OK, there are some interesting ties here, not all of which I was aware of until now. Let's unravel from a point in June 1985 when Skeptics Apocalypse came out, one of my favourite albums of all time. It's the debut of an LA speed metal band called Agent Steel, who were led by a singer called John Cyriis. Think of Judas Priest playing faster than they did on Painkiller! The guitarist on that album, and its follow up, was Juan Garcia, who formed thrash outfit Evildead on leaving Agent Steel. They released a pair of strong albums around the turn of the eighties into the nineties and then vanished.
But hey, both these bands are suddenly back with new product and I couldn't be happier. Well, I could, because the Agent Steel single that I've heard doesn't sound anywhere near as effective as this album does. Hopefully their own album, due next year, will.
Anyway, the oddest tie is felt on a few songs here, especially Without a Cause, with its Megadeth riffs and its crossover Billy Milano style vocals. This one especially conjured up an alternate reality S.O.D. on the left coast which is now stuck in my brain! Garcia never played for Megadeth, but I am stunned to discover that Cyriis apparently did, albeit very briefly in 1983. In fact, he formed Agent Steel after Dave Mustaine fired him from Megadeth. You learn something every day!
I like this album a lot partly because it's done really well and partly because it's full of unashamedly old school fast and heavy thrash. So much of what I hear nowadays is mid-paced thrash, whether it's a technical band or not. This rarely slows down that far and, when it does, it's not for long. Word of God is about as slow as this one gets, the lounge intro to No Difference, complete with fingersnaps, aside, and it's still faster than most of the songs on a few thrash albums I've reviewed this year.
One reason for that may be because everyone involved is old school. The most recent addition to the band is Karlos Medina, who joined on bass in 1990. The only reason this isn't exactly the same line-up that recorded The Underworld in 1991 is because guitarist Albert Gonzalez had left the year before. He did come back for both reformations. In fact, everyone here was with the band at some point before it split up in 1995 and everyone here came back in 2016, whether they did in 2008 or not.
Another reason is that these folk seem angry. The lyrics are political, though not party political. They clearly despise Donald Trump, because it's hardly rocket science to figure out who lyrics like these are about on Napoleon Complex: "You're an American Mussolini, can't accept a free society [...] So I guess we'll all just pretend to make America great again." However, he isn't the only target. The Descending is more equal opportunity vitriol: "Every four years, rise of evil: propaganda, deceit betrayal." They don't mention Joe Biden by name either, but I'm pretty sure I know "the corporate whore and the bad hombre."
Just in case we think this is entirely about politics ("Left wingers, right wingers, all up in ya trying to keep their hidden agenda"), there are songs here about organised religion, unchecked capitalism, the rape of the environment, American imperialism, you name it. If you look at the cover, both S's in the album title are dollar signs, like Ludichrist used to do with their name. I think there's near universal agreement that 2020 has sucked royally, but if all the negativity, insanity and polarisation triggers a return of old school fast angry thrash bands, then it's not all bad in my book.
I wonder if the consistent vitriol that Phil Flores hurls out for nine tracks is why Evildead decided to end on what looks like a bizarre cover. Sure, there are a lot of those out there right now (Death Angel doing Under Pressure, Sepultura doing Tainted Love, even Violence doing California Über Alles). Not one of those comes close to Evildead's cover of the B-52's Planet Claire, which chugs along with style (and sounds oddly like the Spy Hunter theme for a while). When we all have the COVID vaccine and we can go to gigs again, I look forward to joining the pit for this one when Evildead head east on I-10 to inevitably play the Phoenix area.
The downside on this album is production, because this is a little muddy and, if I turn it up to where I want it, there's a little distortion that shouldn't be here, but damn, I've missed those chugging intros and Juan Garcia/Albert Gonzales guitar blitzkriegs. I don't remember Phil Flores sounding this angry but he may well have done and I'll happily pull out those old albums to find out. However he sounded back then, though, he sounds exactly right for 2020. This is a great mix of technical proficiency, angry attitude and raw speed, just how I like it.I hadn't realised how much I'd missed those other guys. Sure, I've enjoyed Testament and Death Angel and whoever else stuck around, but there were so many other west coast Californian thrash bands who didn't and there seems to be a real trend going on. Heathen are back and blistering. Evildead are back and angry. Violence are back. Agent Steel are back. Forbidden aren't, but maybe I should start putting together a wants list. And let's see another generation picking up from these guys, a New Wave of Bay Area Thrash. That's all I want for Christmas, Santa. I've been a good boy. Honest.