Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Skeletonwitch - Serpents Unleashed

Just two years after their previous record, Skeletonwitch is already back with a new album. As much of a cardinal sin as this is to admit, I’ve never really paid much attention to Skeletonwitch. In fact, “Serpents Unleashed” marks the first full record of theirs that I’ve listened to, and it’s pretty much exactly what I expected. For the most part, the album is filled with scorching black metal vocals, thrashy riffs, and predictably clever melodies. The only major moment of variation is in the opening of the first track, “Serpents Unleashed”. This song begins with a punk-influenced drumbeat, not unlike what you’d expect from the new Toxic Holocaust record. It isn’t long, however, until Skeletonwitch returns with their signature sound.

This might come as a surprise to some, but to me, this sounds more like a melodic death metal record with black metal vocals than a thrash one. “Beneath Dead Leaves” is among the best examples (alongside "Unending, Everliving"); the melody is rampant in the song, yet it never truly delivers the aggression that a thrash band would. Even the guitar solo in this track is happy and upbeat, rather than erratic and out of control. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, but it does more justice to Skeletonwitch’s sound to call them melodic death metal than thrash. Another reason why I like this term for the band is that they incorporate a wide variety of influences from extreme metal. As already mentioned, the vocals make no effort to deviate from the style pioneered by the Norwegian black metal bands. The drums take cue from all extreme metal genres, but primarily deliver persistent double bass, with the occasional blast beat section. Even the guitars use a wide variety of techniques; the thrash riffs that the band is known for obviously exist on “Serpents Unleashed”, but there are an overriding number of melodic tremolo picked riffs that would not be uncommon in some melodeath or even more atmospheric black metal. In fact, it is these distinctive moods that show Skeletonwitch at their best; they drive the music beyond providing exactly what you’d expect, and instead create moments of grandeur. 

Where I struggle with “Serpents Unleashed”, and Skeletonwitch in general is that it feels too commercial. I find it ironic that bands like Dragonforce are called out for pandering to the crowd when this is exactly what I feel Skeletonwitch does. It’s all so predictable. The “true” crowd loves black metal, and has somewhat of a negative affinity for newer thrash, but combining all of the elements that Skeletonwitch does makes for an extremely attractive package to that crowd. So while the band doesn’t necessarily offend with their music, they don’t do anything that sounds particularly authentic. This isn’t to say the guys aren’t passionate about their music, but it all seems very contrived to me. If you can get past this issue, however, “Serpents Unleashed” is a commendable release. It definitely has all of the elements of a solid record, and should please fans of the band.

Be sure to check out and like Skeletonwitch on Facebook!

"Beneath Dead Leaves"
"Unending, Everliving"

Final Rating
3.6/5 or 72%. 

Written by Scott 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Untimely Demise - Systematic Eradication

Untimely Demise hails from Canada and joins the legions of awesome thrash bands that are now signed to Italian label Punishment 18 Records. “Systematic Eradication” marks their sophomore record, and is a blueprint for creating thrash that is sure to turn some heads. Starting with the obvious, the cover art, this is one of Ed Repka’s stronger showings in recent years. With that essential element secured, the band brought in Glen Drover (ex-Megadeth) to handle the production, and he did a stellar job. The guitars are truly massive, and when they utilize simpler riffs, it becomes immediately clear how perfect of a crunch they have. The other instruments generally compliment the guitars, as they are the highlight on “Systematic Eradication”.

This is most evident with the opening track, “Spiritual Embezzlement”, which really displays everything that Untimely Demise is about. It begins with an exceptionally technical riff. Fear not, however, as this riff isn’t about showing off the skill of the guitarists (that would come a few seconds later when the first guitar solo kicks in), but rather, about creating something a little bit different that will still get your head banging. These types of technical riffs are characteristic of the record as a whole (the opening riff to "A Warrior's Blood" is perhaps the most technical on the record, but is still quite brutal), but there is still plenty of room for more melodic simpler stuff. The second song, “The Last Guildsman” is a testament to this fact, as it opens with melodious leads, which also show up underneath the chorus. This second track also shows some vocal variation. For the most part, Matt Cuthbertson’s vocals are a harsh, raspy growl, like some strange amalgamation of thrash, death, and black metal vocals. In the chorus of “The Last Guildsman”, however, he shows that he can actually use this deranged voice to sing with more range. To really create an even more potent record, Untimely Demise decided to really go all out in adding guitar solos to the record. They show up often on most tracks, and not always in the spots you might expect them to be. These solos add to the intensity of the album because they’re always fast, and they always hit hard. 

Aside from the first couple of tracks, none of the others stand out in the same way. This is not to say that these tracks are any weaker than the first two; they just don’t have the same focus on staying power. "Navigator's Choice" and "A Warrior's Blood" for example, both have wicked mellow sections in the middle, which are driven by soloing, but those moments mainly stand out for their contrast to the remainder of the record. Nonetheless, at only 34 minutes, the record as a whole ends fairly quickly, so there is never a moment of filler, nor a second that isn’t completely awesome. If you are tired of predictable thrash records, “Systematic Eradication” should please you. It goes above and beyond what most bands in the style are currently doing in terms of unique songwriting. At the very least, this is a record you need to hear simply for its relentless ability to produce vengeful thrashing riffs.

Be sure to check out and like Untimely Demise on Facebook!

"Spiritual Embezzlement"
"The Last Guildsman"
"A Warrior's Blood"

Final Rating
4.2/5 or 84%. 

