There's a fine line ya gotta tread, when you're an old band bringing new material to the table (especially an act reuniting after a layoff). You wanna be relevant and create music that stands up with stuff that stands with the current crop of metal, but ratchet up the intensity too far and your old-school fans will be standing there scratching their heads when you go into the new songs. The best bands in this unique survivors' clique are the ones who can deliver powerful, punishing new songs with modern tone and heft, while retaining the signature charm that made them what they were back in the day.
DEATH ANGEL has been pushing against that boundary since they were resurrected nearly a decade ago, and on their third post-reunion album, "Relentless Retribution", they've released what may be their crowning statement — a snarling, ferocious and intense melodic thrash record that skates right up to the edge of melodrama without becoming a self-parody.
What do I mean? Right off the bat, opener "Relentless Revolution" hits with vein-popping force, singer Mark Osegueda harshly yowling a barely melodic vocal line over thundering percussion and a teeth-grinding midtempo verse and chorus riff that wouldn't sound out of place on a HATEBREED album. Even the lyrics — "relentless revolution / join us or stand aside" — are a pissed-off call to arms, a swaggering declaration that this ain't your dad's DEATH ANGEL.
But after that opening salvo, we get a little of the old DEATH ANGEL melodic savvy kicking in, on "Claws In So Deep" (arguably the best cut on the record, and certainly the most ambitious). Insistent and thrashy, it still throws in a little curveball of a vocal hook, a positively huge chorus, some nice little prog touches in the arrangement, and a really cool instrumental break at the end courtesy of renowned acoustic guitarists and band friends RODRIGO Y GABRIELA.
The rest of "Relentless Retribution" balances these two sides of DEATH ANGEL splendidly; the fierce aggression is cranked to eleven (see "I Chose the Sky", "This Hate"), but just when it seems like overkill (small o), we get some great Osegueda melodies or a killer lead guitar part to add depth and finesse to what could otherwise become a numbing bludgeon of a record. These guys are cagey enough veterans to mix it up. They know, for example, that after a slower, more brooding slow-burner like "Absence of Light", that a revved-up stadium chant of a thrash song like "This Hate" will capture any wandering attention and reignite the pit.
Even a song built on a fairly pedestrian verse, like "Death of the Meek", sports a memorable chorus and some pretty jaw-dropping soloing (not to mention an unexpectedly soulful doomy midsection) to throw you a curve. They wrap it up by throwing in an acoustic song (ironically named "Volcanic") before cranking it back up for "Where They Lay", a pummeling and satisfying album closer that's probably the most old-school cut on the record. In short, DEATH ANGEL pack a lot of ear candy and little sonic surprises into what seem at first glance like standard-issue thrash songs, and that's one of the reasons why they still matter as much more than strictly a reunion act.
In fact, you know what? I apologize for even bringing up the old days. No disrespect to the first few records, but if we're being honest, post-millennium DEATH ANGEL is a stratospherically better band. They know how to create melodic, mature thrash metal without losing their heart (or their balls) in the process, and they can stretch their sound to include all manner of dynamics and hooks while still delivering the heaviest, most consistent pound-for-pound beatdown of their career. Mark my words — "Relentless Retribution" is gonna be the one you put on today and say "yeah, it's not bad," and then go back to a year later and realize it's still kicking your ass. Fuck nostalgia, this is metal for now, and it (along with the last two) needs to be heard by a lot more people.