To the uninitiated, four bands comprise the genre “thrash metal:” Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, and Slayer. To the dyed-in-the-wool metalhead, there’s dozens more. Among the most important of these lesser-known bands is Death Angel. Spawned from the Bay Area thrash scene, Death Angel grew up playing alongside bands like Metallica, Exodus, and Testament. As teenagers, they recorded one of the most important albums in the genres history, The Ultra-Violence (1987). Two exceptional follow-up albums were recorded, but by 1991 they had broken up. Reunited a decade later, the band has gone on to record five more albums, including their latest, The Evil Divide.
Simply put, The Evil Divide is an ass-kicker. Stand out tracks like “The Moth,” “Cause for Alarm,” and “Hell to Pay” all have that inherent Death Angel sound that first earned them an audience some 30 years ago. Fast, pissed-off, and merciless. Other tracks are more dynamic in tempo and instrumentation, like “Father of Lies” and “Hatred United/United Hate” (featuring a guest solo by Sepultura’s Andreas Kisser). “It Can’t Be This” and “The Electric Cell” show Death Angel at their most propulsive and precise. These guys are just great musicians, that’s all you can say. Guitars are fast, of course, but they’re fluid, aggressive and unpredictable. In a genre where guitar masturbation is adored, the guitar work on Evil Divide is tasteful, like George Harrison, not George Lynch was giving notes. Sure, there’s plenty here to get the guitar geeks hot-and-bothered, but it’s never overdone or obligatory.
What you hear on The Evil Divide is mostly what you would expect from Death Angel, but with a few twists. Most notably, drummer Will Carroll delivering some atypical beats that stray from the basic template. On the first few listens, I wasn’t sure it worked. But, what I can say after several listens is that I’ve never paid so much attention to the drums while immediately digesting an album. There’s a certain percussive drive that is absent and in its place is a broader rhythmic pattern that seems to be written around the song, instead of serving as a simple metronomic beat. One of the most satisfying things about this album is the out-of-nowhere left turns a song will take without notice. Whether it’s a sudden shift in tempo or a guitar solo that comes in when you least expect it, the songs on this album are full of surprises.
The only miss on this album is “Lost.” It sounds a lot like an Anthrax song. A song that could’ve been on this years For All Kings or even on 1993s The Sound of White Noise. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but it really, really sounds like an Anthrax song. It’s reminiscent of a bad actor showing up in a movie surrounded by great actors. It takes you out of the film for a minute. And let me clarify, it’s a cool enough song. It just isn’t as interesting as the others on this album.
If you like Death Angel, you’ll definitely enjoy this release. It’s both classic Death Angel and new Death Angel. Rather than just churning out 10 more thrash metal songs, the band has taken what they do best and pushed themselves into new terrain. That said, it’s nothing radically different from what they have done in the past, rather a natural evolution in sound.
– J. Kevin Lynch