There are plenty of myths that sane folks know to be false like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and honest politicians. However, one should never count the sophomore slump among those fairy tales and urban legends, for it is very real and very painful to behold. Exhibit A for 2011 is Lazarus A.D. who had a decent if not remarkable debut with 2009’s The Onslaught. Many seemed to lump them in with the retro-thrash revival and while there was some Exodus aping to be sure, they always sounded more metalcore-ish to my ears. Although I hate metalcore like I hate taxes, there was enough aggression, energy and nods to the old school throughout The Onslaught to make it semi-palatable and I didn’t totally hate it. Well, there is simply no digesting their second platter Black Rivers Flow, as Lazarus A.D. have firmly embraced their inner mall kid and all things Shadow’s Fall and the result is a veritable black river of crappy, overused grooves, tough guy posturing and general mediocrity.
As lead track “American Dreams” played out, I was unhappily surprised by the new direction these guys decided on. Mostly forsaking their earlier Exodus worship, they’ve opted for an intense Shadow’s Fall, Machine Head and latter day Pantera infatuation. Simply put, they are no longer a thrash or retro-thrash unit, just a metalcore band that sometimes plays quickly. Why are they metalcore you ask? Well, there’s the tell-tale mid-paced chugga chug riffing, the tough but somehow whiney/angsty vocals (he sounds like Rob Duke’s pussified little brother), the big but generally cheesy choruses (some with obligatory gang shout alongs), need I go on? Follow-up track “The Ultimate Sacrifice” raises the cringe factor even more with a chest thumping, cheeseball chorus. But wait, it also has commercial minded melodies and more groove based, recycled chugga riffs borrowed from Unearth or Trivium or any number of other tired acts. It’s all downhill from there unfortunately and track after track of core and bore stands ready to pummel the listener with remorseless banality. While a few decent moments pop up as things grind along (“Black Rivers Flow” has a few decent riffs and “Light a City” has a chorus that grows on you), by and large its the same core album that bands have been churning out forever with mindless and at times truly embarrassing lyrics like “I can see through your eyes, you’re so evil you make the devil cry.” C’mon, really? Not until the last two tracks do things look up and “Beneath the Waves of Hatred” and “Eternal Vengeance” are both semi-respectable pseudo-thrash numbers with better structure and some semi-genuine emotion.
While I pretty much loathe this album, I will give big props to the guitar solos throughout since in most cases they’re excellent, technical, well conceived and impressive. These solos are the real (and only) highpoint of the album and the only thing that got me through it without a breakdown (the nervous kind, not the core kind). Although the production by James Murphy is a bit sterile, it’s effectively big and I like the drum sound a lot since it’s very punchy and solid.
I noticed that a lot of folks on the internets are giving this album glowing reviews and to be honest, that has me mighty puzzled. I also saw several reviews comparing the sound here to Overkill and Testament. That one REALLY had me puzzling until my puzzler was sore. Trust me when I tell you, these guys are no Testament and no Overkill, not in sound or style, not even close.
While I’m sure this will be huge with mall kids and core-heads everywhere, if you consider your metal palate to be the least bit refined, skip this like you would skip a recreational root canal. Save your money for something else, anything else. Buy a hola hoop or a sack of potatoes, you’ll get way more use and enjoyment from either. If you want thrash, check out the new Legion of the Damned. One last things, don’t drink from the river, it’s black for a reason.