Death Angel // Relentless Retribution
2.5/5.0 —The good, the bad and the sellout…
Label: Nuclear Blast (EU | US)
Release Dates: EU: 31.08.2010 | US: 09.14.2010

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.

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  • ZacP

    Thank you for tempering my expectations before I gave this album a listen! I try not to concern myself too much with whether my band is “selling out” or not. Good music is good music. But Relentless Retribution just isn’t always that good. Those choruses are annoying as hell, and a lot of the songs are kind of boring. But Mark Osegueda has always been my favorite thrash vocalist (tied with Bobby Blitz), and there are a few stinkin’ good songs…most especially River of Rapture!

  • Steel Druhm

    Actually, Mark O. was always one of my all time favorite thrash vocalists too. I always loved his screams and his singing style. He actually sounds great on many of the new songs, the songs themselves just aren’t that great. There are a few good ones though.

  • I thought this was a decent album… but is it weird that the highlight of the album, for me, was the guest appearance from Rodrigo y Gabriela?

  • Buono

    I dont get the trivium comparison, doesnt sound at all like the cheese that is trivium. I think this is probably one of the best records DA has ever released. Much better than their unfocused 80s and 90s albums with funky bass and weak vocals. Mark really shines here.

  • J. Coins

    I’m not understanding why you’re saying that this isn’t a good album? What specifically is not good about it? I think it’s excellent actually… good, subtle song-writing, great vocals and decent leads. In honesty, this is a very mature, well-written album. If you’re saying you don’t like it because it’s a cleaner production, I think the production quality helps this album. Of course it doesn’t sound like Death Angel of old… be open minded, and understand that perhaps Death Angel is not interested in reproducing the sound of the late 80s.

  • Steel Druhm

    I didn’t like their new over-emphasis on catchy/cheesy choruses, the odd inclusion of a two minute acoustic guitar piece on the end of the song that seemed very unrelated, the very clean style production they adopted that sounded a lot like Trivium and the fact that several songs just aren’t good songs. I don’t expect them to sound like an 80’s thrash band forever but to me, this album doesn’t work.

  • Tika Brink

    I agree- I feel a little disappointed. The commercial modern metal sound is definitely prominent. Rob will always rock though- killer. It is very clean (maybe too clean), but so is Killing Season, which I think is awesome.

  • Tika Brink

    Steel Druhm- “I didn’t like their new over-emphasis on catchy/cheesy choruses, the odd inclusion of a two minute acoustic guitar piece on the end of the song that seemed very unrelated, the very clean style production they adopted that sounded a lot like Trivium and the fact that several songs just aren’t good songs. I don’t expect them to sound like an 80′s thrash band forever but to me, this album doesn’t work.”

    AGREE. It’s sad.

  • bill

    overall i thought this album was pretty discent. of coourse we as fans will always compare the new from the old, but that something that maybe perhaps won’t be duplicated anymore. the released of ultraviolence at the time was magical. these guys were only in their teens when it came out, amazing, they were all angry, hungry, and just wanted to put out the most aggressive thrash album that they can put out at the time. with this new album, it just shows how they are growing as musicians. just reading the writing of the songs alone, man, but i do agree with the darn cheesy chorus, it’s somewhat annoying. overall, well produced album.