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The Bay Area comes to Australia. - 89%

hells_unicorn, November 13th, 2013

Mortal Sin was apparently a hyped act back in the day, though much of this was likely due to their stylistic similarity to early Metallica combined with a lack of what might be dubbed unnecessary stylistic evolution that had infected Hetfield and company. Much of their notoriety was tied to the raw and vital debut they kicked out in 1986 (arguably the greatest year for 80s thrash metal) that drew heavily from the "Kill Em' All" formula while tuning out much of the extras that Metallica began throwing in soon after. By way of contrast, "Face Of Despair" takes a more polished approach in terms of production, and largely comes off as a faster version of "Ride The Lightning" minus the balladry. While it might have been a bit presumptuous to call these guys the next Metallica, they definitely carried the label a bit better than some of their more technically oriented competition in the San Francisco Bay Area, some of whom were equally as blunt about where they got their ideas from.

To be sure, this is an ambitious album that's busting at the hips with an abundance of killer riff work and nasty thrashing goodness, but it's a bit more measured and calculated in its execution. Even when dealing with high speed neck destruction after the mold of Testament's "The Legacy" as heard in "Innocent Torture" and "Terminal Reward", there's a sense of build up and release that is more in line with a Exodus outlook on things rather than a Slayer or a Dark Angel approach. In fact, the one band that really comes to mind as being the most comparable to what is going on here stylistically is the early offerings out of Xentrix, a band from Britain that also took its cues from the Bay Area approach. Much of this album rests in a comfortable upper mid-tempo crunch, which actually works a bit better than the faster character of "Mayhemic Destruction" with Mat Maurer's slightly higher pitched version of Hetfield's gruff vocals.

To further describe the sense of nuance and development that is going on within these songs, while there isn't anything that wouldn't qualify as a ballad per say, there is a fair amount of variety going on here. "Martyr's Of Eternity" arguably gets the closest to ballad territory with a quiet, haunting intro reminiscent of every song off of "The New Order", but then opts to fall into a punishing mid-tempo groove that almost seems like it wants to emulate "The Thing That Should Not Be", but ends up avoiding any pretense of doom metal influence and gradually builds from a slower paced stomp with a lot of detailing to a full speed assault. Similarly, the exciting yet auspiciously mid-tempo starting song "I Am Immortal" smacks the listener with a solid bass intro before shifting into a back and forth play of mid-paced grooving and faster, double bass drum steeped fury. While the tone of the guitar is punchy and brilliant, the instrument that tends to shine the most in overall sound is the drums, which manage to sound thunderous and huge without going into the pretentiously click-like character that Lars was moving into on "...And Justice For All".

While in terms of overall quality it's a toss up between this album and its predecessor as Mortal Sin's crowning achievement, this album holds a slight edge for me given the stellar production job and more inventive songwriting. This is the album that Defiance was trying to put out during the early 90s but didn't succeed at for lack of a competent vocalist and a clear sense of how to fully develop a song. The media may prefer Metallica's notoriety and timing as the first band in this style to hit it big, but this tops anything that they did from 1986 onward, and gives a lot of the stronger Bay Area acts that followed a real run for their money. By 1989 thrash metal was a worldwide phenomenon, and Australia definitely did their share of the work both here and on the Hobbs' Angel Of Death debut.