Based on the gripping Ed Repka cover art, you can probably guess that HEXEN's "State of Insurgency" is another in an ever-growing catalogue of recent old school thrash albums. Hell, even the record label is called Old School Metal. The good news is that the Los Angeles act is one of the better ones in the vintage thrash movement, and "State of Insurgency" is 56 minutes of well-written, molten thrash metal.
HEXEN bring the noise with the same devout spirit of flag wavers and fellow Californians MERCILESS DEATH in that the effort is heartfelt and proudly old-school-based. The style combines early MEGADETH with a cross section of bands that populated the genre's second wave, rather than the now well-worn approach taken by any number of EXODUS and SLAYER imitators. The songs are jam-packed with great riffs that are not only memorable but also come with that all-important organic tone that some bands seem to completely ruin in trying to mimic. Jamming nearly an hour's worth of material into the disc may seem like overkill, but HEXEN pull it off reasonably well by writing strong songs, eschewing needless arrangement detours that kill momentum, and rarely allowing the listener's adrenaline surge to wane. And damn, the guitar solos on the album are downright smoking and always a joy to hear.
Without some sense of melody though, you end up with a collection of riffs and solos that sound good, but ultimately result in one song running into the next without the distinguishing characteristics that keep you coming back for more. "Gas Chamber" and "Chaos Aggressor" are two of the standouts, both featuring attention-getting choruses that are as memorable as they are menacing. The lyrics to "Gas Chamber", written from the point of a view of the death-sentenced inmate ("welcome to death row…you might take my life, but don't think that you've won"), exemplify an album's worth of sociopolitical lyrics. The authors' outlook for any semblance of truth and justice in American society is assuredly a grim one.
Those desiring a quick fix of old-school thrash played by a new generation of denim-and-leather warriors may opt for albums like MERCILESS DEATH's "Realm of Terror". Contrarily, fans looking to gorge themselves and that simply can't get enough of the good stuff are advised to check out "State of Insurgency".