(Nuclear Blast, 2016)
There may be no better time than now to be a thrasher. As implied in the title of Death Angel’s eighth album, the United States – and, by extension, the world – is facing a crisis of identity. Competing factions with incompatible ideologies and objectives are clashing violently, resulting in a fractured and fearful populace. This 2016 election cycle may just be the most crucial and anxiety-provoking in recent memory. Set against this contentious backdrop, it can be no wonder that bands such as Death Angel have plenty to say about what’s going on.
The second-wave San Francisco thrash titans have been riding a tidal wave of resurgence in the 21st Century, and The Evil Divide continues their skyward trajectory. This record follows on the heels of 2013’s magnificent “thrashterpiece” (if that’s not a word, it damn well should be) The Dream Calls For Blood, a powerful and cohesive collection that firmly holds its place among my all-time favorite and most cherished thrash records. The Dream… expertly melded thrashy aggression and complexity with remarkably melodic vocal lines. It was a successful combination for an all-around magnificent album. On The Evil Divide, Death Angel have chosen to keep subtly evolving rather than merely aping the style of its immediate predecessor. The result is a fun and energetic thrash album that may not reach the poignant heights of their past releases but still delivers a powerful punch.
One thing that helps a band maintain momentum is consistency, and Death Angel have that going for them these days. The Evil Divide marks the first time the band has sported the same lineup for three consecutive albums since 1990’s classic Act III. Returning to the fold are drummer Will Carroll, bassist Damien Sisson, and guitarist Ted Aguilar alongside founding guitarist Rob Cavestany and longtime vocalist Mark Osegueda. This lineup’s accumulation of live and recording experience is evident on The Evil Divide; here the band sounds like a well-oiled engine, buoyed by a crisp and clean production values, and intricate, precisely-executed playing. The professionalism on display is by no means a surprise, but kudos to Death Angel for maintaining the fire and enthusiasm for 35 years and counting.
Musically in some ways, The Evil Divide continues along a similar vein of the band’s most recent releases. Blisteringly speedy and palm-muted guitar riffs are featured in abundance, as are the galloping groove sections that make Bay-Area thrash sound so irresistible and neck-wrecking. But there are some subtle additions to Death Angel’s palate, as well; take, for instance, the double-time riffs in songs such as “Cause For Alarm” and “Hell To Pay” that recall hardcore punk at its most frenetic and energizing. Much of the music on The Evil Divide is a bit more direct and less complex, though that’s not a criticism in and of itself. Vocally, Osegueda shifts seamlessly between a raspy-yet-effective thrash yelp to mid-ranged clean vocals, much like he did so often on Act III. Along those melodic lines, “Lost” is a bit of a departure in the vein of some of the slower, groove-oriented tracks on the new Anthrax album. This song features a slow tempo, strummed open chords, and razor-edged triplets in the verse that pave the way for a catchy and emotive chorus, courtesy of Osegueda. Unlike the more plodding and pedestrian material on the new Anthrax, “Lost” succeeds in evoking an emotional mood with its striking use of dynamics and melody.
Unsurprisingly, Death Angel is still at their best when they’re pummeling the audience into submission with aggressive and tuneful thrash songs. Opener “Moth” is an absolute scorcher, yet it doesn’t neglect the all-important catchy vocal line in the chorus. “Father of Lies” is one of the album’s best; it invites headbanging of the highest order with a pounding eighth-note riff weaving between all-out speed, harmonized guitar interplay, and a soulfully melodic solo. Vitriolic anger at society fuels the mid-tempo groove banger “It Can’t Be This,” while “Hatred United/United Hate” is an invigorating journey through blazing-thrash speed and another gemstone of a chorus melody via Osegueda. “Let The Pieces Fall” delivers another straight-ahead, palm-muted guitar pummeling, but damn does it feel simultaneously so good and haunting.
On The Evil Divide, Death Angel may not be breaking much new ground, but there’s very little here not to like. All hail one of the best and most consistent thrash bands of the new millennium.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot