Plague Years – Circle of Darkness Review

The genre of crossover thrash has been experiencing a renaissance of late but was dealt a devastating blow last month with the untimely passing of Power Trip vocalist Riley Gale. While I might not consider that band to be the cream of the modern crossover crop — High Command and Enforced get my votes there —there’s no denying that Power Trip has been at the forefront of the style’s resurgence. Gale’s passionate vocal performance was an enormous part of Power Trip‘s success, so it will undoubtably take time for his bandmates to regain their footing and move forward. In the meantime, other bands will have to carry the crossover flag into battle. Bands like Detroit’s unfortunately appropriately named Plague Years, perhaps. I found the band while sifting through the endless amounts of drivel1 you guys recommend in the comments, but was my curiosity rewarded?

Yup. Circle of Darkness is a big ol’ slab of pissed-off crossover goodness. Plague Years dole out Slayer grooves with hardcore vocals just like every other modern crossover band, but the beef levels have been turned up to 11 by down-tuning the guitars and adding some death metal elements. If Power Trip is the classic, lean and mean Greek god physique of crossover, Plague Years is the modern-day, steroid-saturated Mr. Olympia. The riffs generated by guitarist Eric Lauder are so thick that you’re going to need a steak knife to consume them. And when you do, I guarantee you’ll wake up the next morning to find that your bench press stats have at least 50% more hair on them. Embedded single “Play the Victim” opens the album, and it will tell you right away if Circle of Darkness is right for you. A short atmospheric intro gives way to a righteous mid-paced chugfest while Mike Jurysta’s violent drumming sets the stage for the true launching-off point at 1:28. There, a huge whammy bar squeal ushers in the band’s full-fledged thrash and Tim Engelhardt’s hardcore shouts make their first spiteful appearance. It’s a helluva way to kick things off.

And the quality never seems to drop. While I keep mentioning Power Trip, Slayer is undoubtedly the most easily recognized Plague Years influence. While taking notes on the album’s ten tracks, I wrote “Slayer” down as a reference for nearly half of them. “Witness Hell” contains a King/Hanneman riffstorm intro, “Paradox of Death” and its eerie leads sound like they spent several seasons in the abyss, and the title track dials up the groove aspect of Slayer before ending with an echoing lead. That groove carries over into “Evil One,” “Incantation,” and album highlight, “Eternal Fire.” The latter features Engelhardt’s most impassioned vocals as he screams “Immolation is how you’ll be reborn! From eternal FIRE!” A sickeningly awesome solo and subdued hardcore breakdown end the track, and it winds up being one of the best thrash numbers of 2020.

The production sounds super modern and is definitely loud, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t suit this music perfectly. Each riff that Lauder plays carries the satisfying crunch of a Honeycrisp apple, and the sound of him sliding from one power chord to the next during said riffs produces in me a warm feeling of euphoria. The songwriting can be a bit homogenous over the album’s 42 minutes, but I can honestly say that the tracks kick so much ass that I don’t give a fuck if a few of them run together. Standouts to check out are “Play the Victim,” “Witness Hell,” “Eternal Fire,” and the title track.

While Power Trip‘s status remains uncertain after their horrendous setback, I can wholeheartedly point you in the direction of Plague Years if you’re looking to fill the resulting void. With Circle of Darkness, the band have released the finest crossover album since High Command‘s Beyond the Wall of Desolation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the reception to this album is nearly as big as the riffs found within it. I invite you to come and partake of deep destruction, but before you do, consider prophylactic cervical spine immobilization.


Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Entertainment One
Websites: plagueyears.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/plagueyearsdet
Releases Worldwide: September 18th, 2020

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  1. Thanks for the rec!
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