Monday 3 June 2024

Evildead - Toxic Grace (2024)

Country: USA
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 4/10
Release Date: 24 May 2024
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I liked United States of Anarchy, Evildead's comeback album in 2020, and actively talked up certain aspects that I'll quote right now: "it's full of unashamedly old school fast and heavy thrash" and "a great mix of technical proficiency, angry attitude and raw speed, just how I like it". The reason I'm bringing that up now is because I can't remotely say the same things about this follow-up, a fourth album overall for the Los Angeles thrashers, and that's highly disappointing.

It takes a little while to realise how disappointing but, the longer the album runs on, the more we can't avoid the conclusion that Evildead have seriously lost their way this time out. I hope they can correct course for their next album, because it shouldn't be a particularly difficult task. They were in fine fettle four years ago. What's changed since then?

Initially, it's not too bad. F.A.F.O. kicks off well, with a capable intro suggesting an imminent ramp up to fast thrash speeds but it never quite gets there. It keeps hinting that it will for quite a while, but we gradually realise that it's content to just chug along while Phil Flores tries to sound angry without the same level of effort he put into the previous album. Reverie starts out fast but calms down and Flores shifts into an almost hip hop vocal approach. He's not rapping per se, but he spits bars here, punctuating their last words, as often as he spits out lyrics.

Neither of these are bad tracks, but neither is what it could be, so we're still hopeful at this point and I remained hopeful even after a chugger like Raising Fresh Hell that's nothing but filler three tracks in with a poor chorus. There's some speed in Stupid on Parade, but only very briefly, even if drummer Rob Alaniz doesn't quite get the memo, and its brevity sparks a sinking feeling that only grows with the album, pausing only temporarily in Subjugated Souls during the first of the album's two real examples of excellent fast thrash that hurls out energy. The second arrives at the end of Fear Porn nine tracks in, with only a cover still to come at that point.

I talk a lot about songs on albums that I merely like on a first listen but appreciate more and more each further time through. These growers tend to sound good but carry depth that comes clearer in repeat listens and often those become my favourite songs on those albums. I have to say Stupid on Parade is the antithesis of that. I didn't like it on a first listen, with its chugging tedium and its manipulated vocals, but repeat listens make me realise just how bad it is. That's not a good thing. Neither is not wanting to listen to it again after three times through.

And so it goes. Subjugated Souls may be the best song on the album, musically speaking, but it's a rather awkward song lyrically. Now, Evildead have never been the best lyricists and even the prior album was hardly impressive from that standpoint, its songs hurling vitriol at all the usual thrash suspects like politics and religion. I can get past that for the most part, but this one feels like it's punching down instead of up, a product of old men bitching about a younger generation. That it's got some fair points to make and it's better lyrically crafted than the previous few songs doesn't make it feel any less cringeworthy.

So there's a delicate and tasty intro to Bathe in Fire? We know that Juan Garcia is a killer guitarist even if he doesn't try particularly hard this time out. The guitar solo on this song is easily its best aspect, because it's another mid-tempo chugger with an even more lazy Flores vocal delivery. He speaks some of these lyrics, chants others and adds more post-production manipulation. This was the point where the sinking feeling stuck. World ov Rats hints at energy with its opening riff and bassline. Fear Porn has that second blistering section that feels great until we realise how little the album has left to go. Poetic Omen does nothing. None of them are highlights, though.

In fact, there are no real highlights. I'd plump for Subjugated Souls musically, but the lyrics don't help its case. That probably leaves F.A.F.O. as the best original song, which it really shouldn't be, and the best song the cover that wraps things up. It's The Death & Resurrection Show, taken from Killing Joke's self-titled 2003 album, and I rather dig it, but it doesn't feel like it belongs anywhere on this album. Evildead covered Planet Claire by the B-52s on United States of Anarchy, so maybe they ought to release an unusual covers album. I'd be up for that.

How things change over such a brief period. Four years ago, I was glad to see Evildead back and I praised their vitriol and vitality. They felt rejuvenated and ready to play a part in the burgeoning thrash scene. Today, I'm finding the best of their new material average and the worst thoroughly disappointing, and thinking about them as a covers band. That's not a good career trajectory.

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