Riding in the sizable wake of retro thrash darling Havok‘s new album comes Warbringer, delivering Woe to the Vanquished, their fifth album of Bay Area inspired thrash. Over the course of their speedy career, Warbringer have been careful to conform their sound to what is considerable acceptable for the style, cleaving close to the Exodus and Death Angel playbooks and eschewing pretty much every other influence. This has worked surprisingly well for them thus far, culminating with 2013s very entertaining IV: Empires Collapse release, which was easily their best outing. Woe to the Vanquished feels like a backlash against Empire‘s more refined thrash style, offering a much more frenzied and hostile experience more in line with their early albums, but with a few noticeable stylistic change ups as well.
Opener “Silhouettes” offers no surprises but packs in the thrashy goodness with all the key trademarks of the style. The riffs are fierce and attacking, the vocals are harsh and frantic and everything is set to 11.5. The dystopian lyrics about life after nuclear war are as tailor-made for thrash as bullet belts and beer, and this is a nice example of the band’s sound. I especially like the guitar harmonies and heavy crunching riffage which reminds me of the salad days of Exodus (who personally ate no salad whatsoever). The album highlight is the mighty “Remain Violent” which is about as fun as a thrash song can be with good, friendly violence leaking out of every orifice. John Kevill’s commanding vocals are especially effective here and when he growls “you will respect my auth…or…ity” it’s hard not to picture Eric Cartman diving off a stage in full cop garb.
“Spectral Asylum” rocks a moody, grinding style with black and death metal influences and an eerie vibe, and “Divinity of Flesh” is a scorcher with blastbeats, blackened trem riffing and a healthy allotment of Testament-esque guitar interplay. The album closes with the 11-minute “When the Guns Fell Silent,” which opts to take the album in an entirely different direction. It’s like a weird mix of anguished black metal and post-metal, often moving at a menacing mid-tempo grind, giving Mr. Kevill a lot of opportunities to stretch his vocals for some tortured screaming and roaring. It’s also a chance for Adam Carroll and Chase Becker to go all out with the fret-board gymnastics, crafting slithering blackened riffs, interesting leads and some bleak noodling as well. Sadly, as interesting and out of the ordinary as the song is for Warbringer, it feels every bit of that 11-minute runtime and by the end it’s way past the sell date.
While there are no duds or fillers, “Shellfire” and the title track are a bit less engaging than the highlights. The fact the slow, mega-moody “When the Guns Fell Silent” takes up roughly 1/4th of the album greatly impacts the overall feel and flow of what is supposed to be a thrash opus. When you combine this with a very loud production which becomes a wall of noise during busy moments, you end up with an album that has a few serious issues.
Mr. Kevill does a great job throughout, moving up the rankings of my favorite thrash vocalists in the process. He has the prototypical harsh bark down and showcases a cracking blackened cackle on several tracks. Carroll and Becker are very talented axe men and while Woe isn’t exactly a techy wonderland, they make sure the solos impress and leave no doubt the boys have chops. Jesse Sanchez and his bass make the occasional appearance, but as with most thrash albums, he’s relegated to a memory much of the time.
Woe to the Vanquished is heavier than its predecessor, but less consistent and impactful overall. That massive closer gets points for daring, but long thrash songs are always a risky gamble and it proves to be too long, over too much of the runtime. Definitely worth checking out and close to being impressive, but not quite the thrash gem I was hoping for. Wars, man….