I can’t speak for all of you (though you should just give me that damn permission slip), but at this point of the retro thrash revival, the lines between A, B and Z level bands seem pretty well-defined. Bonded by Blood was a never a top-tier act in my opinion, and I didn’t much care for their debut or Exiled From Earth. They’re clearly talented musicians, but their songs just never grabbed me and I always regarded their sound as overly generic. To be completely candid, I wasn’t too thrilled to hear their third effort either. But hey, I’m on the AMG payroll (that’s just an expression; we don’t get paid jack shit) and I have responsibilities and obligations, so I dutifully delved into The Aftermath. I’ll give credit where credit’s due; this is their best album and features their best playing and writing to date. They still rock their Exodus meets Forbidden Bay Area thrash style while sprinkling in some Anthrax, Vio-Lence and even oft forgotten Faith or Fear, but this time they’ve cleaned up some past issues, worked out some kinks and all that other refine-y stuff hungry bands do. While the end result doesn’t floor me, it’s clearly better than anything they ever did and quite technically proficient, professional and polished. What it still lacks however, is that special something that makes you pay attention to music and latch onto the ideas contained therein. It may be that Bonded by Blood is doomed to linger in the second tier of thrash, but goddamnit, they’re fighting to climb up the thrash ladder and Steel Druhm surely respects that.
Right off the bat, I’m gonna give out even more credit where it’s righteously due. They made some line up changes and the retooling really helped. Most importantly, losing Jose Barrales (aka “Aladdin”) in favor of Mauro Gonzales on vocals. It’s a BIG step in the right direction, since I found Jose’s vocals highly irritating, cringe-inducing and felt he made Baby Jesus cry (and held the band back). Mr. Mauro has a much less whiney, bitchy style and executes a typically raspy thrash metal shout, similar to Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de la Rocha with a bit of John Connelly (Nuclear Assault) mixed in. He may not be original, but he sounds respectable and doesn’t ruin the music around him. Further props go to the interesting segments they cram into otherwise generic-ish thrash numbers. For example, there’s a charming neo-jazzy solo/bass break at 2:08 of “I Can’t Hear You” and it adds some needed personality to the fairly mundane riffing and writing. “Shepherds of Rot” has a bit of old Annihilator influence in the riff-patterns and some tech-savvy solos that spice it up a bit. Similarly, the bass work and catchy, engaging solos buoy the title track (though the song still feels a tad boring).
Sadly, very few songs pop out as exceptional, or above average. While there’s sassy, interesting playing on most of the songs, the compositions themselves don’t fully click. “In a Wake” has a fair amount of quality bass and guitar play, but still manages to feel dull somehow. The same can be said for tracks like “Among the Vultures” and “Left Behind.” While some songs do rise above the rest and click, like “Crawling In the Shadows,” “Show No Fear” and “Restless Mind,” they’re too few to raise the overall score to “good” (though they’re getting much closer). It goes without saying that when the cover of Rage Against the Machine‘s “Killing in the Name Of” is one of the album highlights, the original material is still suffering a bit.
As previously mentioned, there’s solid playing here, especially by guitarist Juan Juarez and newly minted bassist Jessie Sanchez. Sanchez supplies a steady diet of thumping bass fun without getting all Primus-y, and Juarez impresses with his interesting soloing. However, most of his riffing is standard, heard-it-a-million-times-before recycled thrash. I’m not sure who does the bulk of the writing, but now that they cleared up the vocal issues, that’s the only thing holding them back from bigger and better things.
While this is a move in the right direction, I’m still underwhelmed by what Bonded by Blood does. Good playing does not good albums make, and The Aftermath proves that. While a band like Havok is just as talented musically, they also have that “it factor” that makes their material work and draws you in. Until these guys unearth that crucial ingredient, they’re forever stuck at the lower levels, but at least they’re still trying. Keep climbing that ladder boys, and never say “impossible.” Just say “I’m possible!” Steel Druhm is supportive because he cares.