It’s tough to avoid feeling one’s age when all the wild, crazy bands you listened to in your youth are approaching 30 year anniversaries. This is particularly true with Death Angel. I remember seeing them open for Overkill and Slayer back in 86 and they looked like little kids on stage. I was a kid myself but they really looked like little kids. 2016 sees them dropping their 8th album after three decades in the business and while they’re older, wiser and much more grizzled, you’d hardly know it from the razor-sharp thrash contained on The Evil Divide. This may be as close as the band has come to living up to the legacy of their brilliantly devastating The Ultra-Violence debut, and as a long time fan, its been a mighty long wait indeed. This channels the same youthful rage and hostility as that mighty debut, while also showing a more mature, thoughtful side, and the combination is pretty damn lethal when everything comes together.
Opener “The Moth” sets the stage with a gripping, ripping piece of modern thrash. It’s aggressive and in-your-face as thrash should be, the vocals by Mark Osegueda are pissed off and savage and the guitars are wild and unhinged. It’s undoubtedly “modern” but retains enough of their classic Bay Area sound to appease the elders. What’s more, it’s memorable and even catchy. From here the band dabbles in different moods and influences, spanning the decades rather adroitly. “Cause for Alarm” has a definite hardcore crossover vibe to the riffs and structure, as does “Hell to Pay” but the thrash roots remain audible and the combination is raucous.
The standout is “Lost” where the band manages to mix emo-rock, metalcore-ish riffing and speed into a song that showcases Death Angel‘s versatility as it toys with traditional thrash paradigms. The varied vocals from Osegueda carry the song over and his raging delivery during the chorus is bound to impress. Other key cuts include the angry grinding of “Father of Lies,” the venomous “It Can’t Be This” which feels like the anthem for the presidential elections here in the U.S., and “Hatred United, United Hate” which is far catchier than it ought to be and features a guest solo by Andreas Kisser of Sepultura fame.
As strong as The Evil Divide is, it does take a bit of a tumble on the back-end, with “Breakaway” and “The Electric Cell” both feeling less impressive despite some excellent guitar-work. They’re by no means bad songs, but with the strength of the other material they do feel overshadowed. At 45 minutes, this is a pretty concise slab o’ thrash, and the songs are all short enough to avoid tedium. The very modern sounding production (handled once again by Jason Suecof) gives the material more of a metalcore sound than I prefer, at times sounding like Trivium or latter day Soilwork. The guitar tone sounds processed and everything feels too polished and clean for my tastes, but since the material is strong, it can be partially overlooked.
I’ve always been a big fan of Mark Osegueda’s vocals and he really brings it this time out. He’s one of the most talented thrash singers of all time and his pipes have weathered the ages remarkably well. On much as the material he sounds like Furious George, only dialing back the rage to hit well-timed moments of clean singing. He’s definitely a big part of the band’s appeal and this is his best outing in years. Equally impressive are the fireworks from Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar. While their riffs are rock-solid and powerful, their harmonies and face-melting solos are something else altogether. They have chops to spare and know exactly when to shred and when to lay back. There’s some highly technical playing across the album and some interesting choices (like the tasteful extended melodic break during “Father of Lies”), but they manage to avoid over playing and losing critical momentum. As a tandem they’re up there with the best and guitar enthusiasts will be foaming at the mouth over some of this stuff.
Act II of Death Angel‘s career shows them improving with each successive release, and though they may never equal the debut they’re crafting vital, vibrant thrash that doesn’t feel watered down or recycled, and that deserves props. The Evil Divide shows there’s still life in the Bay Area sound, even if it’s refurbished with modern parts. Thrashards both old and new rejoice!