Not long ago, I was canvassing Bandcamp listings, as I do periodically to investigate new bands that may have slipped below my radar. In my travels, I stumbled across a Canadian band called Warning Sign. My interest was piqued by this description on their page: “All you really need to know is that we play heavy metal. We’re not reinventing the wheel, but we make damn sure it keeps on turning!” The combination of modesty and pride, tradition and progression, definitely struck a chord with me, so I got in touch with the band and ordered a copy of their self-financed debut full-length album, ‘Left to the Sharks.’ That decision turns out to have been a stroke of genius on my part, as the quartet from Quebec City have unleashed an impressive slab of heavy metal goodness, indeed.
Warning Sign specialize in speedy, heavy, but still melodic old-school metal in the style that we used to call “power thrash” back in the day. It has the power and energy of thrash but retains the melody and catchiness of U.S. power metal, sort of like what Powermad did on ‘Absolute Power’ or Anthrax on ‘Spreading the Disease,’ or like a less technical Heathen. A more recent example would be San Francisco’s Hell Fire on their superb ‘Metal Masses’ album earlier this year. You get the idea. The twin guitars of Maxim Beaulieu and Oliver Perrier-Maurel are razor-sharp, lightning-fast and shred up a storm (albeit with the occasional annoying squeal); the rhythm section bludgeons and pounds at relentless tempos; and Beaulieu’s crystal clear vocals soar over the top with charisma and emotion. (Those vocals are really quite good, reminding me of Joey Belladonna and occasionally even Haridon Lee (ex-Scanner).) It’s a winning combination that is deployed all too rarely these days, as it seems most thrashy acts favor one-dimensional barkers and the more tuneful singers seek refuge in trad metal or power metal bands. Also, the production is really well-done for an independent release, with crunchy guitars and an overall powerful sound that manages to feel neither dated nor mechanical.
The first indication of the quality of ‘Left to the Sharks’ lies in the three-minute instrumental opener, the brilliantly titled “Eat a Bag of Hell.” Far from the sort of melodramatic, pompous, overwrought intros favored by so many bands these days, Warning Sign waste no time but go right for the jugular with a ripping instrumental that serves as a compelling mission statement. Another highlight is the five-minute title track “Left to the Sharks,” sporting a ‘Kill ‘Em All’-worthy speed riff that would have made a young Dave Mustaine proud. Track five, ‘Make Them Fear Us,’ dips into more of a mid-tempo march, with a message of self-empowerment and unity, plus pre-chorus and chorus sections tailormade for audience singalongs: “Take what’s rightfully ours / They will never break us.” The album does lose a bit of steam on the last two tracks, “The Evil in the Dark” and “Shifting Sands,” but I think that’s a sequencing issue more than anything else. You see, these two songs are by far the longest on the album, each clocking in at 8+ minutes, so putting them back-to-back at the end of the record causes the momentum to stall a bit. To be sure, they are quality tracks (albeit “Shifting Sands” is more ponderous and features more tempo shifts and mellow parts than the rest of the album combined), but spreading them out rather than bunching them together to close out the proceedings would have aided the overall flow of ‘Left to the Sharks.’
Honestly, the big mystery to me is why Warning Sign are unsigned. The songwriting, performances and production are all top-notch, so it’s perplexing to ponder why the larger metal labels wouldn’t be tripping over themselves to ink this band to a deal. Such an arrangement would also allow us to avoid the dreaded “CD-R in a cardboard sleeve with no booklet” format – unfortunately used here – that is the bane of physical music collectors worldwide. Nonetheless, the central point remains that for U.S.-style power thrash with muscular guitars, speed aplenty, and fine clean vocals, Warning Sign are near the top of the heap. Along with the aforementioned Hell Fire ‘Metal Masses’ album, ‘Left to the Sharks’ should be mandatory listening for anyone who loves that classic Bay Area crunch married to a strong sense of melody and killer songwriting chops. True enough, Warning Sign may not be reinventing the wheel, but they make damn sure it keeps on turning, and for that we should all be grateful.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~