For the old guard of thrash metal, the 5th album almost always meant one of two things: (1) it was their final truly great thrash release (Kreator, Overkill, Slayer, etc.), or (2) it was an album of serious transition that wasn’t necessarily terrible, but lacked what made their earlier work great (Metallica, Megadeth). For this reason, it is interesting that some of the younger bands have now also reached this point to see if they will follow a similar path. Warbringer already stands alone at the top of the modern thrash metal world, as none of their peers have put out as many consistently great records as they have. Though their previous record showed some slight experimentation, “Woe To The Vanquished” shows that Warbringer’s 5th record is more in line with the first of the two paths outline above.
Make no mistake, this album thrashes hard. There isn’t a single element of compromise, and fans of any of the band’s earlier works will enjoy this record. It isn’t as raw as “War Without End”, nor as diverse as “IV: Empires Collapse”, but “Woe To The Vanquished” it a constant blast to the head of aggression and energy. Tracks like the speedy “Shellfire” and especially the death metal-esque “Divinity of Flesh” offer up rapid-fire vocals atop riffs that make Slayer sound lethargic. The opener, “Silhouettes”, doesn’t move at full speed for its entire playtime, but when it does break out into faster tempos in the chorus, it ranks amongst the most ripping moments of the record.
As great as it is that “Woe To The Vanquished” is a whiplash-inducing record, the real key to its success is the band’s strong songwriting. Warbringer has always been about writing a catchy song, and on “Remain Violent”, they achieve that better than most of their peers have ever done. This song shows that you can actually play mid-paced thrash, while having groove. Most bands fail at pulling this off, but Warbringer‘s groove comes from the drums rather than the guitars, which is why this song still feels potent, even if Carlos Cruz isn’t blasting away. This song is built around a catchy thrash riff and John Kevill’s spitfire vocals, along with some gang vocals in the chorus. There really isn’t a better combination in this style of music, which is why this is a standout track on the record.
The progressive flairs that occasionally marked the last record haven’t disappeared altogether, but instead have been scaled back. In general, the band’s only attempts to move away from thrash are when they use clean or acoustic guitars. In the case of songs like the title track or "Spectral Asylum", they are integrated perfectly into the music, to the point where they are simply an extra layer atop the thrashing madness. The 11-minute epic “When The Guns Fell Silent” takes a slightly different approach, opting for a more atmospheric sound driven by letting dissonant chords ring out.
“Woe To The Vanquished” is an album that lacks any obvious faults. At 8 tracks, it is a swift listen that has no filler. Even a more plodding track like “Spectral Asylum” manages to have enough interesting moments to ensure you never lose interesting. All 5 of the musicians on this record are so talented that they can overcome any occasional subpar moment. Cruz and Kevill are hands-down the best at their craft in the modern thrash world; bassist Jessie Sanchez has made the low-end relevant on a Warbringer record for the first time since “Waking Into Nightmares” (seriously, he has tons of great bass lines all over this record), and nothing really needs to be said about the two guitarists on this record given how many top-tier riffs they unleash. Ultimately, “Woe To The Vanquished” outdoes most of Warbringer’s already stellar catalogue, and probably ranks second behind only the insurmountable “Waking Into Nightmares” as the band’s best effort. We might only be three months into 2017, but “Woe To The Vanquished” is likely to top many thrashers’ year-end lists!
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"Divinity of Flesh"
4.8/5 or 96%.
Written by Scott