To follow last year's Leprous album, which continues their move far from metal, I threw on a Kiwi thrash album, or least what I thought was a Kiwi thrash album, the debut from Leave the Dead. It actually plays deeper than that because, while the thoroughly reliable backing band feel like they want to play thrash and do, it's at the midpace and slower, Morgz Timu often seems to be singing for a groove metal band. He's usually halfway between shouty groove vocals and more grounded thrash ones, but he moves either way as needed.
Long term readers know that I prefer thrash to groove and I prefer my thrash on the fast side, but I'm not averse to slower thrash or to groove. Leave the Dead are an interesting mixture of styles, but what really sells them to me is their engine room, which seems to me like an ultimate session band. The tone is pristine and they're just always on, whether the song wants them to riff or chug or get bouncy all of a sudden for a groove section or drop away for an interesting solo. The band is always at its best when that engine room is fuelled up and in full motion.
While songs like the title track take them a lot further into groove metal, the default is thrash at the mid-tempo with slower sections that are heavy metal pure and simple. In slower sections, like the end of the that title track, the band that leapt to mind for comparison is Toranaga. They were always on too and they shifted from riff to riff to riff so seamlessly that I'd get lost in them and, if Mark Duffy hadn't been such an emphatic frontman, I'd have forgotten he was there. I kind of did that with Morgz Timu here, because these chugging riffs own the album. The other name that I'd throw out is Death Angel, especially in faster sections, again because of the reliable way in which those riffs flow thick and fast. Leave the Dead have definitely heard The Ultra-Violence.
All that kicks in with the opener, Everyone is Dead, and just never quits. It works whatever they're doing, whether it's something as overtly simple as AOW or as inventive as Thorns. AOW has such a simple riff, that gets even simpler as it goes, that I surely must have heard it before, and there's nothing fancy to be found in the song at all, but that chug is just as engaging as on anything else here. The delightful riff on Thorns is far from complex either, but it's magnetic and solid as a rock. The faster drums from Colin Rennie underline it really well too.
And I really should call out these musicians for special mention, especially given that this is a first album and, at least according to Metal Archives, none of them have recorded for anyone else. I'm thinking we should start at the back with Rennie, who's as reliable a drummer as I've heard in the past few years and one who does a surprising amount of not just keeping the beat here. I may not be a huge fan of Morgz Timu's groove-infused vocals, but I love his basswork. He's right there with the drums throughout and he gets a few moments of his own on songs like Destroyed by the Sun.
That leaves two guitarists, Rob Black and James Miles, who are perfectly fine whenever they play a solo or step up to take a lead role, but they both just own rhythm. Arrival begins with a riff duel between the two, each speaker taking its side, and it underlines how much I'd happily sit back and just listen to them doing that, for extended periods of time. Imagine a Metallica that never hired Kirk Hammett away from Exodus but cloned James Hetfield to replace Dave Mustaine instead. I'd think, with groove vocals and more reliable drumming, they might sound like this. OK, they'd be a bit faster, but that's a preference thing.
And yeah, I'd like to hear Leave the Dead play faster, but I'm not going to complain about how well they play at the speed they do. They do this insanely well and I became a confirmed fan after only a few songs. A few more times through the album and I'm totally on board with whatever style the gods deem theirs. I'm just thinking of a song like Diamond Head's cover of No Remorse. It was at the mid-tempo for much of the song and it sounded great, riff moving into riff just like every song on this album. I adore that cover and, vocals aside, it's a solid comparison to what Leave the Dead do, except for one thing. The one missing tool in their toolbox is what happens in the final ninety seconds. And, if they add that into their sound, even only occasionally, they'll become unstoppable.