Monday 26 December 2022

Xentrix - Seven Words (2022)

Country: USA
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 11 Nov 2022
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As an old school Xentrix fan, I liked their 2019 comeback album, Bury the Pain, their first in twenty-three years, but it didn't blow me away the way I hoped it would. The technical thrash I remember from the band's early days was there and performed very capably but the attitude wasn't always, even if it built well across the album as a whole. This second album since their second reformation in 2013 feels like a stronger version of Bury the Pain, doing much of the same thing in much of the same way but doing it consistently a little better.

It starts out well with Behind the Walls of Treachery, but it's a patient piece that runs six minutes. Seven Words ups the tempo and is done in four. Both do what they do well, but I'll always go for the latter because thrash is fundamentally about energy and, the faster a band plays, the more of it is released to us and the more we can throw back at the band in a perfect feedback loop. Behind the Walls of Treachery is at its best during the second half solo, when it ramps up for a while, but it's a strong mid-pace track. Seven Words is at its best when its playing.

There's a lot of mid tempo chugging here. They do it very well, perhaps most notably on Everybody Loves You When You're Dead, but just like Warbringer, who seem to be the chuggers of choice to a growing audience of thrashers, I wanted them to speed up. Notably, the moment they speed up on that song is the moment it ends and Reckless with a Smile kicks in. That's more like it, my grateful neck tells me. Even when the guitars interrupt their riffing for the vocals, the bass takes over as a dynamic force. Now, even this one doesn't stay fast paced and it suffers because of it but it's much better at the mid-pace than the songs that never leave it, because it can ramp back up again.

When they're fast, Xentrix remind me of Testament. They've always had a Bay Area sound to them and songs like the title track or My War hammer that point home. Kristian Havard's lead guitar is the highlight for me throughout, but new fish Jay Walsh backs him up wonderfully on rhythm. The riffing is excellent here, whether it's a chug or something more overt, and the tone during solos is delicious. Walsh is also the band's vocalist, as original singer/guitarist Chris Astley left in 2017, but I see that he'll rejoin the band for their upcoming European tour as part of a dream line-up with a few other eighties legends, Violence, Whiplash and Artillery. Walsh hasn't left, but is taking time out while his partner has a baby.

When they're not that fast, I hear a Toranaga vibe. This is always thrash rather than power metal, regardless of the pace, but Walsh, who has sung for heavy, groove and thrash metal bands, has an impactful clean delivery that reminds me of Mark Duffy. It's a mixture of power and grit that has strength at its core and works really well with the aggression behind him, especially in the slower tracks, like Everybody Loves You When You're Dead. I'm particularly appreciative that he takes an old school heavy metal approach here, because it always plays better in a thrash framework to me than the more aggressive Phil Anselmo approach that became the default for many thrash bands once Pantera heavied up and became huge.

I should also call out the drums. While Havard has been with the band ever since it was founded as Sweet Vengeance in 1984, Dennis Gasser has been consistently there alongside him since 1986, two years before they took on Xentrix as their new name. He's as solid as a rock here and, even if those guitars speak to me most, it's the combination of Walsh's voice and Gasser's drums that serves as the heartbeat of this band nowadays. The guitars and bass, which prowls wonderfully on Reckless with a Smile, are enhancement layers.

And so this is Xentrix doing what they did last time out but better. I don't think it's enough better to warrant a higher rating, but it's a step up on an already good start to a new incarnation and I'd love to see them on that European tour. Now, let's see if their next album in a few more years will step them up again towards the levels that Exodus and Flotsam and Jetsam are working at lately.

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