"El Rostro de la Muerte"

(Thrash Corner/Season of Mist)

01. Baptized By Fire
02. Flesh and Blood
03. Eradicate Mankind
04. Chaos and Brutality
05. El Rostro de la Muerte (The Face of Death)
06. Blind Faith
07. Horrified
08. Battle of the North
09. The Laws of Temptation
10. Death Militia
11. Broken Neck
12. Violent Assault
13. Cuando Cae la Oscuridad (When Darkness Falls)
14. Satan's Fall

RATING: 8/10

Not to be a total dick, but what's more gruesome, the picture on the front of this CD or the one on the back? Just joshin' — it's kinda nice to hear '80s thrash metal, made in 2009, and played by dudes who weren't eating zweiback and shitting their Garanimals to "The Smurfs" when the scene came around the first time. Vocalist Katon W. DePena may be the only original member, but the rest of this lineup of HIRAX lay down strafing thrash riffs and battering polka beats with frenzy, fervor and the skill that comes from having lived it long after all their sane buddies quit smoking pot and went back to community college.

Minus the vocals, it's gotta be said, HIRAX comes off as well-done, but fairly typical, by-the-book Bay Area thrash. But hell, this band helped write that damn book, so who cares? And then, layer on DePena's maniacal shriek, a love-it-or-hate-it yowl that sounds like someone fused David Wayne and Zetro Souza into one person and then zapped him with an electric cattle prod. DePena gives the band 90% of its personality, and his wild-eyed, leather-lunged delivery brings even the hoariest old thrash lyric clichés to fire-breathing life. The sheer lung power he's putting behind the verses in "Eradicated Mankind" would give lesser men a friggin' aneurysm!

While the band slows it down to a chugging midtempo occasionally, as on the title track (where DePena shows off a little more melody), most of "El Rostro de la Muerte" is full-throttle, downpicked, circle-pit-inducing thrash metal. It's the zone where the band are at their best, and they deliver scads of it, stopping only for the occasional movie sample or piano interlude before diving back into the fray, foaming at the mouth. It's intense as all hell, with boundless energy and the kind of killer singalongs and air-guitar-worthy riffage that made you fall in love with thrash metal in the first place. Slap some Ed Repka cover art on it, and you've got yourself a top-drawer piece of 1987 thrash with all the benefits of modern production and not one iota of post-Reagan musical influence.

The younger dudes playing retro-thrash with tongue in cheek may get more press, and the old guys who changed their stripes might sell more records, but HIRAX deserves at least as much attention — "El Rostro de la Muerte" cements their reputation as utterly dependable, terminally underrated, and able to whip the asses of metal pretenders half their ages.


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