Dead Head - Swine PlagueI’ve liked Dead Head for nearly a decade, though I haven’t thought of them in nearly that long. During one youthful torrent rampage, I collected an album for every letter of the alphabet; 2009’s Depression Tank served as the D. Titillated by the delightful mix of Panzer riffs and bullet belts, I patiently anticipated a follow-up, my naive exuberance skating right over Dead Head’s spotty release pattern. Months turned to years, legend turned to myth, and soon Dead Head passed into memory. Such as it is, Swine Plague’s sudden appearance on the promo sheet was a pleasant spring surprise for your third favorite doctor.1

Dead Head exist to span thrash’s continental divide, bridging the Teutons and the Bay Area since the late ’80s. If “Helhuizen” is anything to go by, the Dutchmen spent their most recent hiatus hoisting beer steins with their eastern neighbors, as the Kreator influence is more prominent than ever. The opener doesn’t quite reach its progenitors’ classic speed, but their husky viciousness is present and accounted for. Returning is original frontman Tom van Dijk, who brings along pipes reminiscent of Warbringer’s John Kevill mixed with, you guessed it, Mille Petrozza. It’s an easy listen, wasting little energy while always gaining forward momentum. “Dühr” slips those Kreator riffs into something more modern and sinister. Ronnie Vanderwey and Robbie Woning splash a bit of bay water onto their chugging riffs, tilting into a squealing Sadus solo before the track progresses into “Palfium.” With Hans Spijker’s drums constantly battering in the background, Dead Head show off their inherent duality, trading its Bay Area shred back in for German beef stew in the mid-section.

Dead Head lay their cards on the table from the start. Their work is head-bashingly straightforward — this is still thrash, after all, accompanied by many of the flaws and pleasantries you’d expect. Notably, Swine Plague tends to bleed together, which isn’t a surprise given the genre’s fundamental homogeneity. I find little to fault with the execution of the core sound, but only because I buy what Dead Head are selling. With a less thrash-inclined ear focused on the development of deviant traits assigned to this album, the tone of this review would change greatly. However, the teasing bits of variety, such as the Floridian intro to “The Gates Beyond” or the Twilight Zone open of “13 Close,” suffice for me amongst the rumbling churn of the riffs. The latter tickles my soft spot for God Hates Us All-era Slayer with its mind-numbing aggression, pelting tempo shifts and delicious cymbal ticks. Van Dijk even treats listeners to a near-future where Tom Araya doesn’t care if his hearing aid batteries have crapped out again, no, he isn’t shouting, you ungrateful little shit, why are you shouting?

Dead Head 2017

Yet operating under the assumption that “13 Close” is fine means that “The Day of the Devil” is fine, which means “Eternity Destroyed” is fine. See where this is going? Shapeshifting from Kreator to Dark Angel to Exodus and back keeps tracks fresh individually, but stylistically the album is a closed loop. The material never truly grows stale but loses its impact by its third pass. “A Fortress of Greed” defies this logic and stands out for the same reason that “13 Close” does. Its massive midsection groove differentiates it from the album’s typical offerings. Cutting some weight from the Swine Plague’s 47 minutes would only elevate standout moments like this or highlights like “Fortress” and closer “The Battle of Europe.” The latter sees Van Dijk and Spijker working together to boost the Kreator worship into passages of head-banging glory.

Swine Plague may not be the best album in Dead Head’s surprisingly curt catalog, but it certainly makes a good attempt at piercing the band’s upper echelon. Whether or not Dead Head can channel its positive momentum remains to be seen. A timely follow-up for the first time in twenty years would be nice, but I’ve learned my lesson. Swine Plague gets Dead Head back on the map and for a fan like me, that’s enough.


Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Hammerheart Records
Websites: deadhead.bandcamp.com | deadheadthrash.bigcartel.com | facebook.com/DeadHeadthrash
Release Dates: EU: June 16th, 2017 | NA/UK: June 30th, 2017

Show 1 footnote

  1. We don’t even consider you a doctor. – real-deal Doctor Grier
Tagged with →  
Share →
  • André Snyde Lopes

    My thoughts exactly. They did remind me a lot of Sadus, actually. Fun little album, especially considering the thrash drought we’re going through right now. Good write-up.

    • Drew Music

      Considering how much technical death became God á la djent and the random Born of Osiris/Necrophagist clone army uprising a few years back, and further considering how much people love to glorify the concept of retro (Maynard hit that one on the money,) I’m actually kind of surprised we’re in, as you said, a thrash drought. Who let black metal become cool for one, how has it managed to all but take over all the other metals, and why isn’t there a grand thrash revisiting yet?
      Can we not do anything right as a species?

      • André Snyde Lopes

        There was a grand thrash revisiting. It happened around 2007 and it sucked. Rethrash and ill-devised classic thrash band comebacks beat a dead horse until it was but a pile of dust. New thrash bands became persona non grata ever since because they have absolutely no creativity (apart from a few outliers) and classic thrash bands still releasing albums get nostalgia points for their mediocre efforts at trying to capture the old glory days.

        In a sense, tech death became a sort of saving grace for death metal, as the new branch helped it keep its relevance. The same can be said of the myriad new black metal subgenres that keep popping up. Atmospheric suicidal ambient folk dissonant avant-garde progressive psychadelic, you name it, it exists because black metal is a lot more malleable than thrash in people’s minds.

        Your best bet to listen to “new thrash” that is not either ear-scrapingly terrible, ungodly boring or mind-numbingly pedestrian (apart from listening to the latest Vektor, Voivod or Vhol for the umpteenth time) is to go back in time and rediscover some of the hidden gems of the past.

        • Wilhelm

          Don’t forget to mention the nice sounding production that strips the element of dread and dismal from thrash. It only takes a few seconds and I’m either sold or not, most often I just don’t care.

        • Dr. Wvrm

          Even as someone who enjoys re-thrash, it’s hard to argue against these points. Writing reviews for Havok and Lich King and all them, the reference points start with Exodus and Kreator and Vio-lence end with… what, MunWaste? If you’re lucky? Circular references within the re-thrash circuit if you’re not. The fact that Power Trip went all the way back to Metallica is actually refreshing, if only because Metallica-worship is surprisingly light nowadays.

          I’m starting to lean into black thrash a bit, if only because I can still get the same Metallica worship but through a different, fresh-feeling lens (e.g., Hellripper, check it outtttttt). I also don’t listen to Vhol as much as I should, so thanks for the reminder.

          • DIMENSIONAL BLEEDTHROUGH

            I agree. Even the best, most interesting stuff like Power Trip and Vektor are very beholden to their influences in a way bands playing other styles aren’t.

            Vhol too, although they are drawing from a wider variety of source material and have a lot of fresh ideas (i.e. “Paino”).

  • Westpaceagle

    I am stoked to see this review- I have been enjoying this album and had not previously heard of DH. A welcome slab in a year where thrash has been under represented by quality releases, imho. Good stuff!

  • Westpaceagle

    Dr. Buckaroo Banzai
    Dr. Peter Venkman
    Dr. Hannibal Lecter
    Dr. Kevorkian
    Dr. Gonzo
    Dr. Goat
    Dr. Grier
    Dr. Evil

    Dr. Huxtable
    Dr. Oz

    • Strapping Old Fart

      Very close tie there at the absolute bottom.

      • Strapping Old Fart

        Also, calling for Dr. Love and Dr. Röck to join the list.

      • Prostidude

        Yeah I’m just gonna go ahead and upvote your comment because of your ingenious username.

        • Strapping Old Fart

          Thank you, thank you. Part of the “partial truth” self-marketing strategy I employ.

    • Brutalist_Receptacle

      DR PHIL OR GTFO

  • sir_c

    Nice and concise. Like thrash should be. That’s how the embedded track sounded to me, so if the albums is of the same caliber I am pleased.