
To call Toxik's III Works
box set a compilation is justified only in part. A compilation of different recordings, with various band lineups? Yes. With re-recordings of old material? Yes. With new and unreleased material? Equally and even more so. What the box primarily does, however, is chronicle Toxik's reformation as a band over the past five years, in three sets of recordings that can be listened to individually, but are best appreciated in combination. In the process, it recapitulates and showcases some of the best Toxik - more in particular, main guitarist/writer and driving force Josh Christian - has to offer, anticipating exciting future projects.
represents the long-awaited release of the In Humanity
recordings, a number of which had been circulating online in demo versions since 2014. Defining the sound and feel of this disc is a solid vocal performance by Mike 'World Circus' Sanders (matured, but still comfortable with the higher registers) over twisted, low-end riffs with the right amount of dissonance and progressive soloing madness. Too Late
, Program Insertion
, Crooked Crosses
make up a quartet of absolutely crushing tracks with a distinctive dark edge. Compositions are as catchy as they are complex; this is Josh Christian tapping into modern prog death/thrash trends, only the result is not generic, and still signature Toxik. These tracks stick. The guitar work is top notch and mind-boggling. Bothering somewhat, maybe, is the minor stylistic gap between the first four tracks and the last two. Title track In Humanity
has yet to prove its replay value, while the instrumental Lunacy's Fringe
- perhaps intentionally - sounds a bit too experimental and underproduced. Not featured here, strangely enough, is No Rest For The Wicked
, a quality track recorded as part of the same In Humanity
cycle, and still streaming on Soundcloud in a version with Mike Sanders. It would have made an apt closure to disc 1.
The 3-track Breaking Class
EP seemed to turn off many listeners when it was brought out last year. It is included here as Works II
, in a remixed and extended version with three added tracks. One may take issue with the choice of Charles Sabin for vocals - a voice that only rarely ventures past safe limits and obviously is no longer up for the peaks it reached on Think This
-, as well as with the seemingly more 'mainstream' style and production on the tracks. Compared to In Humanity
, the metal definitely sounds slicker and less uncompromising. Listening past first impressions, however, one discovers unexpected layeredness and originality that make for much more than your usual disposable thrash fare. The main groove in Upside Down
, for instance, may sound like cloned Pantera at first, but the added licks, riffs and breaks make up a composition with a character all of its own. Psyop
is a kickass track. Blistering leads throughout. It’s a different ‘brand’ of Toxik, but the talent remains undeniable. Drummer Jim DeMaria and bassist Shane Boulos put down a more than solid performance. And the lyrics, here as well as on In Humanity
, remain as political as ever. The closing instrumental Dreaming In Chrome
is a beautiful miniature prog fusion track. As a whole, Breaking Class
definitely profits from the added tracks (Anthem
, Upside Down
, Dreaming In Chrome
): the package is more balanced, the flow is more organic.
The first two thirds of the box set will not prepare you for Works III: Kinetic Closure
, which is as different from Works I
as those two are from each other. Featuring the current lineup of the band (Christian on guitars, Boulos on bass, DeMaria on drums) with fresh blood Ron Iglesias on vocal duties, the disc presents a live in studio recording of 8 legacy tracks from World Circus
and Think This
, with added new(er) tracks Kinetic Closure
and No Rest For The Wicked
. Production and processing, according to the accompanying note, were kept to a minimum, with 95% of all performances being first takes, bringing ‘the Toxik 2017/18 lineup as raw as we can be using modern recording equipment.’ I am prompted to say, with only the slightest of hesitations, that this disc is amazing. Every track consistently showcases a band that is cohesive, reinvigorated, inspired, and phenomenally tight. The instrumental performance is impressive throughout, the vocals are … well, wow at several points, stellar on the legacy tracks. This is a guy that should stay in the band. (Iglesias, incidentally, is also an accomplished tech thrash guitarist.) And this is a band that definitely sounds ready for more.
In sum, to not bring out this box set, or any of its individual parts, was clearly not an option – not for the band, nor for its fans, nor for metal. In three stages, it conveys the comforting feeling that Toxik is back and, in fact, has never been gone.