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Epidemic is one of the most underrated bands as far as US thrash and death metal go. I checked out Exit Paradise before this album, but Decameron really destroys the latter, and even 15 after I had bought this album, it's a real wild card.
Epidemic essentially takes the most efficient thrash, a la Reign In Blood, and mixes it with vintage death/grind, most notably Terrorizer, Morbid Angel, and possibly a bit of Napalm Death. In fact, when I first listened to this album, I thought it sounded quite a bit like Altars of Madness, with a dryer production, crazier vocals, and really precise riffs.
Carl Fulli's vocals are maniacal. They're more raspy and growly, and his delivery is rapid. When Epidemic turns up the speed to blasting tempos, Carl keeps right up. Check out "Insanity Plea," "Blown Doors," or the insanely fast "Tornado," for Epidemic's real strengths. No other thrash band every attempted to throw in blast beats like this!
And that brings us to the drumming, which is given a really sharp, dry production. That adds a bit more violence and unpredictability to the feel of the album, and sometimes it feels as though the pace is going too fast, and they're going to lose the beat...whereas you get a really solid drummer like Pete Sandoval, who can blast without missing a beat, Epidemic sounds like they just started doing blast beats, and are a little uncomfortable playing at those tempos. This, however, is a good trait, as I've mentioned that it adds a really chaotic feel to the music.
That isn't to say that Epidemic only sounds good going full throttle. "Three Witches" is a more midpaced number, as is "Factor Red," with is meat grinding heavy riffing. Most songs do blast through several tempo changes, especially the minute and a half massacre, "Tornado," which slows down for just a riff at the end.
The distorted bass gives them album an almost industrial feel, which is pretty interesting. It growls along in the background, sometimes coming to the forefront, in an almost Cliff Burton fashion. The lead guitars are not really the best, mostly being whammy bar and tremolo shredfests, much like Slayer. Guy Higby is the more experienced of the two, with Erik Moggridge putting in some really atonal noise, that has been mostly derided by most reviewers on here (I actually like his work here, as it makes the album even more chaotic).
Certainly a unique album, sitting the fence between death and thrash like other underrated greats like Demolition Hammer.
For quite some time, I’ve regarded this Californian band as the last truly great thrash metal band to emerge during the scene’s heyday. Thus with a release date of ’92, the more savvy among you are perhaps wondering if this release was not a bit overdue. True, too true. Despite issuing a self-released debut some years back, it took Epidemic quite some time to reach the lower rungs of indie label metal stardom. By ’92 death metal was flailing all over the metal scene like a possessed three headed hellhound, and thrash was very, very quickly becoming extinct. But high speed crunchy thrash metal was Epidemic’s thing, and on Decameron they did an exemplary job of executing said style. While they lacked the total overkill of a band like Dark Angel, the band’s savage precision and song acumen make for serious listening. And “Insanity Plea,” with it’s very fast slam and “Vision Divine” which features a more measured use of thunderous riffing, are damn serious thrashing metal. High speed mania is here in abundance (“Hate,” “Live Your Death,” “Tornado”) but there’s also mega-crunchy mid-tempo riffage to spare as in “Factor Red.” I’ve always found “Three Witches,” a track about young girls experimenting with LSD to be fascinatingly well written, and the whole damn thing is highly, highly recommended to the thrash metal addicted out there. The far more death metal tinged Exit Paradise album would follow this and end Epidemic’s career, but Decameron is the one crucial gravestone from this band that you need.
Almost immediately on the heels of the early successes of the "Big Four" thrash metal acts, a veritable glut of imitators and clones seemed to spawn overnight during the mid-'80s. Mostly forgettable and second-rate, the vast majority of these also-rans attempted to ride the wave of American thrash and cash in on the sub-genre's booming popularity. While several truly great, if lesser-known, bands emerged from this crowded field (Kreator, Sodom, et al), one band managed to slip through the cracks, seemingly going completely unnoticed. That band was Epidemic.
In retrospect, it is difficult to determine exactly why the band never received the attention their 1991 release, "Decameron," would normally command. Completely eschewing the more melodic strains and occasional balladry common to other thrash acts, Epidemic instead cast themselves as a thrash/death hybrid, savagely browbeating the listener beneath a furious, frantic, blisteringly-paced sonic assault.