Written by Scott 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Death Angel - The Dream Calls For Blood

Since their reunion over a decade ago, Death Angel has been among the most consistent thrash bands around. All three of their recent albums feature a few particularly killer thrash tracks, along with some more modernisms in the remaining simpler songs. By the time “The Dream Calls For Blood” came around, I was pretty sure of what I was going to get. And though I love recent Death Angel, luckily for me, I was wrong. “The Dream Calls For Blood” truly is the fastest, heaviest, and most insane Death Angel album to date (including “The Ultra-Violence").

The opener, “Left For Dead” sets the tone for the album. It is driven by a speedy thrash riff, and never really lets up. This track is actually a bit of a head-scratcher as an opener. The chorus feels disjointed and doesn’t really click on first listen. Given the strength of the remaining album, I’m still a bit thrown off by this beginning the record, but rest assured that after a few listens, “Left For Dead” will become a favourite. After the opener, the album moves into the three strongest songs. “Son of the Morning” opens with an old-school Mark Osegueda scream that rivals anything he does live or on the first record. These shrieks are no longer few and far between, and compliment Death Angel's regained aggression. Once again, these songs all move at high-speed with no sign of relenting. “The Dream Calls For Blood” is the most potent of the three, with the catchiest of choruses, and a slower galloping riff in the bridge that creates a solid groove. Perhaps what is most impressive is the guitar work Rob Cavestany. He’s always been a respectable shredder, but on “The Dream Calls For Blood”, he rarely restricts himself to a single solo per song. The title track is the best example of this, but it is apparent all over the record. Another surprise is in the quality of the bass playing. Something about thrash in 2013 is really inspiring all of these bass players to turn it up and find a groove. The aforementioned galloping riff in the title track shows Damien Sisson wandering into the listener’s ear with a melody of his own. He generally is not difficult to hear, and makes more than a few satisfying appearances over the course of the record. 

After a vicious start to the record, you would expect things to slow down, and they do, but only briefly. “Succubus” is a pummeling assault of heavy riffs in a more mid-tempo fashion, similar to what Death Angel has been doing on a lot of the three prior albums. Side 2 of the album is largely similar to the first side, except it is not quite as strong. The fourth song that was available prior to the release date, “Caster of Shame”, is the highlight of this half of the album. Regardless, there are no duds on the record, and you’ll be enjoying it throughout. It is amazing that Death Angel has managed to reinvent and revitalize themselves at this stage of their career. If you haven’t followed Death Angel since the first album, now is the time to give them another shot!

Be sure to check out and like Death Angel  on Facebook!

"Son of the Morning"
"The Dream Calls For Blood"

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Traitor - Thrash Command

Given Germany’s rich thrash history, it’s really surprising that they haven’t been able to pump out new bands all that quickly. While there are certainly new good thrash bands from Germany, it’s much more difficult to list them off compared to countries like the US and the UK. In fact, Traitor is one of the first I’ve come across. Released in 2012 (and re-released in 2013 by Stormspell Records), “Thrash Command” is the band’s debut full-length, and is sure to satisfy fans of Bay Area Thrash.

The title track of this record is the opener, and it does a mostly solid job of summing up the rest of the record: fast, predictable riffs that are contrasted with more melodic slower moments. The vocals were a bit of a surprise considering they’re from Germany. You would expect them to be quite brutal, but vocalist Andreas Mozer is using a cleaner voice. He is by no means a melodic singer, but he mostly uses a fairly high register for standard thrash. Then, the very next song, “Brutal Exorcism” kicks in, and Mozer is able to deliver the vicious sounds that Mille Petrozza and Tom Angelripper used to pull off. He tends to switch between these two sounds almost at will, and it works so well that you won’t even notice he has changed his style. The riffs are generally pretty similar throughout: they take influence from bands like Exodus, Testament and Metallica. There are also hints of Slayer in some of the faster songs (the main riff of “Merciless Hate” manages to be particularly evil despite its breakneck tempo). With that said, most of the riffs tend to involve relentless muted downpicking with ever changing power chords and accented notes. A major highlight on “Thrash Command” is the production. This is because the bass is audible throughout almost every second of the record, and the low-end really increases the heaviness of the often-used chugging riffs. On the speedier riffs, however, having a louder bass guitar allows the guitars to use a higher register. 

Perhaps where “Thrash Command” won’t wow you is in the fairly foreseeable songwriting. This is nothing you haven’t heard before, nor is it something that hasn’t been better executed by other young new bands. It is by no means monotonous like other releases, and is actually very easy to listen to and come back to. Unfortunately, however, there are not quite as many highlights as I had hoped for. There is the soul-crushing “Virtual Tormentor”, where Mozer commands you to “tell [him] your secrets” with conviction. Likewise, “F.U.A.D.” (I think you can figure out what that stands for) is a truly hate-filled experience. The only real surprise on this album came in "Temples of Doom" where a completely old-school heavy metal guitar solo takes over the song. After that moment, however, it's back to thrashing! When all is said and done, “Thrash Command” leaves you with a 41-minute period where you can headbang to your hearts content, just don’t expect this record to hold up next to “Bonded By Blood” or “The New Order”.

Be sure to check out and add Traitor on Facebook!

"Thrash Command"
"Merciless Hate"
"Virtual Tormentor"

Final Rating
3.7/5 or 74%. 

Written by Scott