Style: Thrash Metal
Release Date: 24 Apr 2020
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Most of the thrash groups I belong to on Facebook abruptly stopped bickering last week to present a united front about how great the new Warbringer album happens to be. I was looking forward to it anyway but that added emphasis to the wait. And... well, I feel a little underwhelmed after all that hype. It is not the greatest thing since sliced bread. I listened through a few extra times just in case I'd missed an element of unadulterated genius, but no, it isn't the start of a new era in thrash either.
But hey, if the worst thing I can say about a record is that it doesn't live up to its unrealistic hype, then it's a damn good album. And this is really good stuff. It's thrash with a strong side of heavy/power metal in the vein of Metal Church. It's played clean and technical with pauses for effect, as needed. It's paced primarily at mid tempo with some faster sections, even if Carlos Cruz surprisingly holds back with his drums, suggesting that he wants to stay mid tempo throughout.
He convinces the band for most of the first half. The first four tracks all start out at a midpace and some, like The Black Hand Reaches Out, stay there throughout. That Metal Church vibe is notable in those early sections, often through the prominent bass of Chase Bryant and tasty riffs from Chase Becker and Adam Carroll. However, John Kevill's voice doesn't fit this slower, more elegant approach and I wonder if that's why this album didn't knock me out.
Kevill's voice pleads for the music to speed up and, when it does, he's the man for the job. He kicks the opener, Firepower Kills, into motion with a go scream and Unraveling, the first song to start fast, is where this becomes a special album for me. Unfortunately that's the fifth track and, while I did enjoy the first four, I'd have enjoyed them more if either the band had sped up to match Kevill's urgency or he'd sung cleaner to go with their approach. Either way would have worked.
Unraveling is a great example of the former. It's fast from the very outset and it gets faster, even Cruz getting in on that mindset. Here, the guitars are appropriately wild, with some great solos, and Kevill's voice just works like a vicious dream.
It's a rough and violent voice, taking hardcore shouts and shifting them to a metal scream somewhere between Schmier of Destruction and John Connelly of Nuclear Assault, with a dash of Martin Walkyier added in for good measure. I heard some Walkyier in Outer Reaches and a lot in Notre Dame (King of Fools) because of the theatricality. His influence is all over Glorious End, which sounds like Sabbat covering a Manowar song I've never heard before.
If Unraveling remains the best, fastest and most ruthless song here, which I have to believe generates a crazy pit when performed live, the album remains at a high level for the second half, even if the band don't always stay that fast. Kevill's vocals fit the theatrics of Heart of Darkness, screaming "the horror, the horror" into the void. The riffing on Outer Reaches is fabulous, especially when the bass joins in; it has a lot of early Metallica crunch to it. Notre Dame's shift into high gear is fantastic and there are some superb sections later too.
And Glorious End is indeed a glorious end, another strong song with an intro that sounds rather like the one to Metallica's Blackened played in reverse. It knows that it's glorious too, because it's right there in the guitar tone and the narration, not to mention the epic nature of the piece. It's a great way to wrap up an excellent album.
So, don't get me wrong, folks. I dug this a lot. I don't know Warbringer as well as I should, so I'll be revisiting their back catalogue, but this is a very welcome slab of modern American thrash, especially arriving hot on the heels of the latest Testament. However, it doesn't entirely grasp what the band do best and, a strong opener apart, takes quite a while to get moving. Now, let's get past the COVID lockdowns so I can see this band live!