Released: 2004, Nuclear Blast Records
Am I ever glad I held off on reviewing this one!!! This was one of my most anticipated releases and comebacks for 2004. Death Angel’s THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE (1987) and ACT III (1990) are two of the best thrash metal albums from the 80’s bay-area scene. The reason I’m glad I held off in reviewing this for a couple months is because my initial reaction to the CD on first listen was “what in the hell is this”? I was looking for the band to totally recreate their past and as such I was at first disappointed with the album. However, I popped it on again a few weeks after my initial play-through and I thought it wasn’t so bad after all. After that, the album grew on me with each passing listen. It was after about 10 times through when it hit me that this is no let down at all.
After a short acoustic intro “Thrown to the Wolves” opens the album in fine retro-thrash form sounding in places like THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE material. Putting this at the forefront is a good and bad thing. It’s good because it abates the fears of those who worried that the band has forgotten who they were. “Thrown to the Wolves” proves that the band still has it. On the other hand, it’s bad, because it creates a false sense of security, or hope, that the whole album will be the same. The whole album is not as powerful or as thrashy as this opener. I guess Death Angel is damned if they do and damned if they don’t in some people’s eyes. Some will cry foul if they only stick to their past and play the tried and true formula because they are not being true to themselves and who they are and what they’ve done musically in the past 15 years outside of Death Angel. Then some with their minds stuck totally in the 80’s will be upset that the band didn’t just re-record THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE. Since my favorite Death Angel album has always been ACT III, I was not just hoping for a raw thrash album but something that was a bit of everything…and that’s exactly what we have here.
The album’s second cut “5 Steps of Freedom” is quite heavy but not quite as thrashy. It’s still one of the better songs on here. It’s followed by the speedy “Thicker than Blood”. The bounce-back delay effect on the guitar at the beginning of “The Devil Incarnate” sounds very cool. When the vocals come in there is a slight Alice In Chains feel without drifting too far into their sound. This song is a bit of a surprise because for the first 4+ minutes it’s slow and plodding…then it does a 180 with the tempo picking up and double kicks driving it ahead making it quite an interesting piece. “Famine” starts with drums and bass and some wha effect before the guitars come in for a few bars sounding mike a hard rock song. Despite this sounding nothing like the Death Angel of old, I really liked it as a great hard rock song. Just after the 4min mark the song slips into thrash metal for about 20 seconds…too bad they didn’t make this part longer. “Prophecy” starts out with some ripping guitars and pounding drums sounding very much like a classic Death Angel thrasher of old! The song keeps up this level of intensity and does not drift off course…clearly one of the better moments on here. “No” is a punk influenced metal track which still kept me interested which is not an easy task since I don’t like any punk bands. “Spirit” starts out like it might be a thrash song with some intense drumming and a great head banging intro. However, drummer Andy Galleon handles the vocals on “Spirit”. Why didn’t they just let him to some trade off vocals with Mark? His vocals are OK as in they are in key well enough, and the melodies are decent, but his voice just sounds so…normal…so plain. The riffing in this one is thrashy, but the vocals take away from the intensity that could have been present with Mark on vocals. Too bad they didn’t record a version with Mark on vocals and have this one as a b-side. “Land of Blood” does not sound like Death Angel for two reasons. Again, the vocals are handled by someone other than Mark and the song itself is more suited to Motorhead. As a fan of Motorhead, I can handle this, but it’s not what Death Angel excels at. The vocals are done by guitarist/songwriter Rob Cavestany…based on this track alone I would say he should stick to writing and playing his guitar and leave the vocals to the band’s singer. “Never Me” begins and I’m thinking of “Enter Sandman”…hmm, what’s with that huh? The chorus sounds a bit rock/punk. It’s an OK song, but is one of the weakest moments on the CD. The best part of the song is the fairly extended solo which rips and also has a bluesy feel...well done. The vocals of guitarist Rob Cavestany also make an appearance on the album closer “Word to the Wise”. This is done much better than “Land of Blood” with Rob sounding just a little like Zakk Wylde. The strummed acoustic guitars in this one have a Zepplin-esque feel. The song is not all acoustic and picks up creating a hard rock / 70’s metal feel. The song is full of guitar fills and that the song’s saving grace. The song goes back to acoustic guitars for its extended outro and when in the right mood can be relaxing to listen to.
The music on THE ART OF DYING is not like the post-Death Angel band’s The Organization and Swarm. There are nods to what I’ve heard them do in The Organization, but overall this is still metal, just a little less on the 80’s thrash metal than some might have hoped for. My high rating is not based on how closely this album comes to recreating the bands past sound. If I would of hastily reviewed it after a couple of listens it would have been much lower but once given a chance to sink in I think many fans of Death Angel will be pleased. As a fan of thrash since the 80’s, and a fan of some hard rock, this album is a great combination of what Death Angel was and is today.