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Named perfectly for thrash's uninhibited period - 88%

Gutterscream, February 18th, 2005
Written based on this version: 1985, 12" vinyl, Metal Blade Records

“…bombs of death, it’s over, drop from the sky, nuclear war, get ready prepare to die…”

Good ‘ol wickedly named Hirax were one of the earlier bands wielding thrash and speed to ward off the mid-80’s L.A. glam and melodi-rock harassment, and like most thrash worth its weight in intensity, it held little finesse. Whatever finesse did infiltrate thrash came typically from its vocalists, usually in the throwback style from metal’s then not-so-distant caveman heritage – soared or stated high tenor/soprano, often like someone’s niece and sometimes way too adolescent-sounding for the style. While the music could plow through redwood trees, lungman Katon de Pena ran the traditional path with a high-pitched, borderline annoying wail that sheared a space somewhere between the vox of Agent Steel and early Living Death. In time, this off-kilter keening would become the band’s trademark and a liking for his singing style is something that had to be cultivated. Oh sure, it turned many a fan off, and in more than a few songs he uses the same inflections in the same instances, but in hindsight no one really sounded like him. Twenty three years and a million bands later, that opinion still rings true and it didn’t take too long for a soft spot to grow within me. On the novelty front, along with members of Sound Barrier, Vendetta/M80, Black Death, Znowhite, Defcon, and a few others, de Pena was one of the few black musicians shopping in the underground supermarket.

Rhythmically, Hirax weren’t the tightest band around, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to hear some thrash. Side one kicks off with “Demons-Evil Forces”, a track slow and deliberate (during the chorus) one minute, then sidewinding with speed the next and is a fine precursor to “Blitzkrieg Air Attack”, one of many songs dedicated to the frantic. “Bombs of Death”, first featured on the Metal Massacre IV compilation in its fine demo version, is a combat-ready top track with great speed and a dynamic chorus. The title cut rampages on like its namesake (and sometimes is a little over-fast), while compact “Call of the Gods” minces few words, a bombastic outburst that unfurls with more dynamism than sheer speed.

Side two possesses (some of the most generic song titles around) gems such as the multi-faceted “Warlord’s Command”, riff-squealing “The Gauntlet”, frenetic “Destroy”, and winding rifforama “Bloodbath”. “Destruction and Terror” and “Executed” are perpetual rides of roiling thrash that tend to stand out among the rest on the side. Ending the disc is a charming backward mélange of demonic screaming and yelling that you’ll have to decipher for yourself (after you find the album and a turntable, however).

Musically, the weak link (aside from what many would say are the vocals) is drummer John Tabares, who evidently had difficulty keeping pace with the raucous rhythms (and he would be replaced for their next release, so they were fixing the problem). Luckily, guitarist Scott Owen and bassmeister Gary Monardo managed to keep the fusion intact.

Like many thrash acts from ’85, the ideas, lyrically or otherwise, were flying in at a rapid rate, probably a little too fast to be handled with any kind of shrewd finesse e.g. Sacrifice, Destructor, Bulldozer, but all in all, if you can get past de Pena’s sometimes soaring, sometimes predictable, but always unusual vocal delivery, you will likely enjoy the thrash affair Hirax has to offer.