Okay, let’s be totally honest. Death Angel will never top their mind-blowing debut The Ultra-Violence. It’s just not going to happen. Some bands have that albatross hanging around their necks throughout their entire career, but that doesn’t mean they can’t turn out quality music. Death Angel has had a rather uneven run, with some good albums and some that were quite crappy. Act III and to a lesser extent The Art of Dying were good examples of old school thrash moving into the modern era. However, Frolic Through the Park was a perplexing shit show (and one of the most disappointing follow-ups in metal history) and their 2010 Relentless Retribution opus had some cool ideas and a few good tunes, but felt disjointed and confused, as if they couldn’t decide what direction to take. Naturally, as someone who grew up worshipping their debut, I wanted the band to get their legs under them again on The Dream Calls for Blood and that’s exactly what they did. While they don’t reinvent the thrash genre one iota, they return to what works for them and deliver a platter of pissed off, aggressive speed, full of attitude, tight playing and a fair amount of hooks. There are no songs that make you wonder what they were thinking and the material successfully walks the line between the original Bay Area Thrash sound and what has come to be known as “modern thrash.” It’s easily their most consistent release since Act III and I’ll admit, I didn’t think they had a release like this left in them.
Upon being greeted by the harsh, in-your-face rage of opener “Left for Dead,” it’s clear Death Angel is back in the killing business. It sounds more vicious than anything they’ve done in a while and has enough technical flair to make it listenable as more than just anger music. The riffs are razor-sharp and Mark Osegueda sounds furious and mean. Oddly, it also manages to be accessible without any real hooks or attempts at being catchy. They stay in this groove for “Son of the Morning” and “Fallen,” both of which hammer at the listener and sport simple, but catchy choruses (the latter also has extra impressive fret-work flashing in and out). The title track effectively mixes in thick mid-tempo riffing and a slightly more melodic touch to the vocals and the chorus works especially well. “Execution/Don’t Save Me” could almost be an old Anthrax song and Mark sounds just a bit like Joey Belladonna on the chorus.
Though they dabble in slightly different approaches on the slower grind of “Succubus” and the more moody and offbeat closer “Territorial Instinct/Bloodlust,” they never take their foot off the go pedal and the aggression stays delightfully rabid almost the whole time. Even when the guitars slow down, Mark’s vocals dial-up and get nastier and more hostile, thus maintaining the constant sense of “Kill you now” that any good thrash album should have. Even “Detonate” works despite having a bit too much of the Trivium vibe their last album had.
Guitarists Rob Cavestany and Ted Aquilar tear the roof off through much of the album, throwing out jagged, thrashy leads and slick, hyper-melodic solos. They have a ton of talent and know exactly when to go heavy and when to lighten the sound up and this has some of the better guitar work I’ve heard on a thrash album lately. They don’t get wanky or over-indulgent, but manage to infuse some nicely old school style to the solos and flourishes.
Osequeda has always been one of my favorite thrash vocalists and he sounds uniformly great here. He delivers a great blend of harsh shouting, clean singing and his ever amazing “baby caught in wood chipper” screams. I also appreciate that he avoids making every chorus an excuse for a poppy, clean-sung hook, as was too often the case on Relentless Retribution. I also spent a fair amount of time being impressed by the back line play since Damien Sisson’s bass is quite involved and Will Carroll’s drumming is technical and impressive. Tight and heavy stuff.
The Dream Calls for Blood is a good, modern-day thrash outing with enough nods to the past to please old timers like me. They back away from the mistakes made on their last album and show they can still pen “go for the throat” thrash. It won’t blow most people away and the whole scene is played out, but maybe, just maybe, this is good enough to knock a bit of that albatross off their shoulders and give them something to build on next time. Keep reaching for that mighty debut, boys. Keep reaching!