There are albums and there are comeback albums. While the former can have their share of pressure and anticipation, pressure and anticipation are inevitable for the latter. Especially the larger the gap between a band’s previous releases and their comeback. Celtic Frost‘s Monotheist, for example, had a ridiculous amount of hype surrounding it. The band felt it, the fans felt it. But, after sixteen years of CF silence, Monotheist arrived and left its mark. Another legend to return from the grave was Autopsy. After another sixteen years, they returned with a vengeance—proving to the world they could still be as raunchy as ever. But, why a come back? Sometimes it’s a creative rekindling sparked by a reunion. Other times it’s to top a disappointing swan song. Whatever the reason, it happens. And it’s happened again. After twenty-six years, Hexx are back. And everyone is asking, “Why now?”
In Autopsy‘s case, a reunion would never have happened had Abscess stayed together. After longtime guitarist Clint Bower left, Abscess called it quits. And, oddly enough, something similar happened in 1991 with Bower and San Francisco’s death/power/thrash outfit Hexx. After the 1984 debut, No Escape, Bower took over on guitar (and then vocals) for 1986’s Under the Spell and 1991’s Morbid Reality. During his tenure with Hexx, Bower helped the band craft Under the Spell into a Metal Church-esque opus before turning the band into a full-blown Sadus. But, after the mind-boggling Morbid Reality, the band called it quits. And though the band is back, Bower is not. So, what will it be? 80s power/thrash or Sadus-meets-Hellwitch death?
Once the marching Sodom-like guitar intro transitions into the main riff of “Macabre Procession of Specters,” it’s clear the band has reverted back to their power/thrash roots. Especially when the vocals hit and Eddy Vega’s David Wayne-isms assail your ears. And there’s no funny business here: Wrath of the Reaper is an 80s flavored road trip. With the strongest cases found on “Screaming Sacrifice” and “Slave in Hell.” The former is about as upbeat and groovy as a Metal Church song can get. While the latter uses those killer melodies and classic, old-school guitar dueling that made Church famous. The first three tracks alone ought to please most diehard fans.
While Churching continues throughout the rest of the album, other tracks try their hand at diversifying. “Slave in Hell” opens with a shitload of similarities to “Metal Church” before the ’80s Mercyful Fate guitar-work comes forth (especially between the verses). More variety comes in the form of the Agent Orange-era Sodom chorus of “Circle the Drain” and the Judas Priest riffage and vocal patterns of “Wrath of the Reaper.” But, all these tracks do more than just mix up the constant Church-worship, they also have some of the best choruses on the record. The best, though, has to be “Unraveled.” Like “Circle the Drain,” there are some Sodom-like moments in the guitars and vocals, but this fucking chorus is about as sharp as the Reaper‘s scythe.
As one might expect after such a long hiatus, there are a few issues with the album. Perhaps the most diverse of Wrath‘s songs, “Exhumed for the Reaping,” is so packed, it feels scattered. It moves from a slick guitar lead to head-pounding chugs and dueling guitar solos, and then on to Force of Evil-esque riffage. Unfortunately, the transitions aren’t the smoothest. This makes the song feel longer than its five-and-a-half minute runtime. “Voices” and the bonus track, “Certificate of Death,” have similar problems. “Voices” has a slick creepiness in its bass-led swamp trot and the vocals crawl like worms, but they’re actually quite weak and the song goes nowhere. “Certificate of Death” is the heaviest on the disc (even closing with a riff that reminds me of Morbid Reality), but it’s pretty generic. And the chorus lacks the bunch of those found on “Unraveled” and “Circle the Drain.”
Wrath of the Reaper ain’t the greatest comeback in the history of metal, but I’m actually impressed. The band has a lot more energy than I would have ever expected and their songwriting has a lovable freshness to it. Vega’s vocals have some balls (even if they don’t work for me in some places), Shafer’s drumwork is as solid as ever, the guitar dueling of Watson and Wright is just classic, and Mike Horn’s clear, popping bass fucking rules. And all this is made stronger by the album’s crisp recording and dynamic master. Wrath of the Reaper ain’t Under the Spell, but I hope these guys stick it out. This new era of Hexx has serious potential.