Death Angel - Killing season 4/5

Reviewed: 4-11-08


1. Lord of hate
2. Sonic beatdown
3. Dethroned
4. Carnival justice
5. Buried alive
6. Soulless
7. The noose
8. When worlds collide
9. God vs God
10. Steal the crown
11. Resurrection machine

Y'know, with the burgeoning retro-thrash revival seemingly gaining greater momentum by the day, it would have been understandable if Death Angel had elected to make a straight-up conservative old-school Bay Area thrash record. With their venerable pedigree (they were actually there and an important cog in the movement when it happened the first time), these veterans have the street cred and the mad skillz to do justice to the 80s thrash style in a convincing manner in 2008. But the thing is that Death Angel have never been known for doing things the easy, conservative way. Ever since their precocious decision as teenagers to make a 10-minute instrumental the centerpiece of their 1987 debut, Death Angel have never been afraid to think outside the box, to discard the rule book and make music their own way. The overt experimentation on their 1990 Geffen Records breakthrough, 'Act III', (a heady gumbo of thrash, traditional metal, traces of funk, hard rock, and shimmering acoustic elements), as well as their sadly overlooked 90s project, The Organization, reaffirm that these guys have never played it safe.

Thus, it comes as no surprise that these original thrashers have delivered a CD in 'Killing season' that follows no trends, clambers aboard no bandwagons, and panders to no one. Classic thrash this ain't. To be sure, the old-school Bay Area influences bubble up to the surface from time to time and there's no shortage of speed on hand, but this CD is anything but a throwback. So what does 'Killing season' sound like? To these ears, it sounds like no one other than Death Angel. It's a logical next step from 2004's unfairly-maligned 'The art of dying', with a more cohesive sound, an edgier vibe, and more consistent songwriting. The songs are well constructed and catchy, pulsating with heaviness and crackling with energy, even as bits of shade and color are added by Rob Cavestany's occasional acoustic guitar passages, Dennis Pepa's outrageous bulldozing basslines, and the sporadic trademark semi-sung, semi-shouted gang backing vocals that are quintessentially Death Angel. But don't get the wrong idea: There's nothing pretentious or overtly arty going on here. To the contrary, 'Killing season' is permeated by a blue-collar, rock'n'roll (dare I say punk?) ethos, from the no-frills structures to the rawer-than-usual vocals of the charismatic Mark Osegueda to the decidedly organic production that stands in stark contrast to the over-processed, over-polished productions that are so common in the metal world today.

Add it all up, and 'Killing season' sweeps into your CD rotation like a breath of fresh air. Maybe that's why the critics are going so bonkers about it. It's not a mystery to me why this opus is garnering such favorable reviews (it's a great, truly inspired CD by gifted musicians and talented songwriters), but what surprises me is that so many people who are on record as hating 'The art of dying' are tripping over themselves to bestow accolades on 'Killing season'. It's funny because these CDs are directly comparable in style, spirit and execution to these ears. To be sure, I don't hear anything as immediately captivating as "Thrown to the wolves" or "Spirit" off 'The art of dying' (although "Sonic beatdown", "Soulless" and the amazing instrumental section of "Carnival justice" come close), but 'Killing season' is strong from front to back. So while its predecessor may have the higher peaks, 'Killing season' avoids the pitfalls that smudged 'The art of dying' in a handful of spots.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the masses will embrace Death Angel's current sonic incarnation. 'Killing season' may be too modern and too unconventional for many power metal fans. It may not be retro enough for the high-top wearing teenagers sporting denim vests festooned with buttons and patches from obscure thrash acts that broke up before these kids were born. It doesn't fit neatly in any little style box. But 'Killing season' is an extremely cool, vibrant effort by a veteran band who have mastered their style, who are comfortable with their sound, and who have developed a unique niche for themselves in the heavy metal landscape.




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