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The 80’s were a fantastic time for heavy metal. Way out in southern California, a brand new style was being engineered that would lay the foundations for all extreme music to come. This style, of course, was thrash metal, particularly the Bay Area variety. Hundreds of acts would emerge from here over the course of the decade, including many major players (from Metal Church to Vio-lence and everyone in between). But as the decade began to wind down, the quality of music was starting to decay, resulting in a lot of mediocre output. Yet even so, the late-period Bay Area scene did have its fair share of success stories.
Take Death Angel, for instance. There is perhaps no album that better epitomizes what Bay Area thrash was all about than The Ultra Violence. Every member of Death Angel, despite their young age, was at the peak of their performing capabilities, the production is raw and fierce, and most of the songs can be placed high on the list of thrash classics. Though their career would fizzle over the next few years (not unlike many of their contemporaries), The Ultra Violence still resides at the top of the later period thrash heap
Opener “Thrashers” is a seven minute riff-fest of generally unequalled proportions and, though it makes for a fair archetype of the band’s then-sound, no one song can properly sum up The Ultra Violence, mostly due to the degree of variation employed throughout the album. The most important aspect of any great thrash album is a varied spectrum of ideas. Nothing kills a potential album like innocuous filler (having a shitty bass player hurts too; DA avoid this as well). This is Death Angel’s calling card of quality: a first time listener, no matter how well-educated in the Bay Area thrash tradition, will have no idea what to expect as the album progresses (obviously someone who’s heard it before will know what to expect: this isn’t Spastic Ink or something in that vein that reveals and surprises on continued listens; rather, it’s fairly catchy throughout). “Thrashers” fuses a straightforward Kill ‘Em All or Fistful of Metal kind of NWOBHM vibe with the heavier riff style of Dark Angel. “Voracious Souls” finds vocalist Mark Osegueda exchanging his rougher, aggressive singing style for a melodic one, with the guitars acting similarly. “Kill as One” has the most insanely high shrieking I’ve ever heard on any album anywhere (Osegueda does it in other tracks too, just not nearly as much as on here). Basically, every track is a strikingly different beast from the one that precedes it, maintaining interest with the listener for its entire duration.
It is definitely worth noting the young age of the band members (and I suppose the fact that they’re all cousins). All of them were around 16 at the time of this recording, which means they were even younger when the band was formed. And yet, Rob Cavestany has a slew of fantastic solos (including a lot of great harmonic wankery at times), Mark Osegueda has one of the most powerful and original voices in the scene, Dennis Pepa has a strong and recognizable bass presence, Andy Galeon plays the fiercest skins this side of Lombardo and Hoglan, and the Gus Pepa/Rob Cavestany rhythm team is pumping out some of the most creative, busy riffs not featured on an album with the Megadeth or Watchtower logo emblazoned on the front sleeve. Death Angel are the best example of age meaning nothing in terms of artistry.
The title track is also notable, as it’s one big epic thrash instrumental. So should you expect a long, drawn-out atmosphere-focused track in the vein of “Orion” or “Call of the Ktulu?” Fuck, no (sorry Lar$) this is all riffs all the time, with special attention being paid to Cavestany’s chops and Galeon’s ferocious drumming (Ten points scene cred if you can name the Rush song that intro beat is from!). Closer “I.P.F.S.” is also instrumental, but as a brief, formless thrasher (with a classical intro that’s at least as good as the one from Exodus’ “No Love”), it couldn’t be further from its counterpart.
Easily among the ten best thrash albums ever released, it’s a required purchase for anyone even remotely interested in the genre. So stop reading this shitty review and beg, borrow, or steal your way to one of the finest albums of its kind.
Highlights: “Voracious Souls,” “Kill As One,” “Thrashers,” and the rest, basically