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The tiresome cliche of finding a diamond in the rough carries a certain presupposition that a high quality product is a rarity at a given point and time, betraying a certain degree of cynicism in the person making the statement. While this does have a degree of relevance to great heavy or thrash metal albums occurring in the mid 1990s, the notion of this being so at the height of metal's popularity in the 80s doesn't really hold up to this notion of a sea of mediocrity surrounding a small handful of pillars of greatness, despite this being a continual theme among those who are nostalgic for a fictional period in metal history where there was simply Metallica or Slayer, and then everybody else. To dispense with the obvious, the eighties was a great time for metal, and thus anyone looking to coin an analogy to diamond mining would do better searching for the rough within a sea of diamonds, and what will most likely be dredged up is Death Angel's sad and utterly inexcusable sophomore LP Frolic Through The Park, a proverbial lump of coal without a fire to give it a sense of purpose.
This album has been relegated to a preferred whipping boy among most thrash metal fans, and with very good reason. While it carries a healthy supply of all the obligatory elements that make the style what it is, there is a continual aroma of mere sufficiency going on, as if the same band that unleashed the monster of a thrasher The Ultra-Violence suddenly decided that living dangerously was not the life for them (a sentiment that they thankfully left behind when they reformed after the turn of the millennium). Starting off with a bizarre children's song guitar theme amid a backdrop of playground noises, things kick off largely in a retread of familiar territory. "3rd Floor", the opening endeavor of this lackluster affair, is among the better songs found on here and showcases an overly restrained production quality where all the various moving parts are audible and balanced, but most of the bite has been stripped from the otherwise intricate guitar lines. This song could maybe pass for a faster song on Anthrax's State Of Euphoria if the riffs had more punch to them, but it makes for a fairly decent listen regardless. "Road Mutants" provides a similarly mainline nod to the same New York thrashers at a slower tempo and with more bass emphasis, whereas "Why You Do This" picks the tempo up a bit while pivoting into more of a simplified, punk infused niche.
Until this point, the musical goings on of this album are generally decent if a bit too predictable for their own good, but even a slight hill can prove to be a precursor to a massive valley. In this case the creative nadir comes in the form of "Bored", which can be best described as a boring, plodding groove affair with funky detailing, bringing forth the shit-demon that supplanted thrash metal in the 90s a good four years before the fact and succeeding at little more than being tedious. Things get a little better with "Devil's Music", which has an extremely cliche speed metal riff set that was more of an '83-'85 staple and a lot of meandering sectional changes, but at least has some energy to it. But like a bad habit, the plodding monotony comes creeping back in with "Confused", which betrays the general tone and tenor of this album, boring and stylistically confused. There's a token faster section for the guitar solos where this band reminds everyone that they still know how to thrash, but it vanishes into the ether of soul-sucking, down tempo plodding almost as quickly as it enters. The rest of the album generally mirrors what came before, mixing up more thrashing and decent work such as "Guilty Of Innocence" with bizarre, pseudo-experimental goofiness that probably would have been avoided even by mid-90s Anthrax such as "Open Up".
It wouldn't be out of line to refer to this album as toxic, and not in the good sense that one might expect out of a fun thrashing adventure out of later 80s Nuclear Assault or Evildead, but more in the "this is going to kill the style" kind of toxic. It can be likened more to a diluted type of poison analogous to rat poison where the arsenic has been mixed with some healthy nourishment. About half of the songs on here could have been reworked into a truly kick ass EP if the production was given the necessary tweaks to put it back in similar territory to this band's amazing debut. But as a whole, this is an exercise in pure frustration, like a band dangling a thrash metal carrot in front of a totally metallic rabbit, allowing for an occasional nibble just to get a taste of what appears to be a real treat, and then followed by long, arduous circles to be run at regular intervals. Even the stronger songs on here don't quite meet the mark of what was commonplace at the time out of most of Death Angel's contemporaries with its limp production and over-emphasized vocals, either in the Bay Area or beyond. It's all just a sad, confused little album that, depressingly enough, was probably eaten up by everyone glued to their televisions at the time, reinforcing why it is so affectionately referred to as the idiot box.
