(The End Records, 2015)
Hatchet mean business. I’m not joking; I know this for a verifiable fact. When this exuberant quartet took the stage in Detroit this past March, we of the unsuspecting metal-headed hordes were treated to a grand deliverance of thrash salvation. Or rather, all our sundry internal or external ailments were treated WITH an ointment of obliterating, old-school, Bay-area thrash. Their set (opening for the mighty Metal Church) was tight, crushing, and invigorating to a maximum degree; so much so, as a matter of fact, that my subsequent trip to their merch booth to buy their latest CD was inevitable.
Hence I now present Fear Beyond Lunacy, the San Francisco quartet’s third full-length album. Now, while I personally am a newcomer to this Hatchet-wielding party, they apparently have been plying their thrash trade since back in 2006. I guess it’s better late than never, as the old clichéd axiom goes, and I am pleased to report that Fear Beyond Lunacy is a fine piece of neck-wrecking trash metal. Rather than detracting from the visceral impact of their live performance, this album captures the band’s frenetic energy and enhances it within the womb of a crystal-clear production. While Hatchet are not breaking much genre-bending ground, per se, they deliver their version of classic with a sense of distinction and melody that should appeal to a wide array of metal fans.
Hatchet are clearly adept at towing the fine line between complexity and catchiness that results in a disc full of memorable riffs and well-written tunes. Sure, the ferocious playing of guitarists Julz Ramos and Clayton Cagle is downright dizzying and mind-bending at times, and the rhythm section of drummer Ben Smith and bassist Devin Reiche is as furious as it is lockdown. But all the technicality in the world can’t compensate for un-compelling songwriting, and Fear Beyond Lunacy certainly delivers in that regard. As for references, old-school thrash fans will recognize plenty of ‘80s favorites in Hatchet’s sound: the frenetic energy of Kill ‘Em All, the amped-up Maiden gallops on crack, the delicious Testament-style harmonized riffs and leads, the blistering aggression of early Exodus and Death Angel. The sudden bursts of speed and catchy double-time riffs also remind me a bit of Tennessee speed/thrash legends Intruder; that’s a name worth looking up, I tell you. Vocally, Ramos’ raspy shout is decipherable and effective, if not mind-blowing. Oddly enough, the unusual inflection in his tone has a Central European flavor – think Schmier of Destruction or Tommy T. Baron of Coroner. These are some prime ingredients for thrash success right here, folks.
Standout tracks are aplenty on Fear Beyond Lunacy. The album opens unassumingly enough with the pastoral acoustic strains of the instrumental, “Where Time Cannot Exist,” followed by some stately guitar harmonies. Beautifully harmonized riffs and furious, speedy gallops anchor the blistering “Living in Extinction,” which also bears some similarity in riffs to Slayer’s “Angel of Death.” Here the double-time instrumental section destroys with blisteringly fluid solos and destructive riffing. Killer stuff. “Lethal Injustice,” a personal favorite of Hatchet’s live set, showcases the melodic hooks inherent in Hatchet’s music. “In Fear We Trust” just may be the album’s masterpiece; chock full of exhilarating speedy gallops and more tasty harmonies, this is Hatchet at their melodic best. “Killing Indulgence” offers some syncopated rhythms and odd-meter shifts, harkening to more technical influences without losing the memorable song structure. Speaking of memorable, just try to get that almost jaunty main/verse riff of “Dead and Gone” out of your noggin. “Prophet of Delusion” and “Frozen Hell” are other highlights, encapsulating Hatchet’s distinctive sound of speed-meets-harmonies-meets-benevolent infection.
If I could offer any constructive criticism to the band, it would be to crank that bass guitar up a bit in the mix. Perhaps I’m biased as a bassist myself, but I welcome the punchy and aggressive thrash bass of D.D. Verni of Overkill or Frank Bello of Anthrax. As it stands, Reiche’s basslines often seem to hide faintly underneath the guitars.
Any such nitpicking aside, Fear Beyond Lunacy rules to the point where it will cure lunacy. It nearly cured mine.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot