I’ve liked Dead Head for nearly a decade, though I haven’t thought of them in nearly that long. During one youthful torrent rampage, I collected an album for every letter of the alphabet; 2009’s Depression Tank served as the D. Titillated by the delightful mix of Panzer riffs and bullet belts, I patiently anticipated a follow-up, my naive exuberance skating right over Dead Head’s spotty release pattern. Months turned to years, legend turned to myth, and soon Dead Head passed into memory. Such as it is, Swine Plague’s sudden appearance on the promo sheet was a pleasant spring surprise for your third favorite doctor.1
Dead Head exist to span thrash’s continental divide, bridging the Teutons and the Bay Area since the late ’80s. If “Helhuizen” is anything to go by, the Dutchmen spent their most recent hiatus hoisting beer steins with their eastern neighbors, as the Kreator influence is more prominent than ever. The opener doesn’t quite reach its progenitors’ classic speed, but their husky viciousness is present and accounted for. Returning is original frontman Tom van Dijk, who brings along pipes reminiscent of Warbringer’s John Kevill mixed with, you guessed it, Mille Petrozza. It’s an easy listen, wasting little energy while always gaining forward momentum. “Dühr” slips those Kreator riffs into something more modern and sinister. Ronnie Vanderwey and Robbie Woning splash a bit of bay water onto their chugging riffs, tilting into a squealing Sadus solo before the track progresses into “Palfium.” With Hans Spijker’s drums constantly battering in the background, Dead Head show off their inherent duality, trading its Bay Area shred back in for German beef stew in the mid-section.
Dead Head lay their cards on the table from the start. Their work is head-bashingly straightforward — this is still thrash, after all, accompanied by many of the flaws and pleasantries you’d expect. Notably, Swine Plague tends to bleed together, which isn’t a surprise given the genre’s fundamental homogeneity. I find little to fault with the execution of the core sound, but only because I buy what Dead Head are selling. With a less thrash-inclined ear focused on the development of deviant traits assigned to this album, the tone of this review would change greatly. However, the teasing bits of variety, such as the Floridian intro to “The Gates Beyond” or the Twilight Zone open of “13 Close,” suffice for me amongst the rumbling churn of the riffs. The latter tickles my soft spot for God Hates Us All-era Slayer with its mind-numbing aggression, pelting tempo shifts and delicious cymbal ticks. Van Dijk even treats listeners to a near-future where Tom Araya doesn’t care if his hearing aid batteries have crapped out again, no, he isn’t shouting, you ungrateful little shit, why are you shouting?
Yet operating under the assumption that “13 Close” is fine means that “The Day of the Devil” is fine, which means “Eternity Destroyed” is fine. See where this is going? Shapeshifting from Kreator to Dark Angel to Exodus and back keeps tracks fresh individually, but stylistically the album is a closed loop. The material never truly grows stale but loses its impact by its third pass. “A Fortress of Greed” defies this logic and stands out for the same reason that “13 Close” does. Its massive midsection groove differentiates it from the album’s typical offerings. Cutting some weight from the Swine Plague’s 47 minutes would only elevate standout moments like this or highlights like “Fortress” and closer “The Battle of Europe.” The latter sees Van Dijk and Spijker working together to boost the Kreator worship into passages of head-banging glory.
Swine Plague may not be the best album in Dead Head’s surprisingly curt catalog, but it certainly makes a good attempt at piercing the band’s upper echelon. Whether or not Dead Head can channel its positive momentum remains to be seen. A timely follow-up for the first time in twenty years would be nice, but I’ve learned my lesson. Swine Plague gets Dead Head back on the map and for a fan like me, that’s enough.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 192 kbps mp3
Label: Hammerheart Records
Websites: deadhead.bandcamp.com | deadheadthrash.bigcartel.com | facebook.com/DeadHeadthrash
Release Dates: EU: June 16th, 2017 | NA/UK: June 30th, 2017