Where exactly does speed metal stop and thrash begin? It’s a question that pops into my head nearly every time I listen to a speed metal album, but I’ve never come up with an answer that satisfies me. I’ve searched online and found different explanations: “thrash has punk in it, speed doesn’t” or “thrash has harsh vocals, speed doesn’t” or “speed metal is essentially sped-up traditional metal while thrash is extreme metal” or “thrash uses the low E-string to build riffs” or “blah, blah, blah.” There’s some truth to all of these, but I still have no idea how to describe the difference in a definitive way.1. As if to purposely make things even more confusing, Chile’s Sins of the Damned are releasing their debut album Striking the Bell of Death, and it’s an album that undoubtedly exists within both categories.
Founded in 2013, Sins of the Damned spent half of a decade honing their skills and releasing a series of self-recorded demos. While the base sound of Striking the Bell of Death is that NWoBHM-on-meth sound that many consider to be speed metal, the vocals from founding member and guitarist Razor border on death metal. It’s a somewhat jarring combination as the album begins with the title track, a very traditional metal influenced instrumental that sets the expectations for a much more melodic vocal approach. It doesn’t take long for the shock to dissipate though, as “They Fall and Never Rise Again” delivers some fantastic melodic riffs underneath Razor’s snarls. “Take the Weapons” takes us into thrash territory after a short, ominous synth intro that transported me back in time to the set of The Terminator.
“The Lion and the Prey” adds a healthy does of Maiden to the equation to create a speed metal epic. In fact, that “epic” feel is attempted quite a bit and succeeds more often than not. For a speed metal album, the songs here are quite long. Besides the instrumental title track, only one (the slightly blackened “Victims of Hate”) of the other six songs clocks in under five minutes. Six minute “The Outcast (Sign of Cain)” begins with an atmospheric intro that leads into some incredibly tight riffing. The song features some higher pitched screams from Razor, but runs a little long for the amount of ideas that it contains. “Death’s All Around You” closes things out with six-and-a-half minutes of furious thrash and speed, adding some tapped solos to the mix.
Striking the Bell of Death is an enjoyable listen from front to back, but it’s not without its flaws. Each song has great moments, but the 37 minute runtime is a bit much for seven tracks of speed/thrash. If this thing cut some weight and fought at the 30 minute weight class, the punches would land harder. The riffs from Razor and Maot are razor (sorry) sharp, but the solos can’t reach the same heights. Most notably on “The Lion and the Prey,” “Victims of Hate,” and “Death’s All Around You,” the solos seem simplistic and pale a bit in comparison to the surrounding riffwork. Besides the excellent rhythm guitars, the standout performance goes to drummer Tyrant. He’s high in the mix, and coupled with an organic drum sound, this leads to a pounding presence that almost made me feel as if I were listening to this in a live setting. Ironically named Noisemaker struggles to make his bass heard in the mix, but overall the production suits the music well.
I’ve got a lot to learn about the specifics of genre classifications, but my focus as a reviewer and listener in general has always been on whether or not I like what I’m hearing. I like this. I might struggle to describe why some of these tracks are speed metal while others are thrash, but I have no trouble recommending this to fans of either genre. This is an extremely promising debut from Sins of the Damned, and the next time they strike their death bell I’ll come running like it’s dinner time.