The Guinness Book of Records, as it was known in the thrashy years of the 1980's, is a semi-funny book. While the premise is sort of cool, it contains completely idiotic world records. Sure, in 1982, Jürgen van Güggenhügel did indeed stuff a total of 28 strawberry-flavoured marshmallows up his nostrils while hanging upside down over the Niagara falls by his love handles. And wow, in 1985, a loony Canadian called Bruce Spruce managed to balance a wheelbarrow filled with 17 dead beavers on his nose while singing the national anthem of Uruguay for fourteen minutes with his feet buried in a burning bullet ant hill. Now, who the fuck came up with the ideas, you may ask? And even more to the point, who the fuck would like to try to break the records?
An even more important question remains, though: if the records are meant to be broken, why does the book contain such questionable records as "the first banana ever eaten by a bearded female in free fall" or "the first South American kerosene-based self-immolation by an obese retard in a clown suit"? You can't break a record that consists of doing something for the first time, now can you? Can you be even firster, two decades after Guglielmo Lavatore managed to become the first person to mutilate himself into four separate parts of roughly equal weight in a bizarre water-skiing accident involving a concrete mixer, a truckload of dead rats, and a tampon factory? No? Good. That's settled, then.
Frolic Through the Park actually manages one of those "first of its class" records. Yup, it indeed did. Let's keep the audience guessing until the end of the review, and have a dramatic commercial break or two, with only tantalizing hints dropped as utterly lame cliffhangers, and see what the album contains first. Because, well, cheap thrills are what lame programs like that definitely-not-prime-time pool of bollocks of the Guinness Records need, to captivate the least intelligent 30% of the audience long enough for the Nielsen ratings to kick in sufficiently to make them seem worthy in the eyes of paying advertisers.
Death Angel's Frolic Through the Park is an indifferent beast, or rather, an indifferent tame animal. While the song-writing resembles that found on the earlier The Ultra-Violence album, the polished production and poppish stylings turn it into a neutered entity. The Ultra-Violence still had a measure of grit in it, if only for the lower fidelity of the production and the aggression that maybe occasionally over-stepped the band's skill level at that point. But Frolic indeed suffers from lamentable emasculation.
The album was one of the first extremely clear and polished productions in the whole wonderful genre of 1980's thrash. The genre-defining fatty crunch midwifed by Metallica & Al. was gone, and replaced by quite a hi-fi fare that sacrificed brutality on the altar of clarity. The best method to bring out the individual instruments at the time was to make every single one of them less heavy, to allow room for every one of them. What's more, the production is heavily focused on the vocals and vocal melodies; indeed, the thrash here is based more on the melodies sung in a mostly clean young male voice than the riffing. That is one of the main differences between this and The Ultra-Violence. The former, while relatively melodic, still had more weight on the guitars than on the singing.
The melodic, clean voice centered sound has an unfortunate effect on the album: it turns the whole piece of art into something that resembles pop music more than it ever does resemble thrash metal. Yes, the basic makings, riffs, and elements of thrash are there, and it's not unjustified to call it, technically, thrash metal, but the way Frolic Through the Park tried to lure in listeners was by being pop in its soul. And that's the downfall of the whole album: it's a pile of melodies and fundamentally OK riffing, but tamed, neutered and brushed until its fur shines well enough to melt the heart of any preteen walking past The Fouw Fuwwy Paws pet store's big window. This album is not for the thrash fan from 1987, it's for the timid youngsters who got to their puberty too late to see Metallica live on the Ride the Lightning tour.
Another juvenile aspect of the album can be found in the lyrics. They are obvious children of their decade, from Teenage Mutant Ninja Hero Turtles influenced "Road Mutants", the obvious re-telling of a good Dungeons & Dragons gaming session in "Shores of Sin", to the silly "Bored" that reeks of the lazy days of puberty. The clumsy, choppy cover of Kiss' "Cold Gin" is the final nail in the coffin: Frolic is not a good album.
And now, the big reveal! What is the Guinness record that Frolic Through the Park should be awarded? What was the great "first" it scored? Any guesses?
The polished production... the juvenile attitude wrapped in a polite, non-confrontational and tame appearance... going through the motions, but lacking the real soul of thrash... the palpable form of an intentional and shiny product...? What could it be?
