While the world seems to have forgotten the existence of Hydra Vein, late and maybe unlamented, I certainly remember them and I'm very happy to see them back. I loved their debut album, with its tonguetwisting name, Rather Death Than False of Faith, just as much as I didn't love its production, an unimpressive job in 1988 and an annoyingly warped one in 2022. Tommy Vance played Rabid on the Friday Rock Show at least twice, once on a show with the debut of a Metal Messiah session, which highlighted just how underrated the British thrash scene was at that time.
Before listening to this, which is their third album and their first in thirty-three years, I went back to that debut and realise now how they sat somewhere between Sabbat and Slayer, which I doubt I acknowledged at the time. I just liked it a lot. They don't sound like that now, because the original vocalist Mike Keen, who spat out lyrics like Martin Walkyier, took his own life in 2002, and the new singer, James Manley-Bird, has a very different approach, delivering his clean vocals in a rhythmic manner, like a gruffer version of Toranaga's Mark Duffy but even more down to earth and working-class, regardless of his double-barrelled surname.
He's does the job he's tasked to do, but in a different and less characteristic way than Keen. That's not a bad thing but it takes some identifiability away from Hydra Vein. It doesn't affect the sound of the band otherwise, because the faster songs here rip in much the same way that they used to. However, there is a shift in sound because the faster songs aren't all of them, which wouldn't have been the case in 1988. In fact, we have to wait until Age of Plague and Blood Eagle Dawn for what I wanted to hear from moment one and they end the first side and begin the second.
Before that point, we we get a slower Hydra Vein, albeit not a slow one. Songs such as Eradication Zone and Twilight are mid-tempo chuggers, an approach that does make plenty of sense on Mano a Mano because of its subject matter, which revolves around two fighters slugging it out. There's a doom flavour to points on Eradication Zone, which isn't taken much further. Unlamented and Blue Lamp are a little faster, overt nods to that Toranaga sound, enough so that I wondered if the title track was a cover of a song I hadn't heard. The opener, Does the End Justify the Means?, is a little faster again, even though it isn't quite traditional barrelling pace for Hydra Vein.
And that's what I remember most from them. They never advanced the genre in any way, but they played it incredibly well and the reason that people like me always made sure we got to gigs when the doors opened was because of bands like them, who were the ultra-reliable British support for the big name headliners who had flown over from the States or maybe Germany. History still sees the British thrash scene as an afterthought behind the San Francisco Bay Area, Germany and New York/New Jersey. That may hold true if we're only talking about breakthrough bands, because we had fewer of those, but it doesn't reflect the quality of that level of British talent.
Maybe one day one of those lesser known bands will emerge afresh in the new millennium with an album that taps into the cultural fabric of the nation and promptly shines a light on an underrated and underheard era in British music. This isn't that album, before you ask, but it's a solid return to the studio for a band I never expected to hear from again and, at its best, with that one two punch of Age of Plague and Blood Eagle Dawn, it brought back a lot of old stagediving memories. Even if the rest of the album doesn't hold up in comparison to Rather Death, the production is light years ahead and the band demonstrate that they still have it.
Well, technically a third of the line-up still has it because there are a lot of new fish here. The two founder members who return are Damon Maddison and Danny Ranger. Maddison wasn't just the bassist in the band on all three of their albums—somehow I don't recall 1989's After the Dream at all, which I'll happily rectify—he also wrote most of them, at least as far as I can tell. Ranger was a guitarist on their debut, but he left before the follow-up. On both, there were two but, if I've read the credits right, there are three now, with Henry Pol and Jonas Voorspoels new arrivals in 2022, along with drummer John de Buitelaar. Manley-Bird joined with the reformation in 2019.
Welcome back, folks! It's good to see you back. This is a solid return and I'm looking forward to the next album already. Now I just need to time a trip back to Blighty while you're playing and I'll see you live. Or are you actually in the Netherlands nowadays, as your Bandcamp page suggests?