Lyrical themes cover the usual territory: politics, society, human nature, and personal struggle, with a healthy dose of warhawking and violence thrown in for good measure. Fortunately for Epidemic's posterity, charges of camp or awkwardness cannot be successfully leveled against the band, as the rage of lyricist/vocalist Carl Fulli is made painfully obvious, despite the minimalism of his descriptions. He roars in a not-unpleasant growl that keeps a foot in both the thrash and death camps, as does the instrumentation.
If anything truly detracts from "Decameron," it is the presence of main songwriter and (thankfully, second) guitarist Erik Moggridge, who hideously amateurish strains evoke Slayer's Kerry King at his absolute worst--sloppy, imprecise, and ham-fisted. While one cannot fault his contributions to structure or raw aggression, the listener should nonetheless consider himself fortunate to have Moggridge's "skills" counterbalanced by the decidedly more technical (and listenable) Guy Higby, who thankfully dominates the album's numerous (and lengthy) lead breaks. Bassist Mark Bodine truly shines with an impressive showing, matching drummer Bob Cochrane beat-for-beat, creating a rhythm section that contributes, rather than simply carries, the music.
The entire package is certainly well worth the effort to track down the album, as the seething mass of hate and anger serves as a stark contrast to the direction most thrash acts had taken by the time "Decameron" was released. Slightly anachronistic, the sheer energy and ferocity of this effort carries the day.
The basis of the Epidemic’s sound is formed by thrash metal and, among other things, warlike hardcore, which makes ‘Decameron’ a barrage of fury that matched their death-thrash metal contemporaries in the metal arena in early 90’s. Even though much of ‘Decameron’ was forged from the band’s previous demo releases, the material is intense and aggressive as if there was fuel flowing in their veins. Though opener ‘Circle of Fools’ bursts out with a challenging attitude, it’s a bit on the relaxed side of ‘Decameron’, but the band’s accelerated fury is evident into the second track ‘Insanity Plea’. From here until the less-than-two-minutes ‘Live Your Death’, Epidemic emits galloping energy and intelligent song-writing altogether stunning. The restless riffage by guitarists Higbey and Morggridge fits like a glove over the steamrolling Epidemic’s sonic blows. ‘Factor Red’ and ‘Three Witches’ are slower cuts with a capable rhythm section but the rest of the tracks, specially ‘Blown Doors’ and ‘Tornado’, are torrential. Certainly, the band did a good job since we were offered 12 detonations equalling an album that deserve to be put next to other speed-driven demons like either Carnal Forge or Defleshed.
It was a damn shame that this band never got anywhere, because they truly kicked legions of ass. Some called them one-dimensional, I called them terrifying. Hailing from Los Angeles, of all cities, this was the only other thrash band aside from Slayer from there that I was aware that actually got noticed amidst all the glam crap that came out of there all the time. And this was their first real release in this country ("The Truth of What Will Be" was only released in the UK to the best of my knowledge), comprised mostly of material from both their '89 demo and the '91 "Extremities" demo along with a few new tunes. And some incredibly savage, assbeating thrash bordering on death metal this is!
I say bordering on death metal because this band was one of the fastest bands without playing blast beats out there that I've ever heard. And Bob Cochrane was an unsung drum monster with his ultra-tight (non-triggered!!!) approach combining lethal thrash beats with plenty of thunderous double kick and some powerful tom-tom action. The guitars shred out riffs like it's going out of style, and the soloing is in the frenetic and atonal Slayer mode, which makes up for its relative lack of technical prowess with plenty of attitude and aggression. Mark Bodine's bass was ugly distorted noise that anchored those guitars with ease, and in fact, album opener "Circle Of Fools" starts with a chilling moan of feedback from that very instrument.
That song was unusual for Epidemic in that it started off relatively slow by their standards, but the chorus rockets into hyperdrive. Followup "Insanity Plea" is more typical of them, light speed thrash mania delivered with devastating tightness and Carl Fulli's deranged, high-pitched, bloodthirsty screaming--not a single moment of melody or subtlety for him! He sounds like an escaped mental patient and it is perfect.
Slower songs like "Factor Red" and "Three Witches" rear their heads too from time to time, and Epidemic prove themselves just as good at those as they are the rippers, with pounding drums and crushing riffs. And they were only downtuned a half step too, to Eb, which was all the better because you could hear their riffs more clearly than the usual "tune to B and lose all clarity" approach. But "Lord War" tears your head off at the end of this album just as you think they're going to let up a little, and leaves you gasping and wanting more.
In short, hunt this little bastard down, because it is truly badass--it blows away most of the new school thrashers with little effort in its gloriously noisy and chaotic madness. You can also clear your house with it if you have unwanted guests--I gotta try that some time...