Archangel A.D. – Casus Belli Review

Why are there so many bands and albums with Noun A.D. monikers? A.D. means Anno Domini, which translates to The Year of the Lord, indicating the number of years since we started keeping track, all because some kid allegedly popped out of a peasant girl in a barn. But nouns aren’t numbers! You can’t just switch an integer for a string and expect your program to compile! And yes, many bands would at this point sniff, push up their glasses and point at the fine print at the bottom which says that in their case it means “After Death” as if that absolves them of any wrongdoing. You know very well that’s not what you’re implying! So explain yourselves, Archangel A.D.!

Archangel A.D. play thrash about as retro as it gets. But even retro thrash has its particular flavors, in this case an even split mixture between Metallica and Annihilator. Aside from the opener, which might as well have been called “King of Spades” for as close as it hews to Motörhead’s classic. Nevertheless, there’s a more than satisfying amount of hooky riffs on Casus Belli, as well as a surprising amount of variety. “Celestion” is an energetic rager when in full assault mode, “Demonolith” uses the thrash textures on a plodding doom framework, and the title track finds the middle ground with a mid-paced prelude to war. Some things don’t work particularly well, such as the ballad “Door to the Moon,” but it’s by all means a pleasant low-brow experience. If this was all there was to say about the album, it would be a fun if inoffensive offering of retro thrash, I could slap a 3.0 on it and we’d be done.

Unfortunately, there is more to say, as you’ll notice that I have yet to mention the vocals, which are fairly flat and one-dimensional and have frequent issues hitting the right notes. Furthermore, the vocal lines too often rely on streeeetching, siiiiingle, woooords for the choruses, which weighs them down like an anchor and makes these the weakest sections of the majority of tracks. The relatively few times we get a little Slayer-like rapid-fire lip action, the energy flares up and the music instantly improves, making the contrast that much clearer. But this is not all. I’m all for a little experimentation in music, even (or especially) in aging styles such as retro thrash. So the inclusion of a mariachi track in the middle of the album (“Sangre de las Montañas”) doesn’t immediately bother me, but no attempt is made at justifying its inclusion or integrating the track into the surrounding music, making for a jarring, whiplash-inducing break, like someone bumped into the radio accidentally.

The jarring effect is exacerbated by the production, as the mariachi track has the vocals mixed so high it’s more like acapella with a distant backing track. It’s not as bad across the rest of Casus Belli, but the mixing remains off-balance, and the oddly lo-fi limiting on the vocal track just draws further attention to it. This distracts from the decent mastering, the chunky guitars and attractively twangy bass. Perhaps this was an attempt at an old-school production, but the disparity between the crisp instrumentation and limited vocal fidelity really just doesn’t sound very good in any context, especially on decent headphones or sound systems.

Casus Belli is a coin with two sides. On the one hand there’s a pretty fun retro thrash album in here, simple but entertaining, with decent riffs and a good amount of variety. On the other hand, the vocals are mediocre at best and so poorly produced, especially compared to the rest of the band, they stick out like a sore thumb. Combined with a failed experiment or two, it becomes hard to recommend this to anyone. This is Archangel A.D.’s debut album and the band seems quite young, so there’s certainly room to grow and I won’t deny there’s plenty of potential, but the quartet is not living up to it just yet.

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 256 kbps mp3
Label: Self-released
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: July 23rd, 2021

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