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The sonic equivalent of the Dresden bombardment. - 91%

hells_unicorn, December 5th, 2012

There are many different ways to screw up the upper reaches of the spinal column, but few will throw the good old c4-c5 disc out of alignment quicker than an old school Bay Area thrash assault right out of the mid 80s. Something about the raw energy and intensity, combined with a healthy sense of rest and resurgence to allow for elongated assaults on the neck vertabrae separates it from the shorter bursts that tended to go with the German equivalents at the same point and time, and the other related scenes tended to either derive their fury from the Northern California model, or played down the aggression factor for something a bit more technically involved. Death Angel was one of the early adherents tha came to a rather unfortunate, yet all too common disposition of getting an LP out as late as 1987 (though the band had existed for 5 years before the fact) and were soon after bit by the commercial bug, deviated from their core, and were cannibalized by the onslaught of commercial carnage that took place in the early 90s.

Be all this as it may, "The Ultra-Violence" stands tall even amongst its contemporary competitors in "Bonded By Blood", "Darkness Descends" and "The Legacy" in its ability to still link itself to the older NWOBHM roots of the style while taking in all of the meaner, faster elements that Slayer had introduced to the style by 1984. It can't help but resemble the 3 former albums in varying respects, particularly the Exodus effort in its employment of crushing mid-tempo sections to complement the light-speed moshing and headbanging that goes with the rest of its contents. It even occasionally tries to outdo all of the other bands in its respective scene by pilling in a lot of elaborate, almost lead break oriented riff work that looks ahead to the fret board wizardry of Jeff Waters, but with more of a Razor feel to it, particularly in the case of the wild riff that kicks off "Thrashers", a song that definitely leans back to the early transition from speed to thrash metal that was starting to make way for a heavier and ultimately stricter approach.

But perhaps the most distinct tool in Death Angel's arsenal at play on here is the demolition machine of a voice possessed by Mark Osegueda. Perhaps the only other voice out there at this juncture capable of matching the dual assault of mildly consonant yet gritty tenor yells and primal, mirror shattering screams would have been Blitz Ellsworth. The clearest example of this effective duality is heard on the somewhat outlandish thrash/ballad that is "Voracious Souls", which trades blows between an intense foray of bone-crushing guitar work and a recurring and quite serene acoustic verse that shows Osegueda's rather unique ability to haunt the soul from a perspective of somber gloom in between tearing the body limb from limb. Nevertheless, thrash metal of this variety tends to work best when going straight for the jugular, and a wicked mixture of galloping guitar insanity, fret blazing solos and outright eerie vocal gymnastics manifest in the high speed thrill ride that is "Kill As One".

While a near infinite number of interchangeable metaphors and analogies to demolition and destruction could be used to describe the raw intensity of this entire opus, the most intriguing element is actually found in its peripheral traits and how they relate to a trend in American thrash circa 1987-88. Some have come to understand this point in thrash's history as the period in which the bands that were passed over in the earlier 80s, in favor of the so-called Big 4 and a few other early acts like Exodus and Dark Angel, were finally given their shot. Consequently, albums like "The Legacy", "Eternal Nightmare", Taking Over" and this rather proud display of old school mayhem came off as being heavily similar to the output of already established albums from the 1984-85 era. Particularly in the case of "The Ultra-Violence", one can't help but note the similar blend of treble-heavy mixing and lighter guitar distortion that reminds heavily of the "Kill Em' All" and "Killing Is My Business And Business Is Good" sound that had since been moved away from for something a bit heavier and more polished. This album very well could have been released in 1985 and have been even more time-appropriate.

There is definitely a reason why this album is praised heavily amongst thrash adherents young and old, and it has a lot to do with the reason why Kirk Hammett took an interest in them and ended up producing their 1985 demo "Kill As One". This was a band that had their act together right from the start, though they unfortunately ended up losing it soon after, probably by listening to all the wrong influences from the more punkish New York scene. But this is an album built completely out of a rugged sense of unfettered aggression, tempered only by the typical parameters that defined the moderate killing spree approach of "Bonded By Blood" and the storm of speed and chaos of "Darkness Descends". It doesn't quite outclass either album, but definitely demands the same level of attention and general praise. Any metal movement doesn't happen by itself, and the collective effort of the San Francisco crowd stands as one of the more impressive feats in metal history, one that is still imitated even to this day.