With Hallow’s Eve in the air and the holiday season just around the corner, I feel safe looking back on 2013 and saying it wasn’t the greatest year for metal. It’s certainly true that the better stuff seems to be coming out on the back-end, but overall, it has been a lean time for top-notch albums. This is especially true for the rethrash/thrash genre, with very few albums jumping out and smacking me in the gob. Keeping true to form, the better stuff is seeping out now, with solid releases from Death Angel and Toxic Holocaust and now, a winner from Warbringer. IV: Empires Collapse sees these California rethrashers take a big step from the effective, but somewhat generic Bay Area Thrash sound exhibited on Worlds Torn Asunder by adding a host of classic metal influences along with punk and blackened twists. It’s still a thrash album through and through, but a very catchy, intriguing and classy one with a plethora of odd twists and turns and some top-flight musical execution. In some ways it’s almost a historical timeline of the thrash scene and sees the band dabble in everything from primitive speed through to thoughtful, restrained, almost proggy compositions. It’s not the most brutal thrash out there, but it’s definitely a polished and fun take on the style and even manages to feel slightly refreshing, which is a rare thing indeed.
There were always basic similarities between the Warbringer sound and that of early Death Angel and modern day Havok and that holds true for opener “Horizon,” which also incorporates some basic Vio-Lence riffs ideas, but mixes them with blackened trem-riffing, blast beats and really melodic acoustic work. It ends up quite a fine piece of thrash with lots of bells and whistles.” “The Turning of the Gears” is an instantly memorable, hook-laden ditty that channels the punky enthusiasm of old Anthrax with the fluid, tight riffing of vintage (i.e. first album) Annihilator. It’s about as catchy as thrash gets and it will stick in your skull like a battle axe.
“Hunter Seeker” is a barn burner of the tune with thrash riffs intermingled with blackened trems and they lay on the melodic solos and harmonies extra thick for a heavy, yet super polished showcase of speed and chops. More interesting still is the old school metal flavor on “Black Sun, Black Moon,” which slows things down and channels such old timey favorites as Obsession, Attacker and October 31 and shellacs the listener with 80s metal glory and Maiden-esque noodling (it also “borrows” the main riff from Vio-Lence‘s “World in a World”). Later, you get the Warbringer version of “Call of Ktulu” with “Leviathan,” and they turn things way down to a slow, grinding boil and string in eerie riff notes and big bombastic guitar-work that reminds of Savatage.
Not every song is a breakthrough and though I appreciate the good times, punky discharge of “Iron City,” I don’t need any more odes to drinking and puking, since I grew up with Tankard and Wehrmacht. Still, it’s fairly catchy and has an out-of-left-field break into beer stein swinging pirate metal ala Running Wild at 2:24. Likewise, “Off With Their Heads” is a nice enough nod to the early days of proto-thrash, but it’s not something that really moves me, despite some wild solos.
Empires Collapse is a tightly played platter and I was really impressed by the guitar-work of John Laux and new axe-hand, Jeff Potts. They shred and tear their way across multiple genres and invoke the feel of several time periods while managing to keep everything interesting and memorable. They turn out some impressive solos and show themselves technically sound, but the overall memorability factor of the riffs is their true accomplishment and the key to their success. New bassist Ben Mottsman is also very good and his plucking and thumping are all over the place. John Kevill’s vocals are mostly standard issue thrash barks and screams and he always reminded me of a poor man’s Mark Oseguedo (Death Angel). However, he shows improvement here and manages to stretch his delivery to fit the increasingly diverse and melodic material without sounding forced or out-of-place.
If this came out in 1987, it would have been universally hailed as a triumph that moved the thrash genre in a new and exciting direction. In 2013, it’s a really good rethrash album with above average replay factor. It isn’t as heavy as some may like and at times it feels overly slick and controlled, but I find myself going back and spinning it again and again anyway. It may be a weak year for thrash, but this is a fine outing regardless. FRASH!