Released: 2004, Independant
It hasn’t been that long since Mandatory Death first formed, getting close to the two year mark by now, but they have definitely progressed fast as a unit. Going from nothing to having a solid (but not amazing) thrash album out by August of 2004.
CLASHING OF THE SWORDS is a thrash metal album sounding close to maybe Slayer’s DIVINE INTERVENTION with a strong crossover vibe. Vocalist Mikel elicits a good resemblance to many crossover favorites, like Kurt Brecht of D.R.I., while the rest of the band thrashes about with a guitar sound that reminds me of the aforementioned Slayer album. Drummer Rhyno is rather competent and manages keep up with the rest of the band, usually with a heavy dose of double bass work. One thing I’ve begun to notice about Mandatory Death is that with more listens you can hear a clash between heavy, punk-ish, thrash sections and a few traditional metal melodies. Many times the more traditional side comes around in the instrumental parts and solo sections, more than likely because of Mikel’s vocals, which just don’t fit the more melodic approach.
The album starts off with a bang on “Going to War” which gets the blood pumping right off the bat. With it’s rather fast build up into the verse and nice double bass work that highlights the all out thrash riff. Mikel comes in yelling about the horrors of war. Although when we hit the chorus the vocal line doesn’t seem to fit. After a few listens one will get used to it, but initially it sounds like he’s trying to fit too many syllables into it. “M.D.K.” Or “Mandatory Death Knights” comes next. The song starts off with a nice dual guitar melody before sliding into a power/thrash styled riff based on that melody. The thing that ruins this part is when the vocals come in, this style demands a much more subtle and more melodic approach while Mikel sees fit to just shout his way through... but I guess that is the punk/crossover spirit shining through.
The title track is just one of those songs that just has something missing. I’m not exactly sure what it is but the verse riff for the song seems to want to go somewhere but doesn’t exactly get there. The saving grace of this song is from 3:30 on, with the bass leading into a nice dual solo melody and jammy section. I can hear understated keyboards in this piece that I think would have been more effective higher in the mix. Skipping ahead on the album there’s an interesting instrumental entitled, “The Rise and Fall”, which explores some of the more melodic ideas to greater effect here than anywhere else on the album, I’m guessing that without having to incorporate Mikel’s vocals the band felt a bit less restrained and followed almost a traditional metal route for most of the song with it’s really melodic duel melodies and an early Opeth sounding acoustic piece.
The rest of the album sees the band thrashing forward with few slip ups and a good ear for what riffs do and don’t work. The main thing I’d say about the band at this point is that they need to rethink some of the vocal choices, in some ways they seem like a bit of an afterthought and I think it would be a major advantage for them to be able to have someone that has a voice that can help them explore some of their more melodic and traditional ideas. Overall the problems I have with Mandatory Death's debut are small compared to most and they are definitely a band that could break through in the future.
P.S.: A slight warning, the album has a tracklisting error. Tracks 5 and 6 are actually switched on the CD.