When California sons Death Angel came from nowhere and dropped their classic debut The Ultra-Violence on the metal world in 1987, yours truly was blown away in a pretty major way. That album, along with a handful of others, defined my metal youth and I still listen to it regularly to this day. Sadly, the minds behind that classic release could never record its equal and the albums that followed were always somewhat of a mixed bag. Nowhere has this trend been more evident than on release number six, Relentless Retribution.
Taking the less aggressive direction laid out on 2008’s Killing Season and expanding upon it, Death Angel have moved further from their thrash roots toward a more commercially viable, trendy, and it pains me to say it, “modern metal” sound frighteningly similar to Trivium or Shadows Fall. While this modern sound doesn’t seep into every track and some retain their classic thrash sound, this is a big departure from the Death Angel of old and whether you support that departure will depend on your feelings toward modern metal.
Relentless Retribution starts out promisingly enough with “Relentless Revolution,” which showcases their classic thrash sound and highlights the strong crunching riff and lead work of Rob Cavastany and the very well done and powerfully angry vocals of Mark Osequeda. However, when “Claws In So Deep” starts up, its immediately clear Death Angel isn’t quite the same animal anymore. This track could slot in on Trivium‘s The Crusade and be right at home, particularly the clean, radio friendly (and really cheesy) chorus that will have older fans cringing and uttering unpleasant verbiage whilst shaking Ye Olde Angry Metal Fist at the sky. Perhaps having production chores handled by the gent responsible for recent Trivium, All That Remains and The Black Dahlia Murder albums partly explains the new direction, but even so, this is shameless Trivium mimicking of epic proportions and is likely to be met with negative reactions from most long- time fans.
Following this low point, there are some decent tracks that harken back to the old sound but always in a more melodic way. “Truce,” “Into the Arms of Righteous Anger” and “River of Rapture” all sport fairly consistent up-tempo melodic thrash attacks and sound a little less Triviumesque. However, the new “modern” style returns with a vengeance during “Absence of Light” and “Opponents at Side” (with the latter veering uncomfortably close to emo-core). Sadly, even on the less modern sounding numbers, the style is more like Death Angel Lite, with way more emphasis placed on catchiness in the choruses, as if they were written with an ear toward radio airtime. At times the catchiness of the chorus seems out place with the surrounding song, thereby hurting the song’s flow (see “Death of the Meek” in particular). When you add to these issues, the inclusion of an ill-fitting two-minute acoustic finale on another song (“Claws In So Deep”) and an equally out of place acoustic ballad (“Volcanic”), one gets the impression Death Angel is a band struggling mightily with their identity and seeking to reconcile what they once were with where they are heading.
Overall, Relentless Retribution is a disappointing release with some good moments scattered throughout that seems destined to be remembered as the point when Death Angel moved away to more commercial and trendy pastures. Long-time fans may still find things here to enjoy but I can’t help get the feeling this is the end of an era for these guys and for someone who has followed them loyally since 1987, that is a sad feeling indeed.