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One of many who couldn't survive the treacherous waters metal faced in the early 90s before since reforming in Y2K era, Death Angel typified the original 80's period when all the main bands sounded different and unique through their adept usage of funky heavy metal influences, killer classic thrash riffing and a knack of writing softer yet equally enjoyable softer songs but now, on the third post-reformation album, "Relentless Retribution" on the home of the alive-again band Nuclear Blast, sights the Californians falling closer into the trap of identical production and increasingly similar sound to their contemporaries of today. Of all which is a pity cos 1987's "The Ultra-Violence" is simply one of the best 80s thrash albums and while the following "Frolic Through The Park" and "Act III" were no bad albums themselves there was an undoubted edge to the Death Angel that no band matched, an edge that has rarely, if ever, shown its face on the band's subsequent albums as I'm sure the band would be the first to admit.
It took the aging of the bands at the heart of the 80's thrash climate to realise that the youthful anger and exuberance that spawned so many classic albums in such a short period was an essential element in their work, something few unsurprisingly seem to be able to conjure up in the same potent mixtures in their mid 30s when a family and mortgage await them back home after touring. "Relentless Retribution" sums up this situation to a tee as many of the album's 12 songs hit hard and clean with choppy galloping riffs and catchy melodic leads yet to classify any of it as music that sounds like a band possessed with the urge to rip off your face with the power of THRASH! is no longer true about Death Angel (admittedly it hasn't been since "The Ultra-Violence"). The title-track which serves as opener feels akin to Destruction, another veteran proponent of the overly-clean modern production technique, aptly meets the requirements of a 'good' thrash song, as does the "Master of Puppets"-like "Absence Of Light", "Truce" and any number of others but you'll soon learn not to expect any 'greats' as for all they try the magic ingredient of 'urgency' that is at the bedrock of all timeless thrash has got lost somewhere on route to Death Angel's approaching metal-middle-age. In the act of moving steadily towards 'veteran' status Rob Cavestany's lead guitar work now feels far more restrained than what earlier efforts show what he is capable of and Mark Osgueda, the possessor of perhaps thrash's most charismatic set of pipes, sounds his usual punchy self one moment and bewilderingly muted the next.
A 56-minute album of scything thrash metal would in most cases be much too much but with the beautiful acoustic guitar work of Rodrigo Y Gabriela late on in "Claws In So Deep" and the Cavestany-played balladry of "Volcanic" Death Angel are here to remind you that when it comes to making thrash emotional and 'soft' there is noone better for it. Their willfully displayed external influences have for long saved Death Angel from the trappings of a 'pure' thrash band, allowing them much greater freedom of expression than Exodus for one example, though it is by this very token that the potential of another 'classic' has long since disappeared from view. Fans of the band's post-"Ultra-Violence" material will lap up "Relentless Retribution" as the band's best post-reformation album; the classic thrasher may disagree. Where do you sit?
Originally written for www.Rockfreaks.net