Death Angel – Humanicide

Bay Area thrash legends Death Angel have returned bringing us Humanicide, an album endeavoring to lay out a portrait of a decaying world in all its forms. The band are one of those veteran groups who once stood hopefully alongside Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer, and Metallica until circumstances took them in a different direction. The band’s still-iconic third album, appropriately titled Act III, put them on the verge of ascending to the same dizzying heights that their contemporaries were achieving… and yet, it didn’t quite happen. The band would break up in the early ‘90s, seemingly for good.

Of course, in metal nothing ever truly stays dead, especially not in the thrash realm. Since reuniting in 2001, Death Angel have carved out a nice niche among fans for their ever evolving thrash anthems. Humanicide marks the band’s 6th album since hitting the comeback trail so it’s difficult to consider them anything but what they’ve become over the last 15 or so years. What that is, is a band driven by traditional thrash riffs that often get reinterpreted through other various elements of the metal spectrum.

Rob Cavestany remains a masterful songwriter for this style of metal. He occasionally throws elements of power metal into the fray as on the opening of the album and title track before we get into some very meat and potatoes thrash. “Divine Defector” is marked by another mechanism of Bay Area thrash that the band helped pioneer: the spiraling type of guitar riff that helped whip crowds into a frenzy during the heyday of Exodus and Testament. The main riff for “I Came for Blood”, though, might be the most fun on the entire album for being stripped down, straight forward and harkening back to the punk roots of thrash.

Overall, what we see on this album that separates it somewhat from it’s recent predecessors is that Cavestany seems more comfortable showing off his, and the band’s, diversity of styles within the genre. That was always the hallmark for them and, as an example, “Immortal Behated” is a callback to early Death Angel in the kind of way that only a band with two distinct creative arcs of existence can legitimately get away with. The production and vocals may have become more polished but make no mistake, the riffing on this track is something that could easily have fit alongside the band’s earliest material.

But this is where both the brilliance and the smallest of hindrances kicks in for the band. Adhering to not sticking with one style has been a hallmark of the band’s career. Sometimes this results in tracks that, while good, don’t quite get home the way others do. “Alive and Screaming” is a fantastic straight up thrash song but it doesn’t really do anything new for the band here. “The Pack” is a great tribute to the band’s (and metal’s) fanbase but its attempt at being anthemic seems stilted in the midst of this particular collection of songs. “Revelation Song” carries a lot of that throwback classic metal feel, almost like something from the back catalog of Manowar or Judas Priest, which is a hell of a lot of fun but doesn’t quite feel like “Death Angel”.

However, all of that said, picking the nits of a few tracks that are solid but not mind-blowing doesn’t quite do the album justice, especially on a record that wraps up nicely with “Of Rats and Men” encapsulating everything that Cavestany and company have achieved. The overwhelming sense of this collection of songs is that of renewal and a level of varied musicianship that highlights just how good this band could have, and has, been over the years. If anything, it’s refreshing to see the band back out amongst the metal festival circuit with this latest offering in what has been, more than anything else, a redemptive arc after the stories that had come before. Humanicide isn’t the end here. It’s more like a fresh beginning.

Humanicide is out May 31st via Nuclear Blast. You can pre-order it here.

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