By Kevin Stewart-Panko
Many times over the course of the last calendar year, I’ve said and written on numerous occasions that it appears every band ever is getting back (or going to be getting back) together in some form or fashion. Dead members, day job, hairline status, scene saturation and public demand be damned – don’t worry if you missed out on the first bar or basement shows that Band X, Y and Z from the then-burgeoning polka thrash scene of north eastern Montana in the late 90s, recent trends indicate that they’ll be back. They all come back.
Returning from the late-90s to capitalize on the continuing bear hug the metal world given to every thrash band that ever existed in the 80s is Whiplash. The difference being that for a short while back in 1985-86, Whiplash fucking ruled – well, fucking ruled my world, at the very least. Their Power and Pain album is still something that gets the blood rushing to my schlong like rainwater down a rusty eaves trough and Ticket to Mayhem is still worthy of a half flag pole salute when I’m in the mood. But honestly – and continuing with erection metaphors – their 90s output leaves me hanging like a smoker addicted to phenoxybenzamine. So, considering the ravages of time, Whiplash’s spotty track record after their two initial releases, their split after ‘98s Thrashback and the spotty track record of most reunions, you can forgive me for not to expecting much from the old Jersey-ites.
Unborn Again starts off on about as weak a foot as the band could have possibly stepped forward with; “Swallow the Slaughter” has a pretty slick chorus, but the sub-par riffs played at a plodding tempo makes the song more arduous than need be, moreso because it’s the disappointing introduction to the present-day incarnation of the band. They redeem themselves somewhat with the uptempo thrash of “Snuff” and “Float Face Down,” but what becomes evident is how guitarist/vocalist Tony Portaro’s voice has taken a turn for the worse. These days he’s sporting a mid-range whine completely devoid of grit or irascible intensity. Another pole drainer is Whiplash’s preponderant use of mid-tempo groove riffs incorporating palm-muted single note runs and/or simple power chord shuffles. “Firewater” starts off with some hackneyed Sepultura-ish tribal beating before making rampant use of tired guitar work and vocal lines and you’ve probably heard “Fight or Flight” come out of the maw of your local blue collar douchebag, nü-grunge-metal band playing a sportsbar in Anytown, U.S.A. Portaro’s more-than-excellent soloing makes these songs somewhat tolerable, if you ignore what he’s doing with his vocal chords.
The funny thing, however, about Unborn Again, is that when you think of Whipash’s history and lineage, that they commenced this album with a milquetoast example of heavy metal but conclude the album with the rapid-fire picking mayhem of “Feeding Frenzy,” one of the few elements that would play into this even being considered a thrash record (an Ed Repka cover being another). It’s arguably the best song on here and why the killer sits after the filler is quite quizzical indeed.