Yup, Frolic Through the Park gets a trophy as the "first retro-thrash album ever". And just think about it: it was made three years before thrash died. We are indeed discussing the Wilbur & Orville Wright of retro-thrash here. Sigh...
Cowabunga, dude! It's pizza time!
The irony of such a killer debut album as The Ultra-Violence is the enormous pressure placed on its successor, a pressure that Death Angel was clearly feeling when strapping together its sophomore Frolic Through the Park for Restless Records. By any standard, this could be considered a more 'accessible' followup to the scathing we received in 1987, though it's far from an abandonment of the savage speed/thrash riffing that the band brought to bear there. If anything, Frolic feels like the musicians, still quite young compared to their many burgeoning Californian contemporaries, were issuing 'feelers' to round out and mature their style, and this manifest in a funkier hard rock influence in a handful of the tracks, plus a cleaner tone coursing through its bloodline, marginally friendlier than its elder sibling.
This was the same line-up as The Ultra-Violence, and you can certainly sense that quintet's performance as a unit was tighter and more comfortable, but I wouldn't say that all of its components were quite so impressive. The guitars still add a lot of interesting flair with a mix of more generic, speed metal palm muting and some clinical, melodic architecture like we find below the final lead of "3rd Floor" or the gallant tint under the surge of the "Shores of Sin" chorus. As for their central rhythm riff set, it's still strong enough to appear timeless in many places on the disc, though there's nothing here quite so immortal as a "Voracious Souls" or "Evil Priest" or, really, most of the debut. Andy Galeon gets a great workout here, with an increased use of his fills alongside the myriad tempo changes that flit about the tracks, a lot of which hover between the 5-7 minute mark and thus get ample space to adventure. Dennis Pepa is also solid, though I'm not a big fan of the funkier bass lines which contribute to some of the weaker tunes here.
As for Osegueda, I felt that he might have often been too pronounced in the mix on this album. There are certainly points like the choruses to "Why You Do This?" or "Shores of Sin" where he excels, and these are arguably some of the catchiest lines he's committed in all the Death Angel legacy, but some of his shrieks throughout the album sound a fraction too 'girly', and there are cuts like the drudging "Confused" where he's all over the place, and I'm not into the nasal, conversational frankness of the chorus alternated with the harsher bite that I associate him with. That said, he's still got a rather unique presence that I can't recall hearing much elsewhere if we aren't to count Belladonna as his most psychotic moments.
Song-wise, I feel that Frolic Through the Park works best when its honoring its lineage from the first album, in other words at its most abusive and aggressive peaks. Tracks like "Road Mutants" and "Guilty of Innocence" certainly stir the circulation with manic headbanging, while "Devil's Metal" and "3rd Floor" at least feature some prominent, compelling guitar work that feels fresh over 20 years later. The band's cover of "Cold Gin" from the s/t KISS debut is nothing to scoff at, though I admit towards a little bias there as it's hands down one of my favorite rock songs of the 70s. On the other hand, there are a few selections here that seriously dampen my potential appreciation of the album due to their lyrical silliness and the elements of funk rock that feel like the band were trying to dust off their hereditary bell bottoms and channel a bit of Hendrix into the hostile environment, which just doesn't work for me...
I wouldn't brand the songs 'funk metal' whatsoever, and bands like the goofy Infectious Grooves were still on the horizon, but we had a few similar cases around this time like San Francisco potentials Mordred, whose debut Fool's Game where they covered a Rick James track and one of their own concoctions ("Every Day's a Holiday") certainly fit that bill. But I think there's undoubtedly some psychedelic hippy groove fueling "Bored", with its plucky staccato riffing and bluesy trills that explode into the chorus, and those verses clearly feature some disco funk hustling over Osegueda's whiny vocals and the ultimately underwhelming chorus of 'I'm bored', which...sounds like he IS bored. Funny enough, this was the video released for the album and generated quite a lot of buzz for them, certainly more than what the band culled out of The Ultra-Violence. But people are funny that way. These days, I find the guitars here efficaciously groovy, but the lyrics and chorus quite sodden and lame.
