Hellrazor (U.S.) - In the wild 3.5/5
1. In the wild
3. The pawn
4. Darker days
6. The passing hour
7. Stacked up
8. Ride or die
Newcomer true/traditional metal label Heaven and Hell Records has scooped up a few interesting signings from the mid-Atlantic region. In addition to forthcoming reissues of some of Twisted Tower Dire's early works, a pair of North Carolina bands, Hellrazor and Praetorius, represent the vanguard of this fledgling label's efforts to secure a toehold in the underground metal scene. Hellrazor are a relatively new act, having formed in late 2005. Hailing from the state capitol of Raleigh (which is also home of the excellent Widow), this 4-piece sports a clever name, a messy bloodspattered logo, 'Sin City'-inspired artwork and color schemes, and a scary mascot that no doubt haunts the alleys and overpasses of the band's hometown as thick blankets of fog roll in after midnight. King Fowley must be so proud.
On this debut CD, 'In the wild', Hellrazor walk a well-traveled path of dark, largely midtempo U.S. traditional metal, peppered with elements of thrash in the rhythm section. Reasonable reference points would be mid-paced Iced Earth, old-school Hallows Eve with their foot off the gas pedal, heavy-duty Meliah Rage, heavier/slower Shok Paris, or even some of the less speedy, anthemic works from the Paragon/Rebellion family. Every song features a wall of crunchy, rugged guitars courtesy of lone axeman Charley Shackleford, who locks into a pounding groove and necksnapping riffs without a great deal of melody or technical flair. Vocalist Alan Rueda will win no awards for astonishing range, but he does his job competently, sounding something like a combination of angry Matt Barlow, Chuck Billy, the guy from Sanctity, and the like. The frequent use of Exodus/Violence-styled backing gang vocals recalls the glory days of American thrash, and is a nice (if slightly overused) touch here. The 10 tracks on display are mostly straightforward, in-your-face 4-minute smashers, with amplifiers on 11 and a take-no-prisoners attitude. The rousing namesake of the band, "Hellrazor", is an early highlight, while "3AM" is a nitro-fueled thrashy banger a la Destructor to close out the proceedings on a high note. Special props go to Hellrazor for trying to vary their attack by adopting a bit more nuanced, subtle, melodic and brooding approach on tracks like "Darker days" and "Passing hour", but the heavier, more visceral stuff is definitely the star of the show.
So clearly 'In the wild' is a worthwhile listen for devotees of the classic Iced Earth sound, and establishes Hellrazor as a force to be reckoned with on the Atlantic seaboard. That said, I'd like to see them work on riffs that are infectious rather than simply bludgeoning. Also, for a band that describes itself as "power thrash" on its Myspace page (currently), Hellrazor spends an awful lot of time in the mid-paced realm. If you're going to be a thrashy band, you need to play fast on a more consistent basis. If you're going to hover in midtempo most of the time, better melodies and catchier riffage are a must, especially given Rueda's limited vocals. As it stands, 'In the wild' comes across as more one-dimensional than it should, an exercise in pummeling the listener without giving him too much to latch onto. Don't take that the wrong way. 'In the wild' is a fine debut, but with some refinements Hellrazor's effectiveness could be boosted considerably next time around.
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