Kirk Hammett. Gary Holt. Chuck Billy. With names such as the above proliferating the scene, one would be hard-pressed to offer a rival location acting as such a magnet for talent as the Bay Area. Three decades later, it is mind-boggling when contemplating the impact the Bay Area scene has had on Heavy Metal in total. Combining the imagery and bombast of Heavy Metal, particularly as established by Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and NWOBHM legends like Saxon and Diamondhead with the violent aggression perpetuated by Punk as well as what would later become Hardcore like Black Flag and G.B.H., Thrash took things to the next level. A wealth of adrenaline-fueled sweat manufactured this classic sound that became the forebearer to what later bloomed into the many different arches of Extreme Metal that exist presently.
While some regard Death Angel as latecomers to the scene, this is actually not the case. The band originally formed in 1982 as Dark Theory before settling on their present moniker soon thereafter. It is because there was five years before the band would sign to Geffen for their debut, The Ultra-Violence that they seem to be left out by some as originators. Those five years, though, allowed the band to intensely train their mettle and fine-tune both their songwriting and performance skills as it was one of the most impressive Metal debuts to be released. After the band broke up in the 1990s, it was a show for Chuck Billy’s cancer benefit in 2001 that relit the torch convincing them that they needed the music – and it needed them.
Humanicide is now out on Nuclear Blast records. It is the band’s sixth full-length since reuniting back in 2001, and is easily one of the most anticipated albums to drop this year. All eyes are on these San Franciscans hoping they will extend the vitality of the movement and release something as equally devastating as 2016’s The Evil Divide.
The title track sets things off beginning with an overtly anthemic dual guitar attack of harmonies. Soon, tough, there erupts a furiously-played classic Thrash riff that then graduates to a solid groove. Two minutes into the song, there is already a brutal display of riffs. At the 3:30 mark, the band launches into a heavily syncopated flurry of double-picking and triplets. What is most interesting is the role of the bass during what could have been just another breakdown. While maintaining the riff, it manages to weave in and out providing a further exposition of intent. The band could not have written or selected a more appropriate opening track to set the tone of the record.
“Divine Defector” follows and ups the intensity. The tempo is increased and there is a general darker feel throughout. Single notes and blast beats echo something in close relation to Black Metal, but at the 1:30 mark, the band transition to a bombastic exercise of tediously-played, palm-muted riffs. After a breakdown and solo section, the original formula is returned to. After such a resoundingly intense one-two punch opening for the record, worry unavoidably set in initially that the band may have blown their momentum out early with the rest of the album to suffer. Nothing, however, could be farther from the truth.
When listening to the album fully, it manages to seep into the subconscious and embed itself therein. The songwriting is memorable and shows a band that is fully in their stride. “I Came for Blood,” the fourth track with its classic banger approach and the gang vocals and solid groove of seventh track, “the Pack” solidify this statement. The fifth track, “Immortal Behated,” starts off with a ballad type of fell before graduating to a mid-paced affair that is probably the catchiest of the songs contained within. One would be in quite the dilemma to be forced the name another band with such a storied legacy that is writing song of this caliber in this day and age.
Perhaps the larger point to be made is that Death Angel are not subsisting on the fumes of past glories alone. Instead, the band is clearly writing to their fullest potential in the effort to showcase what Thrash in the 21st century should sound like. Instrumentally, all the elements succeed – and then some. Rhythm guitars are chunky with the feeling of a constant riff fest being celebrated and the solos are challenging sans overindulgence. This is propelled by a more-than-solid rhythm section of pulverizing percussion and impressive over-the-top bass licks. Mark Osequeda’s vocals still gleam with youthful energy while showcasing the rare talent of one who can go from aggressive brutality at one moment to poignantly memorable classic Metal vocals the next. This album has remained in a steady rotation since receiving it and there is still no sign of it wearing out its welcome. Each year needs an album that slams with the most crushing riffs and becomes that go-to album for adrenaline. Humanicide is without doubt that album for 2019.