The year is 1987. Robocop is in theaters, thrash metal is booming, and my mommy and daddy are just a few short years away from bumpin’ uglies to produce yours truly. On the other side of the world, an Australian Slayer fan named Peter Hobbs decides to transform his thrash band Tyrus into a new project named after Reign in Blood’s infamous opening track. The result is Hobbs’ Angel of Death – ostensibly one of the first bands from Down Under to play what we now know as classic thrash metal. Through their 1988 self-titled debut and 1995’s Inheritance, the group proclaimed their love for Dark Angel and (of course) Slayer with their vulgar, working-man take on thrash that apparently garnered them reasonable international acclaim. After abandoning the project in 1996, Hobbs is now back with new recruits to annoy Steel with his name-dropping band moniker and batter the rest of us with the best riffs he’s conjured during his extended absence. But there are kids buying liquor today who weren’t even born when the group’s last album was released – how can Hobbs and friends prove they still have it?
Easy – by bashing your stupid fucking face in with pummeling riffs, searing leads, and great songwriting that works some interesting kinks into the typical thrash template. Opener “Il Monstro di Firenze” wastes no time kicking in with everything Hobbs does best: serial killer-themed lyrics, breakneck verses, and pulverizing thrash breaks that will have you begging your significant other for a neck massage. Though he’s obviously more weathered, the man still does a great job behind the mic, delivering a strained holler that recalls a gruffer Tom Araya with his staccato vocal patterns and tendency to accentuate the final syllable of each line.
Through the frantic notes of the Reign in Blood-esque “Suicide” or the driving Vio-lence progression of late highlight “Hypocrites,” Heaven Bled has plenty of moments that 80s thrash fans will love. But what’s really interesting is the tendency to veer into ideas that more closely recall black or death metal. Amidst its triumphant recurring lead, the verses of “Walk My Path” could just as easily come from a Dark Funeral song if it were not for Hobbs’ gruff barking. Blastbeats are used liberally throughout the record and smidges of what sound like tremolo picking appear as well. At 12 tracks and 58 minutes in length, Bled is certainly long, but the group avoids “thrash fatigue” by working extended instrumental sections into their songs where the soaring axe-work of new lead guitarist Simon Wizen (Valkyrja) is allowed to shine. Perhaps the best example of his talents is closer “Abomination,” whose drudging six minutes climax with a smooth, sexy, open-sky solo that brings the album to a thundering conclusion.
Bled is also notable for its interesting construction, with the final three tracks consisting of more down-tempo passages than the rest. Somehow it works, probably because these songs form a reflective coda for the record while still containing enough fast portions to avoid being a drag. “T.F.M.F.” is especially fun when it breaks from its shuffling intro into a turbo-charged Motörhead gallop. The production, though modern, retains enough old-school varnish and range that I couldn’t ask for much improvement. Mix-wise Hobbs’ guitar tone is particularly beefy and makes moments like the rampaging rhino riff of “Drawn & Quartered” bristle with potency. Still, while the length doesn’t bother me and nothing here is throwaway, a few more noteworthy ideas would have helped give Bled a better highlight-to-runtime ratio. It’s also somewhat annoying how similar the main riff of “Final Feast” is to Judas Priest’s “Painkiller,” though I guess you could do worse than to sound like one of the most iconic metal songs of all time. Finally, while Hobbs’ vocals show commendable energy for a guy in his 50s, it would have been nice for him to occasionally break the spitfire delivery and give a more varied performance.
But fuck all that – the bottom line is that Heaven Bled is a record infused with passion and inspiration, from its hammering rhythms to its jamboree leads to its no-bullshit attitude. It’s clear that Hobbs has learned a lot about how to write a good metal song over the years, and the infusion of elements from more extreme subgenres only adds to the fun. Add another to the list of great comeback records and bang ya fuckin’ heads.
DR: 8 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Hells Headbangers Records
Websites: facebook.com/hobbsangelofdeathofficial | hobbsangelofdeath.bandcamp.com
Releases Worldwide: October 14th, 2016