Wretch - Reborn 4.5/5

Reviewed: 12-15-06


1. Mental wars
2. Cry for the young
3. Life
4. Reborn
5. Eyes of fate
6. The winners
7. Skin to skin
8. I am storm
9. Touch like thunder
10. Nothing
11. 'Til death do us part

I'll always have a special fondness for Cleveland, Ohio because of the superb music generated by that area in the mid-to-late 80s. You see, Cleveland-based label Auburn Records, led by fearless impresario Bill Peters, had a keen eye for talent and a knack for signing only the cream of the crop in the simmering Ohio metal scene, as well as throughout the Midwest. Among the worthy acts that Auburn Records introduced to the world in those days were Breaker, Shok Paris, Destructor, Purgatory, and even Jag Panzer (on the 'Chain of command' LP). Individually and collectively, the bands on the Auburn Records roster churned out some of the finest U.S. traditional metal recorded in those days. If you're not familiar with the Auburn stable of bands, I highly recommend tracking down the excellent promo CD sampler 'Auburn Records: The first 20 years' that was distributed a couple of years ago.

Wretch were a favorite in the Cleveland underground metal circuit during those halcyon days, and developed a reputation as an excellent live act in their many gigs as opening act for reigning hometown heroes, Breaker. Despite recording several demos, however, Wretch never released a proper full-length CD in the 80s. Fast forward to the new millennium, and Wretch reformed, featuring several luminaries of the Cleveland metal scene as well as the original core writing team of Nick Giannakos (guitars) and Colin Watson (vocals). The time was finally right for Wretch to record and release a proper CD. After battling line-up instability and financing woes, Wretch's debut CD, 'Reborn', was released in the fall of 2006 on still-active Auburn Records. It's a remarkable saga that a band's debut would never be recorded and released until more than 20 years after the band's formation.

Based on that intro, you might assume that Wretch are a marginally talented cult act who never succeeded because they simply weren't very good, and who are now making a belated attempt to garner glories and recognition that eluded them in their heyday. That assumption would be catastrophically flawed. Let me put it this way: I'm a major devotee of the traditional U.S. metal sound. Bands like Metal Church, the aforementioned Breaker, Armored Saint, Vicious Rumors, Ruffians, and the like are staples of my CD changer's diet. I rank Attacker 'The Unknown', Axehammer 'Windrider', Vicious Rumors 'Warball' and Leatherwolf 'World Asylum' as among the finest CDs of 2006. This 'Reborn' CD from Wretch is generally in that same style (really like a cross of Breaker and old Metal Church, I'd say), but it surpasses each of them. 'Reborn' is the best CD of this style that I have heard in years. From the standpoint of songwriting, production, individual performances, and consistency of material, 'Reborn' is damn near flawless. Every song is a gem of authentic U.S. classic metal, the whole thing brimming with reckless enthusiasm, excitement and expert professionalism; propelled by simple, rugged riffs; the powerful, slightly raspy and still tuneful vocals of Colin Watson (a combination of David Wayne, Vic Hix, and vintage Paul Di'anno, perhaps?); and a meaty production job courtesy of Breaker guitarist Don Depew. 'Reborn' also features a near-perfect balance of material, from scorchers like "I am storm" to anthems like "Reborn" and "Mental wars", to epics like "The Winners" and "'Til Death Do You Part". As if that's not enough, Wretch throw in a superlative cover of one of my all-time favorite Breaker tunes, "Touch like thunder". To say that this cover does justice to the original would be an understatement.

Listen, I know that the appeal of this classic 80s U.S. staunchly traditional genre is limited in today's whiz-bang, flashy, compartmentalized metal marketplace. But you will be hard-pressed to find a CD in classic U.S. metal style released in the last 5 years that was executed as well as this one is. 'Reborn' is a crowning achievement for Auburn Records and a ringing call to arms for more Wretch output. I thought long and hard about giving this CD a perfect 5/5 rating, but decided not to only because (a) the lyrics of "Skin to skin" are slightly cringe-inducing; and (b) with the band's energies and creative juices flowing again, I desperately want Wretch to take a crack at topping this monster.




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