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Back when these guys were just called Lazarus, I happened to come across them after hearing about them from a friend in the Milwaukee Wisconsin area who happened to see these guys play. What my friend described was something of an untouched gem of thrash metal, a sort of "walk the line" kind of band that had all the elements people into most modern metal like but without the emoness and with the heaviness and ferocity of old school thrash metal. My interest was quipped and I decided to give Lazarus a listen, and after that I have since continued to follow the band and ended up purchasing the Metal Blade reissue of their debut album, The Onslaught.
The Onslaught is just what it says it is, it is an absolute onslaught. Without a doubt, this is easily one of the best records of the year and a great way to kick it off. Lazarus A.D have many of the right ingredients going on to make them one of the next big bands in today's metal scene. Their ferocity, intense but not obnoxious musical skill as well as some above average songwriting keep the band in a position that makes me more then tolerate their music but several aspects end up keeping their debut from truly reaching the potential that would have absolutely propelled the band past everyone else in their respective field.
First of all, while Lazarus A.D is tagged here as thrash/groove metal, I would hesitate to call this band simply another bad Machine Head or Pantera knock off. For every part that is even remotely groove metal like, there are at least three parts that are thrash. Overall this is a thrash metal album, largely in the vein of Slayer and Metallica but with a bit of Kreator style rhythm along a dash of Testament melody. Throw that in with some other rather meaningless influences and one influence that people just seem to hate so much. That's right the band is influenced by Pantera and it shows.
However, don't let Lazarus A.D's influence and genre tag turn you off. If you're an old school thrash metal fan, you're bound to at least tolerate this album. Modern thrashers will probably love it as well. Not nearly as melodic as many newer thrash albums and with not nearly as much Gothenburg influence, The Onslaught just tears you a new one through and through with pretty much each track.
I can understand why this would be a turn off to some and it does show. There are groovish parts in The Onslaught. A few songs such as Damnation Of The Weak, Absolute Power, and Lust have breakdown style choruses that are bound to piss off some old school thrash fans and fans of metal that prefer to not have breakdowns in their music. Also every song has at least one good chunk of simple one or two chord palm muted "chugga chugga" riffing going on. This gets on my nerves quite a bit because sometimes when this goes on I feel like that the band could clearly be doing something way better then simply playing the same chord(s) palm muted over and over again. Throw that in with some rather randomly placed but incredibly good sounding death vocals here and there and the band can seem a bit trendy sounding, subsequently turning off many potential listeners in the process.
Also many of the songs sound like they should end earlier then they actually do. A lot of the time the band finds themselves repeating riffs for a time]and not really singing that much when it sounds like they should be. Add that to the fact that some of the songs sound like they are extensions of each other (the biggest case being Revolution and Rebirth, who sound like they should have just been one big song rather then two separate ones)
A vast majority of the lyrics also completely wreak of groove metal style. Most of the lyrics are the typical groove metal themes of being powerful, acting tough in the face of enemies, and kicking their asses in the process. Don't forget the basic personal related themes and the "don't tread on me" kind of tough guy sounding lyrics, they're all over this album as well. Some songs stand out a bit. Last Breath is pure old school sounding in terms of lyrics and Thou Shall Not Fear just sounds brings back my old memories from Desert Storm in my old M2 Bradley. That song sounds like nothing and is only about pure bloody war at it's most hellish point. Nothing quite like that for me. Lust has a bit to do with society, but still takes a very personal touch that kind of annoys me. Profanity is used to to minor level, not nearly as much as many newer bands but enough for it to be noticeable and get on the nerves of some.
What Lazarus A.D makes up for is that this is much more thrash metal then groove metal (as stated above). Without a doubt this is some of the most intense and heavy sounding modern thrash metal I have ever heard. Many of the riffs are absolutely awesome sounding when they are played at full speed. Speaking of full speed, it is often when Lazarus A.D plays at full speed do they sound most cohesive and together as opposed to slowing down to get into a rhythm. The guitar tone of Dan Gapen and Alex Lackner adds a ton to the sound, for instead of going for the typical "wall of sound" style of guitar tone the guitar tone bites at you like a great white shark. Throw that in with the punishing drum work of Ryan Shutler and the always moving forward bass of Jeff Pauling and this music sounds just plain heavy.
Speaking of the musicians above, the other thing that Lazarus A.D really excels in is musicianship. Jeff Pauling's vocals are completely killer. While they do contain some clear Phil Anselmo referencing, they are by no means a rip off. Where Anselmo came off like a whiny, immature teenager most of the time, Pauling comes off something like the forceful and gun toting sergeant that is going to take you to a war waged purely by metal combat. His raspy barking absolutely kills and the vocal patterns are always solid to a very good degree. His bass work is mostly root notes but at the speed that Lazarus A.D routinely plays at, I'll give him some credit for some pretty good multitasking. Dan Gapen's lead guitar playing is absolutely awesome, shredding harmonic scales and sweeping all up and down the neck. Already I bet this is screaming to some "another f$#^ing wanker!". Don't even think of it that way. Dan has what most hyper technical modern metal guitarists don't have, an ability to know how to write and phrase a solo! I guarantee you that in time this guy is going to be all over the front cover of Guitar World magazine. Alex Lackner backs him up with tight riffing and occasional harmonizing with a few flashes of soloing of his own here and there. Ryan Shutler's drums just push ahead at full speed, pummeling you constantly with wicked dreams of double bass and over the top blast beats with awesome overall rhythmic patterns. All of this is done in a way that is both advanced but written overall very well, phrased perfectly, and never sounds one bit obnoxious.
The mixing and remastering of the Metal Blade version of The Onslaught is something that some will like, others won't. It is a bit more on the modern side of things, and James Murphy sort of sees to it that it sounds a bit more groove metalish then thrashy. No wall of sound, and more biting guitars are here. The tone and mixing is fine for Dan, but for Alex the tone could have really used a lot more chunk to it and the bass seems to sort ring out a bit too much (even though it was nice to hear it). Cymbals don't really cut that much and could use a bit more of that. However the drums sound just plain awesome for the most part. Acoustic sounding overall with thumping like bass drum tones and a snare tone that sounds great to me for the most part.
Overall Lazarus A.D has shown a lot of promise so far with their debut album. Great musicianship and way above average songwriting with some interesting sounding mixing and mastering really help to make them stand out from many other bands in their genre. However lame lyrics and a general fact that the groove metal rears it's ugly head plenty of times keeps the band down to a place where their debut album was just good, and not the best. Hopefully Lazarus A.D's next album will be better, but for now I'd more then live with The Onslaught.