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[new review, first one written on April 7th, 2004]
Goddamn, this review has been such a pain to write. I cannot seem to find the right words for it. It's just one of them difficult albums, you know, and I'm sure every regular reviewer on here has come across the same thing; when they have an album that is neither great nor horrible and should therefore be something in between, like "average" or "mediocre", but it's still not quite any of those and you don't really know what to make of it. I've owned this album for 2½ years, but things still haven't changed all that much for me.
I just can't quite pin-point my own exact opinion on it - Nightcrawler and UltraBoris both make great points that I can really agree with, but 29% or even 52% just seems a bit too harsh of an overall score for my taste, because there's just too much good music on here for that. As for its true weaknesses, however: Boris mentions "pussy thrash" and "lack of aggression" in his review, while the beast in black complains about it being "soulless" and that "they don't use the riffage to the same effectiveness as other far superior bay area thrashers". About that last point, one of these "far superior bay area thrashers" would have to be the previous album, 'The New Order'. No, that album wasn't exactly the most mind-numbingly pummeling riff-o-rama ever imaginable, but through a rock-solid thrash metal sound and clever riff execution, the band still managed to come up with something thoroughly enjoyable with what little they had. Actually, the riffs on here are arguably more interesting and creative than on the last album, but the problem is that the well-done execution of old is now completely missing.
The production on here is just terrible. It's weak as fuck, it's stale, it's boring. The bass drums are all click-click-click and the guitars are, while still thrashy in tone and distortion, so damn flat and indistinct it's simply unbelievable. "Pop-thrash", I would call this. This sound may have been attained for greater accessibility among non-thrashers (after all, it's their biggest selling album to date), but I cannot see anyone already into thrash metal being any happy with this sound whatsoever. Potential bangers are effectively tamed with it. For example, "Time Is Coming", at 0.30. Your typical simple "banging" thrash metal riff - a very solid one, no wonder it's also a widely used one in the whole thrash metal genre. Like for example in the song "Eternal Nightmare" by the band Vio-lence, at 3.32. Now, which rendition of this riff makes YOUR head bang the hardest? Dingdingding, congratulations sir, you've won something.
Then we arrive at the actual riffs, which are also kind of boring. There is more technicality and creativity on display here than before, but they aren't that particularly amazing this time around either (and again, weakened by the production). Mostly solid, but quite often they go by unnoticed, partly because this album is more melody-based than the last. Thankfully that does not equal more of those abysmally hideous acoustic interludes that polluted the previous album so heavily (on here they are all concentrated into ONE song), it just means that there is more melody of the classic heavy metal variety intermixed with what little thrashing there is to speak of here, and that's what fortunately keeps this album at least somewhat memorable, because the riffs alone surely are not. While not quite comparable to 'Spreading the Disease' as for another melodic thrasher, there's still some pretty good songwriting on display here. Also, Chuck Billy does a very good job with the vocals and shows off great range and melody and Alex Skolnick expectedly delivers his for thrash unusually melodic lead work, this time complementing the already more melodic song material.
But there just isn't all that much to get here. The songs are mostly decent and good listens, but they're certainly nothing earth-shattering. Except for the title track - oh hell fucking Jesus, now THIS is one mean fucking thrasher!! Merciless, bringing on riff after awesome riff and the solo is just...wow. Holy apeshit fuck, this is...art. An epic in itself, complete with plot twists and such. How it oh-so-perfectly interacts with the rhythm work...this nearly 1½ minute work must be heard to be believed. My favorite work by Skolnick and in my top five for metal solos of all time. Now the rest of the album isn't, like, totally different in style, just not anywhere near as good. The only two other songs worth mentioning are "Sins of Omission" which, apart from being more upbeat and aggressive than most of the rest of the album, has a very nice little moody fast-picking intro, and "The Ballad" which is the first in a string of really damn good ballads that are also found on following albums. I have no idea what happened between the last album and this one - this song is just in an entirely different division than anything "balladic" on 'New Order' could ever claim.
So, there you have it. My score of 70% may look a little high in light of the review content, but since I am unable to find anything here that just screams "what the fuck" or something as unbearably boring as "A Day of Reckoning" on the last album (or all the instrumentals, intros, etc.), it gets kinda hard for me. When all is said and done, it's a nice consistent listen throughout, and actually somewhat entertaining and interesting too. I dunno, why don't you give it a chance, ya might just find something you like.