Despite some understandable fits and starts as they shook off the cobwebs of a fourteen year lay off from 1990 to 2004, Death Angel has had a pretty successful second act on the metal stage. Releases like The Dream Calls for Blood and 2016s The Evil Divide showcased a seasoned band comfortable with their place in the thrasherverse and still turning out engaging material true to their glory days. Those albums are as good or better than almost anything the “Big Four” have released lately, and there’s been growing reasons to look upon Death Angel as one of the few survivors of the 80s Bay Area thrash wave still capable of cutting your throat with an ill-tempered riff. That brings us to their ninth album, Humanicide. With the same line up holding steady since 2010, nothing much has changed. There’s still a balance between old school thrash and a modern sound, and the band still dabbles in traditional metal concepts and very subtle prog elements. It’s still meat n’ taters thrash with a high accessibility factor though, and it still sounds like Death Angel.
The band puts their best foot forward on the opening title track, which is a scorching example of 80s thrash filtered through a 2019 prism. The talented tandem of Rob Cavestany and Ted Aguilar festoon the song with razor-sharp riffs, vaguely NWoBHM harmonies and enough manic energy to get anyone fookin’ hostile. It reminds me of recent Kreator in how it merges classic thrash with traditional metal ideas for an interesting hybrid that still kicks in the minimum number of teeth required by the Uniform Thrash Protocols. It’s a grand opener and an album highlight. “Divine Defector” dials up the anger, going into full assault mode with crazed riffage and blast beats as Mark Osegueda defies Father Time, doing more insane wailing than anyone his age ever should. It’s easily the heaviest tune here and it almost feels like the band is making a statement that they can still thrash like they did on their legendary debut. “Aggressor” is another high point, blending the band’s classic thrash pedigree with modern ideas. It’s ballsy, catchy, and the quiet, restrained segment mid-song makes the heavy riffs that follow feel all the more substantial.
Elsewhere they deliver the punky, quasi-D-beat gallop of “I Came for Blood,” and the album’s centerpiece, “Immortal Behated,” which is a subdued mood piece featuring elegant piano lines and stellar guitar-work rivaling that of Bay Area contemporaries, Testament. The former tune is simplistic fun while the latter offers a nice tempo-shift and stylistic change up as the album approaches the halfway point. In contrast, later cut “Alive and Screaming” is one of the purest examples of the band’s thrash roots. There are some issues here though. “Revelation Song” is like an attempt to incorporate Black Label Society‘s hard rock swagger, but the biker groove doesn’t completely work for them. “Ghost of Me” is thrashy and pissed off, but doesn’t really stick, and though closer “Of Rats and Men” isn’t bad, it feels like a partial recycling of the ideas that worked so well on “Lost” from The Evil Divine.
As enjoyable as much of Humanicide is, the material feels a bit less impactful than what the band conjured on the last few platters. There’s no bad song, just fewer very good ones. The ultra-modern, polished production is also an issue. It’s not new to Death Angel, as the last album had a similar sound, but the guitars feel too tame, lacking the nasty crunch and bite I expect from thrash. Sound aside, the band delivers music-wise. This is a highly talented, veteran ensemble and the guitar-work is out of this world. Apart from the expected hyper-speed riffs, you get gentle Flamenco plucking and dazzling solo-work. Mark Osegueda is an ageless wonder on vocals, with a voice that seem to get better with age. Whether screaming, snarling or crooning soulfully, the man has pipes til Sunday and he powers the material along as few others could. The whole band is insanely tight and that allows them to explore new elements while remaining locked into their core sound.
Humancide is another quality release from a band I’ve come to expect only good things from. The band takes a few chances and most of them work in their favor. This may not be up to the standards of their recent releases, but it’s still a diverse, entertaining platter sure to please fans of thrash and traditional metal. Some old wolves can learn new tricks.