“The heart wants what the heart wants,” though trite, succinctly sums up how we’re only interested in feeding our own desires. Biases, predilections, call it what you will – this inertia keeps us in a constant orbit around our personal sun and clarifying why we won’t, or can’t break free is a sometimes elusive task. I’m no different, scratch my skin and what oozes out is a clump of thrash cells. This can be explained away by Metallica being the Vergil to my Dante, guiding me down a spiraling path that was followed by Megadeth, Pantera and Machine Head. Yes, I was baptised in the groove-tinged thrash waters of the early nineties so when I saw that Epiphany, the new album by Connecticut-based Kaos Reign was described as thrash/groove, you better believe I scooped it up like a dragon hoarding its gold. Willie Shakespeare asked if one can desire too much of a good thing. Time to put it to the test.
I should make it clear that groove-laced thrash is not my favorite genre per se, but as my exposure to metal during my formative years was spun from that clutch of straw it will always pulse with an indelible attraction. All of this is to say that I have my own biases which results in me viewing bands such as Kaos Reign in a more favorable light than they might otherwise deserve, because let me be clear – Epiphany is by no means an amazing album. Good? Absolutely, but the music does little that is new or forward thinking. In fact, the composition and production is engineered to be a facsimile of the type of metal churned out sometime between 1991 to 1995.
And that’s OK, because the reedy, high-frequency riffing, skittish percussion and sneering vocals are enough to plunge me deep into the murky waters of my subconsciousness until I resurface back in my parent’s house, a pimply teenager rocking out to Cowboys From Hell and The Years of Decay. It’s satisfying on a molecular level, scratching an itch that is never sated. Groove is still anathema to some, and while it exists on Epiphany it is applied judiciously and appears more so in the first half of the album. “Selfish Backstabber” leans into the groove but the buzzing chords and tasteful leads balances everything with surprising nuance.
The fat-free, menacing swagger produced by the band has its closest relative in Havok, one of the few acts along with Municipal Waste that managed to get the whole retro-thrash revival right in the first place. Havok is the superior band with better riffs, tighter song writing and the constant presence of a blade dipped in venom, but Kaos Reign acquit themselves well despite their more talented contemporaries. Case in point, “Everyone is Offended” is a fun albeit precious track with some laudable drum work and effective vocal delivery in the chorus, but compared to the similar “F.P.C.” by Havok it’s a crude carving lacking polish. The album is also overlong and pruning a few tracks would mitigate the fatigue that sets in two-thirds of the way.
Kaos Reign set out to deliver a nostalgia-drenched take on early-nineties transitional thrash and by that modest metric they have succeeded. Epiphany is the exact kind of record a journeyman, B-tier thrash band would put out midway in their career, the type sought out by fans who crave more of the same, having little patience for artists experimenting with their sound. That particular fan is me, a simple man who pines for his musical salad days and Kaos Reign have managed to take me there, thin production and all. Those of you who are thrash dilettantes would be best served seeking out better examples of the genre. For the rest of us who will take any thin gruel that resembles the taste of yesteryear, Epiphany is worth at least a few spins.