What’s in a name? If you’re a certain AMG staffer whose name starts with a D and ends with an iabolus in Muzaka, it means the urge to rush headlong into reviewing a band you’ve never heard of without bothering to hear a single note. Israeli modern thrashers Shredhead are aiming to start off 2015 in the fast lane with their sophomore release Death is Righteous, and if you’re anything like me, you instantly pictured Bill and Ted embarking on an excellent thrash adventure and you really want to hear what it sounds like. Since I’ve heard what it sounds like, I’m going to tell you whether this ends up as “whoa, dude” or “no, dude.”
Shredhead play a modernized take on groovy thrash metal with the relative polish and riffing of Revocation and late period Exodus, replete with an almost overbearingly heavy influence of Pantera circa Vulgar Display of Power. Naturally, this puts Shredhead’s focus on thrashy groove riffs instead of blistering speed, and guitarist Yotam Nagor proudly wears the aforementioned influences on his denim sleeves. While he’s competent at the style, standing on the shoulders of giants does serve to make one look small. “Can’t Be Left Alive” is essentially a standard issue Tempo of the Damned-onward Exodus groove number in the vein of “Throwing Down,” and the riff underneath the chorus hammers this similarity home. “Walk With the Dead” is part “War is My Shepherd,” part “Invidious,” which is “okay,” while “The Lie” features a verse that, if you haven’t listened to Vulgar Display of Power in a while, you’d swear was actually on that album somewhere amongst the forgettable tracks. It isn’t all criticism though: “Devils Race” combines the most energetic elements of Exodus, Pantera, and Revocation, which make for a fun, engaging song, and “I Am” captures the Southern swagger of mid-90’s Corrosion of Conformity and, combined with some of the most aggressive thrash on the album, successfully becomes greater than the sum of its fairly derivative parts.
While these parts are mostly competent, more often than not vocalist Aharon Ragoza makes himself a liability. He spends nearly all of Death is Righteous aping Phil Anselmo’s gruff yet partially melodic style he cemented on Vulgar Display of Power, and it works to Shredhead’s benefit on occasion (most notably the chorus in “Devils Race”). Conversely, “Witness Hell” and the title track see him crafting neither memorable phrases nor melodies, detracting from their overall quality by simply not being very exciting, and this becomes the rule rather than the exception as the album marches forward. Ragoza lets out an impressive roar in the beginning of “Hallucinations” that hints at some direly untapped vocal variety, and it’s a shame he’s stuck trying to emulate Anselmo on what is arguably the worst Cowboys-onward Pantera album for so much of Death is Righteous.
Shredhead made a good choice in having Tue Madsen mix and master Death is Righteous. Madsen has an instantly recognizable style that seems to work with almost everyone he produces, and his typically thick and chunky sound fits the Shredhead style perfectly: Nagor’s grooves have some actual heft behind them, Lee Lavy’s bass has that distorted yet still clear tone that never gets old, and Roee Kahana’s drums are clear and punchy, with the defined and impactful kick drum that’s a staple of Madsen’s work.
Death is Righteous lands squarely in the low-to-mid-range of quality, as it’s never offensively bad yet rarely inspiringly good. Apart from the two minutes of my life I’ll never get back that I wasted listening to “I Hate Myself,” nothing Shredhead does misses the mark completely and angers me. Conversely, apart from “Devils Race” and “I Am,” nothing Shredhead does makes enough of an impression or drives me to listen to it again. The majority of Death is Righteous exists in the void of competent mediocrity, producing no more of a reaction than a shrug and “huh, metal, not bad.” Final verdict: meh, dude.