Even worse: "Open Up". This song 'opens up' with a gang shout and then busts into some MC5 or Hendrix groove with lame vocals that alternate between the nasal whining and an attempt to sound all emotional and hard rock over some funky bullshit. And if the music and delivery were not bad enough, the lyrics are fucking laughable. This is another of the 'celebrate nonconformity' anthems that stunk up the thrash scene in the 80s/90s, as if the general public or the metal audience, who were already 'open minded' enough to dip below the mainstream needed some preaching to over their choice in lifestyle or music. Similar to "31 Flavors" by Sacred Reich. It comes off incredibly dated, trite and not even funny to read lyrics like these:
'Knock knock knock but no one's home
Excuse me please but I'm sick of society
'Cause you are you and I am me
And if we don't agree
Just let it be'
or the amazingly resonant chorus...
'Best loosen up and take it in stride
The world don't need egotistical pride
Open up your eyes
And see the light
Just do it'
It's fucking tragic, really, and a major symptom of why this album suffers in the wake of the debut. Gone are the songs about evil preachers and cults and sluts and all that other greatness of The Ultra-Violence, and in their place wimpy musings about life in general, as if penned by a 12 year old staring at the blackboard in his Social Studies class. The prose in "Bored", "Confused", "Why You Do This", and "3rd Floor" is all quite miserable, and even the anti-Christian finale "Mind Rape" manages to come across as pedestrian and underwhelming. It's not that the points being made in the songs aren't important or relevant, they're just handled in the most tacky of ways and ironically makes Frolic Through the Park seem even more childish than an album they recorded when they were basically kids...hell, I was essentially AT THIS AGE when the record came out and I still found it stupid even then.
There are other weak spots here, for example I don't love the punk riffing in "Why You Do This" and feel that about two minutes or more should have been lopped from "Confused", but really it's the shadow of the lyrics and how they translate into Mark's performance that renders the album so disappointing. Had the music itself been utterly intense and unforgettable, then I might be more willing to let these slide. Gods know there are albums I love with crappy lyrics, but in those cases the music is more than just compensation, or the delivery so brutal that you might not even notice. The funk-inflected tunes don't really help either. I can recall about 3-6 months in high school where everyone was so jazzed up over Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers that it seemed like a great idea, but very few bands were ever able to pull this off for any duration. Thankfully it would never fully consume Death Angel's sound. There are further hints of it on Act III, and in their other projects, but the post-reunion records seem to have flagged it as a generally bad idea.
In the end, Frolic Through the Park is not an album bereft of some character, and there are a dozen or so decent riffs worth hearing once, but where its predecessor leaves a crater in your heart, so radioactive with faux Satanic fallout that nothing can grow there for years, this sophomore just sort of skirts around the crater's edge, selling lemonade and balloons to tourists who showed up that they might witness some REAL destruction.
Do you remember that kid from high school who suffered from delayed puberty? Well, that’s what Mark Osegueda sounds like on this album. Now, this may have worked fine on the first release due to its reliance on high-pitched shrieks, but it is an abysmal failure on here. The lyrics are so incredibly whiny that it sounds like a pouting 12-year-old is having a mild temper tantrum. “Knock! Knock! Excuse me please, but I’m sick of society:” the preceding quote is a perfect example of the passive-aggressive sassiness that plagues this CD.
The music reeks of terrible songwriting, as the riffs simply don’t flow together to make coherent songs. The tempo changes awkwardly as if the band simply wrote a bundle of riffs and pasted them together, then sung mismatching vocal lines over them. Sure there are an abundance of quality riffs and choruses, but they are not used to their full potential. It is a downright shame that Death Angel didn’t just decide to cash in by selling their riffs to another band with writers’ block that could actually utilize them to construct some great tracks.
The good in this album (the first two tracks) sounds as though they are leftovers from the debut. “3rd Floor” is excellent, and “Road Mutants” is above average. The lyrics aren’t the angsty, adolescent garbage that blights the remainder of this output, but a thrashing mad bedlam of insanity. Then the band start to pick up an alternative metal sort of a sound with “Why You Do This” and “Bored”, the former having the most irritating and obnoxious chorus I’ve yet to hear in thrash metal. It’s whining. It’s not just singing that sounds whiny; it is true, legitimate whining with audible tears in the back of the eyes. The atmosphere is foreshadowing of what would come years later with Korn.
