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Scars That Were Left and Meant to Last - 97%

ThrashIsCertain92, March 13th, 2016

A little over two years after Dark Angel unleashed their own brand of auditory Armageddon upon the world with “Darkness Descends,” they have returned once again to leave scars on your frayed sanity and auditory canal with their bloodthirsty 1989 release. Here we see the band up their game in the songwriting department – showcasing lengthier, more ambitious songs with more complicated riff-work while retaining the blistering speeds and thrash aggression of the past. As some have commentated, “Leave Scars” is somewhat of a bridge between their raw, visceral past and the more musically and lyrically mature “Time Does Not Heal”. In that instance, “Leave Scars” can be marked as one of the band's best records, housing some of their greatest work. It's fast, it's heavy, it's technical, it's Dark fucking Angel.

Like their previous albums, “Leave Scars” boasts a hefty, lo-fi production whose gritty and fucked up nature makes everything all the more heavier. Dark, obscure, and demented, the atmosphere that the grimy production-value provokes, serves Gene Hoglan's lyrical horrors and guitar assailants Jim Durkin and Eric Meyer's twisted riff mastery to their advantage. People love to complain about it, but let's not forget - thrash is not supposed to be pretty and polished. What it lacks in objective quality it makes up for in its raw thrash spirit, which I feel is most important. If anything, a more sterile and posh production would be nothing but a huge disservice. Newcomer Mike Gonzalez's bass could be higher in the mix, but he does well contributing to the massive wall of guitar sound. For the most part he simply follows the rhythm guitars, however contributes to some unique effects during the track “Worms.” Gene Hoglan's drumming is not as loud as the previous album, but sits well in the mix. Here his performance shows some more unique patterns and variations. The drumming may be somewhat slower here and there on some of the songs, but Gene never loses focus of his coveted thrash aggression and accomplished technical command. (A little odd piece of trivia about this album is the fact that it was produced by Michael Monarch, the guitarist for the Canadian rock band Steppenwolf. Yes, that is the same band that brought us the song “Born to Be Wild.”)

While many thrash bands during the late 80's and early 90's were packing on melodic ballads and mid-paced experimental numbers to show a masquerade of progressiveness, Dark Angel were not afraid to show the world that they were a down and dirty thrash band. Additionally, their new found knack for more ambitious songwriting does not get in the way of their raw thrash vitality or energetic live performances. This is heard right off the bat with the pulverizing opener “The Death of Innocence”, whose swirling guitar rhythms set the mark for the rest of the album, and shows a somewhat different riffing style than their previous albums. While “Darkness Descends” presented mostly spastic flurries of trilled and tremolo picked madness, simple yet highly effective, “Leave Scars” seems to bring more riff variants to the table while still retaining that evil, chromatic Dark Angel sound and maddening velocity we all know and love. And much like D.D., the guitar-work on here never reaches to a level of melodic tunefulness, instead focuses on cramming an utterly raw, visceral assault of semi-technical thrash riffs down the listener's throat.

The next noticeable step in Dark Angel's evolution is the unveiling of the vocalist Ron Rinehart, whose induction into the band was welcomed with open arms. Ron continues the Dark Angel trademark of hyper-rapidly shouting Hoglan's vast masses of lyrics, while injecting his own style of dark, melodic undertones. This is best heard on the title track as well as “Never to Rise Again” and “The Promise of Agony”. I don't want to say he sounds like their previous vocalist, Don Doty, as some have stated - a more dramatic and rapid cross between James Hetfield and Tom Araya would be a more fitting description. In some cases, I sometimes even prefer Ron's more deep and pragmatic thrash bark to Don's rabid screeching, although both vocalists are aces at what they do. Gene Hoglan reprises his role as the primary lyricist and songwriter – his lyrics unusually complex and poetic for a thrash band. The lyrics penned on this album drop the thrash clichés, and instead deal with topics that are horrifying real – themes not many bands dared to stray in. Songs such as “The Death of Innocence”, “No One Answers”, and “Leave Scars” deal with the horrors of child abuse, molestation, pedophilia, and the mental scarring psychology behind it – both from the perspectives of the victims and the abusers. The scared child on the nightmarish album cover reflects these views. These topics are further explored and expanded on their upcoming and final album “Time Does Not Heal”.

The biggest cornerstones of the album I feel are “Never to Rise Again”, “No One Answers”, and “The Promise of Agony”, which was the song that sealed me in as a long time fan of the band. I remember the first time I heard that song, I was floored by the electrifying introductory riffs and the soaring vocals. “Never to Rise Again” is a stout, catchy as hell number – as the guitarists shred up and down their bridges, Gene pounds a rather militaristic beat while Ron spouts some infectious lyrics about false prophets predicting the fall of mankind, and you can't help but shout along to them. You hear some more melodically controlled soloing showcased on this song, which is often flaunted throughout the album. The album's binding of dark, minor key shredding with the spastic aggression heard on “Darkness Descends”, you have a formula for masterful guitar soloing perfection.

The pummeling drum roll during the intro for “No One Answers” can't help but bring the listener back to “Black Prophecies”. Unexpected tempo changes and demented riffs abound in this piece, because soon after the hefty intro, the listener is spiraled into a drawn out start-stop section layered with crazed guitar backdrops. The faster riffs conjure the deranged, chromatic trilling heard throughout “Darkness Descends”. Here, all of the band member's talents are crystallized, and is easily one the greatest and heaviest songs the band has ever done. Most notable is the extended bridge section halfway through the song, where the band packs of multiple alternations of crazed tremolo riffs and expressively evil, harmonic minor soloing. The lyrics are especially fucked up – they seem to deal with sick fucks who prey on children at night, or it deals with nightmares from the first person perspective of the nightmare itself. I really cannot tell, that's how horrific they are.

“Cauterization” stands out as the only true instrumental the band has ever done. Luckily it does not mess around with slow acoustic guitar parts or melodic progressive silliness. Instead, it is just as viciously fast, complex, and immensely heavy as the rest of the album; and if it were not for the lack of vocals and solo, it could easily fit in with the rest of the album. On the other hand, the title track blends in nicely, and more or less seems to go through the motions musically at first glance. It proves, however, to be a largely infectious and upbeat song with largely anthemic lyrics – especially during the gang-shouted chorus.

The album is not without flaws, however. “Older than Time Itself” has the unfortunate circumstance of being sandwiched between the Led Zeppelin cover of “Immigrant Song” and the pseudo-instrumental “Worms”; which are nothing more than fluff and are probably the only real weak tracks on the album. The cover is good musically, but it doesn't go with the album at all, and Ron's heavy Californian thrash drawl doesn't really do the song justice. “Worms” sounds cool after the first listen, but it mostly just sounds like a goofy soundtrack for some corny 80's horror movie. Inexplicably, “Older than Time itself” suffers from a production somewhat worse than the rest of the album, which makes its faster riffs sound muddy and hard to discern. This is unfortunate because it is an excellent song and is possibly the most ballistic thrasher on the album; brimmed with demented, shredding riffs, a layered introductory section that recalls “No One Answers”, and an insane Slayer-esque breakdown showcasing gang-shouted vocals. The lyrics are interesting, seeming to be about humanity's innate desire for greed, lust and corruption.

Sandwiched between the more famous albums “Darkness Descends” and “Time Does not Heal”, “Leave Scars” is an album that is often forgotten. Being an important stepping stone in their evolution, it is one of their best works, and one of my favorite thrash albums, having regular play in my thrash listening ever since I discovered it. All of their albums with Gene Hoglan are absolutely essential.

"For this I won't apologize, because I Leave Scars..."