Criminal – Sacrificio Review

What do you do when you’re determined to review a death metal album but the only one floating in the festering AMG promo pile is from an established band with eight prior albums? Why, you throw caution to the wind of course. You make a boastful promise to no one in particular that you’ll listen to each previous release before taking the latest for a spin. At least, that’s the road less traveled that I chose when I encountered Sacrificio, the upcoming LP from Chilean thrash/death group Criminal. They’ve been around in various forms since 1991, with lead singer and guitarist Anton Reisenegger (also of Pentagram fame) serving as the only constant member. From 1994’s Victimized to today’s Sacrificio, Criminal have been pulverizing eardrums over nine albums, 27 years, and countless line-up changes. Having committed to ingesting every previous release in an effort to better contextualize the mystery platter before me, was this N00b-move a good one? Was I left feeling haughtily rewarded or angrily thwarted?  

Speaking of context: Criminal perform a familiar, meat n’ potatoes style of thrashened death (or is it deathened thrash?). Their first three albums, Victimized, Dead Soul, and Cancer, all revel in this sound and are largely successful. However, a turning point arrived with 2004’s No Gods No Masters, when Reisenegger and Co. got downright (for them) experimental, introducing blackened elements, atmospheric keyboards, and a grittier, harsher mix. I found this album a surprising and rewarding listen; one that signaled both a welcome departure and a promising future for an already engaging (if not wholly original) band. They were growing! Unfortunately, their follow-up Sicario dropped the very next year, with Criminal in full reset mode. They had traded in evolution for stagnation and went on to replicate that safer sound over the next four albums. Enter ninth outing Sacrificio, which beckoned with sweet promises of a potential return to the level of creativity that spawned No Gods No Masters.

Never trust those sweet promises. Sacrificio isn’t bad. It isn’t poorly performed or lacking in heaviness. It’s just uninspired; a rehash of the albums that came before it. The first two tracks “Live on Your Knees” and “Caged” will definitely get the blood pumping, with big riffs, memorable choruses, and speed and spite to spare. Unfortunately, even a banger like “Caged” suffers from a laughable premise. We all know that metal revels in excess for the sake of excess, but when I heard the earnestly delivered line “fallen into the trap of feminization!” I knew we’d veered off that familiar track into “troubled middle-aged man” territory. And as I feared, most of the songs that follow fall into the same pattern from previous albums. Too much here sounds like something that came before. Even standout moments like the instrumentation on “After Me, The Flood,” the great opening riff on “Sistema Criminal,” or the chugging, mid-song breakdowns just begging for a COVID-carrying mosh pit are quickly dispensed with in favor of the same old approach Criminal have taken since 2005. After a handful of interchangeable tracks, we finally hit closer “Ego Killer,” a mid-paced ripper with a (presumably) demonic monk chanted chorus and thick, chunky riffs. If Sacrificio featured more songs like this, less ill-informed gender politics and even less bloat, it would have made for a much better listen. 

It’s unfortunate then because, other issues aside, Anton seems to have a knack for choosing quality musicians. Drummer Danilo Estrella steals the show on multiple tracks, terrorizing the kit and making sure you feel every last blast beat and furious fill. Guitarist Sergio Klein is no slouch either, cranking out thick riffs and seismic squeal from beginning to end. And while I have some serious gripes with his long-term creative direction, Anton’s barks, shouts and screams still hold up, somewhat reminiscent of a deathened Chuck Billy. 

This was a difficult one. Should I score Sacrificio based on the album’s singular merits, or should I pull from the full context of Criminal’s discography? I’ve come somewhere down in the middle, offering a rating partially based on the relative monotony of Sacrificio, but informed by the larger disappointment of their refusal to take any risks since No Gods No Masters. While it takes a lot to write off a band for any one album, under penalty of perjury, I can’t bring myself to recommend this one. 

Rating: 2.0/5.0
DR:  | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Metal Blade Records
Websites: |
Releases Worldwide: September 17th, 2021

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