The production is that of a glorified garage band, and there’s no technicality to keep much interest; most of this album is quite sloppy. The best thing “Frolic through the Park” has going for it is the KISS cover of “Cold Gin.” It’s not that they did anything to make it better; it’s just a good song to begin with and they didn’t screw it up. You’d be surprised how many bands couldn’t even handle that simple task, so I suppose this album has some extra value to it for that reason. I also enjoy the slightly overlong track “Confused” because I see so much potential in it, but they dragged it on a bit too much and sort of ruined things; it has the best riffs on the album, though.
This is not even a shadow of “The Ultra-Violence.” If you like thrash, you need to hear only the first two songs and maybe “Confused.” Don’t even bother with the KISS cover; you can just listen to the real song.
So this album takes a lot of flak. I guess it's hard for a band to come up with an album that has the youthful energy and flair of their previous works. This discussion has been made innumerable times. The damn retroists always say "That band will never top their first". While that may happen a lot, it's not always the case.
One thing that always stands a metal head’s hair up is progression. Some of us see progression as an awesome thing, you know, the natural advancement of a band’s ideas. Others see progression as tearing a band’s sound apart: hello Metallica and Megadeth! So as I see it, we have progression as going either of these two ways… for better or for worse! So, many people bash “Frolic through the Park” because it’s not another “Ultra-violence”. Well, you know what I say to you? Cry about it! Not many bands pull off their original sound, ever. Ok, so I’ll get off that pedestal for a little bit.
So on to the album, and why I think it’s a step in the right direction. “Act III”, for me, was a landmark album. Death Angel was just on this new plane of thrash. They played a thinking man’s thrash metal, with some really interesting riffs, at least on that album. On “Ultra-Violence” the band was just an energetic, young thrash band looking to make a name for themselves. So what did they do on the album in between? Well, let’s get it on to it.
“Frolic through the Park” maintains some of the youthful energy displayed on their debut, especially in the riff and drum department. They play some really awesome riffs, especially on “3rd Floor”. There are even some more cross-over/punk influenced tracks (see: “Why You Do This?”). The riffs are definitely high-paced in some parts, like their earlier work, but they aren’t afraid to slow it down (I’ll go into more detail on that later). There are some cool solos, but they just aren’t completely spot on. It’s almost like their randomly thrown together.
The drums are definitely fun on this album. They may not be as fast and furious as the debut, but man, the fit the music so well, it’s hard not to take notice. The drummer comes up some really interesting lines, and at times does let it loose, but it’s more in control than they unrelenting “Ultra-Violence”.
One of the biggest changes on this album, besides the slower pace of the music, would be the vocals. This is the biggest step in the band’s new direction. The singer is much more controlled, and to me, a lot more fun to listen to. He’s starting to show the elements of a great thrash singer (note: I said “singer”, not “screamer”.). He has a very strange delivery, especially when compared with a lot of other thrash bands at the time. It’s midrange at times, and higher at times, but never really out of control (something he perfected on “Act III”). While it doesn’t work throughout the whole album, listen to the strange NYC-HXC shout on “Open Up”, overall the effect is much better than on “Ultra-Violence”. That and the crazy squeal he does on “Cold Gin”.
So yeah, this may not be as good as “Act III”, but I do believe it is a step towards Death Angel topping “Ultra-Violence”. So, this may not have the debuts energy or speed, and it doesn’t have the straight-up originality of “Act III”. So it’s not a landmark, and it’s not their best. It’s still a good album, and pointed Death Angel in the right direction, so for that I commend them.
To tell the truth, I don’t listen to this album nearly as much as “Act III” or even “The Art of Dying”, but it’s still a solid album. This album, like I said has its high points, it has its low points, but it serves its purpose as a stepping stone for greater things to come. My final analysis of the album is that it’s good for the purpose it served, allowing Death Angel to release “Act III”. If you’re a Death Angel fan, you owe it to yourself to own this. If you’re a thrash fan, and looking to buy a Death Angel album, get a different one first.