Death Angel – Relentless Retribution
By Jared Hynes
To give you readers an idea of where this reviewers frame of reference is coming from with respect to opinion and reviewing this album; I’ve been a big fan of the band since I heard The Ultra-Violence back in 1987. Every album ranges from great to amazing to me, not one stinker in the bunch. They have always had a unique take on the Bay Area thrash sound and were easily recognizable due mostly to Rob Cavastany’s (guitar) writing and playing style. He seems to play from the gut, not the brain and fingers. His style has more soul and substance as apposed to technical flashiness. This is the most appealing aspect of Death Angel material to me, all those little guitar fills, the groove, the melody and (sometimes) the funkiness, all underneath some great thrash riffage and rhythm pounding.
While listening to Relentless Retribution the first couple of spins, I had a pretty good idea of what my review was going to come across like and it was not pretty. If it weren’t for Mark’s Osegueda’s vocals, I don’t think I would have guessed it was Death Angel I was listening to. Some of the distinctive traits in the song writing I listed above are still present but not done the Death Angel way, if that makes sense. Instead what we have here is a modern American metal record. What I mean by that is the newer style of aggressive music coming out of the U.S. over the last decade or so from the likes of Shadow’s Fall, Killswitch Engage, Tivium, and countless other new bands that incorporate thrash, melody, screaming and clean chorus vocals, breakdowns, choppy rhythm riffs in sync with the rhythm section… I’m not saying that this album sounds exactly like those bands but it will be grouped in with that scene much more so than the Bay Area Thrash scene of the 80’s. The fact that original members Dennis Pepa (bass) and Andy Galeon (drums) aren’t present, or that Jason Suecof (Trivium, All That Remains) produced the album, may be reasons for the change in their sound. Or maybe it was just a conscious decision of the band to go in a slightly different direction when writing the material.
The album opens up with the midpaced and catchy title track that could have fit in comfortably on the last album, Killing Season. It’s the next two tracks (“Claws So Deep” and “Truce”) that really exemplify the new direction I mentioned above and that will have longtime fans of the band cringing and scratching their heads. The last 2-1/2 minutes of “Claws So Deep” is an acoustic piece by guitar duo Rodrigo y Gabriela, and is so completely random. It’s a nice piece but seems pointless as it’s tacked on the end of the song for no apparent reason. It could have ended any song on the album and would have made a good intro to the album instead. Since I’m on the topic of seemingly random and pointless music here, the song “Volcanic” is a solo acoustic song by Rob who also sings. There must not have been enough time left on his solo acoustic album he has released recently.
However, don’t fret thrash fans as there are quite a few raging moments throughout the album. The first being “River of Rapture”, introduced into their live set recently, has a “Lord of Hate” feel and a killer breakdown chorus riff. “This Hate” is one of my favorites, a crunchy thrasher that has the best chorus on the album mainly due to Mark’s vocal delivery. “I Chose the Sky” blazes out of the gate and again, Mark really shines on the melodic chorus. Special mention has to go to vocalist Mark Osegueda for his performance as he is on fire. It sounds like he’s really giving it his all and that his heart is 100% behind the music. They saved the best for last in the closing track “Where They Lay”, man this song smokes. It reminds me of Metallica’s “Whiplash” and Rob and Mark add a very cool overlapping vocal delivery; just a pure rager all the way.
“Opponents at Sides” slows things down, and with Rob doing the majority of the singing, it could have come from the first Organization record. “Absence of Light” is by far the worst song here. I can’t even really describe it other than a slow, awkward song that really has no character. It reminds me of something Megadeth would have released in the period between Cryptic Writings to World Needs a Hero. I skip over it every time.
The production and mix are crystal clear but there is a condensed and compressed feel to the overall sound. Killing Season had one of the best productions I’d heard in many years, organic and vibrant, and I think Relentless Retribution would have benefited from that same production. As would any record for that matter.
So I hope it’s apparent from this review that my initial thoughts, after the first couple listens aren’t the same as how I feel about Relentless Retribution now. Despite originally forming a bad taste in my mouth, there were parts of songs I had stuck in my head and I had to keep coming back for more. It has really grown on me. I’m still disappointed that they have changed their style slightly to a more “trendy” form of metal, and that some of DA’s signature flavour is gone, but all in all, this is still a great metal record.
Relentless Retribution will be released in North America through Nuclear Blast on September 14th