Hirax - The new age of terror 3.5/5

Reviewed: 12-17-04


1. Kill switch
2. Hostile territory
3. The new age of terror
4. Swords of steel
5. Into the ruins
6. Massacre of the innocent
7. Hell on earth
8. Suffer
9. El dia de los muertos
10. El diablo negro
11. Unleash the dogs of war

Hirax were one of the most unique bands to emerge from Los Angeles in the mid-80s. Fusing the frenetic, razor-sharp riffs of thrash metal to abbreviated hardcore song structures, the band found avid support in denim'n'leather-clad longhairs and skatepunks alike. Hirax always had a knack for writing to-the-point catchy crossover tunes, but their secret weapon was vocalist Katon DePena, a one-of-a-kind melodic singer who consistently pulled off mind-boggling vocal lines. His vocal acrobatics had to be heard to be believed, sort of like the Jon Arch of thrash metal, although Arch was of course a more polished, controlled, pure singer, while DePena sang more like a runaway freight train on the verge of careening off the rails, but somehow managing to keep it all together. Notwithstanding some sloppy drumming, both the 1985 full-length debut, 'Raging violence', and the 1986 follow-up EP, 'Hate fear and power', are seminal works of prime American 80s thrash.

Fast forward to 2004 and Hirax have returned with 'The new age of terror', their first full-length recording since 'Raging violence'. It warms the cockles of my blackened heart to report that this is an undiluted, old-school thrash metal assault on the senses from the word go. Musically, 'The new age of terror' is less crossover, more powerful, and far better played and produced than Hirax's 80s output. Songwriting wise, it's perhaps not as memorable as the classic Hirax material, but the songs are plenty strong and include more dynamics and nuance than their predecessors. After several listens, the only disappointing aspect of 'The new age of terror' to me is that Katon's singing has changed. I suppose it's inevitable that the ravages of time have deepened his voice and truncated the top end of his glorious range. He still sings cleanly, to be sure, and is instantly recognizable as Katon. Unfortunately, his approach is more of a hoarse (but still tuneful) shout than the golden-throated, high-pitched melodic calisthenics of days gone by. Don't get me wrong: The guy can still sing, and he's miles ahead of what passes for a "vocalist" in many of today's newer thrash bands. But I miss what he was, sort of like Joe Comeau when he sang for Annihilator more than a decade removed from Liege Lord, or Charly Steinhauer from Paradox on their 2000 reunion CD.

If you're a fan of 80s styled American thrash metal, 'The new age of terror' should be a blind purchase. But if you haven't heard 'Raging violence', you owe it to yourself to beg, borrow or steal a copy of that CD first. In the late 80s, Metal Blade Records pressed both 80s albums onto a CD entitled 'Not dead yet', which is extremely rare and long out of print. Fortunately, you can order a CD-R of 'Not dead yet' (as well as proper pressings of the new CD) directly from Katon at "http://www.blackdevilrecords.com/". What are you waiting for?




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