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Thrash, the offspring of punk and heavy metal, exploded in the early 1980s with fast songs using metal riffs in punk songs. Years after it echoed into silence, retro thrash brought back the style, but until Birth A.D., no one has captured the spirit.
Not surprisingly, people who make tributes to a genre from within do better than those who make tributes from outside looking in. Birth A.D. have grasped the sardonic, spicy, indignant attitude of the original thrashers -- skateboarders who liked both punk and metal, so a fertile ground for crossover hybrids -- and updated it with modern influences.
Exemplary are the Slayer-style tremolo riffs, the blocky SOD-style riffs made melodic in the style of DRI's "Four of a Kind," the punkish verses that give way to fiery metal choruses. The band craft their songs as small, specific statements which reflect in structure the lyrics and emotions given by the topic. The results explode.
Describing it as a cross between SOD's "Speak English or Die" and DRI's "Four of a Kind" gives a general picture of this band. Riffs are played fast and precisely in the metal style, but use the "punk mode" of an open interval followed by chromatic and melodic intervals; the rest is mostly doubling-back on already-used power chords. Songs are verse/chorus with interruptions for bridges that are driven by lyrics coming to a point of argument and delivering a summary, with some breaks for samples or other subject matter powered changes.
Although the riffs on this album will sound blocky to a metalhead, they are within the best spirit of punk and use a good degree of metal precision, echoing some of the progressions used by bands as diverse as Slayer, Anthrax and Exodus. What really drives each song is the vocals, which are delivered with a grim-jawed masculine voice in chromatics and then conclude on choruses in a melodic accent to the guitar riff. These songs are deliberately simple and by keeping every element in service to their meme, strikingly effective.
This CD has ten songs including a cover of the Fearless Iranians From Hell, another Texas thrash band, "Blow Up the Embassy." Each song is distinctive and unique for both its riffs and the way its energy expands outward and doesn't contract. They prefer to leave songs feeling "rough" or unfinished to getting too close to a polished, empty statement.
Unlike retro thrash, Birth A.D. bring out the best ideas of the genre over its lifespan and so surpass "retro" to become a living embodiment of its spirit. This isn't a return to the 1980s; it's the present time adapting this versatile genre to a new set of questions. And with that comes some killer music.