As someone who likes to keep an eye on all things Australian and thrash metal, I’d been looking out for the second full-length effort from Adelaide up-and-comers Hidden Intent for some time. Yet, when Fear, Prey, Demise dropped digitally back in February, it somehow completely passed me by—as I imagine it did a lot of others. Thankfully, the record has recently been picked up and given a physical release by Scarlet Records, giving everyone a second opportunity to check out what is sure to be one of the best thrash releases of 2018.
Hidden Intent has always prided themselves on being a true thrash fan’s thrash band, and the material found on Fear, Prey, Demise is certainly no exception to this ethos. Based on the opening duo, “Prey For Your Death” and the raucous “Addicted to Thrash”, one could be forgiven for dismissing the record as a mere—albeit undeniably improved—continuation of the middling material found on their debut, Walking Through Hell (2013). However, as the album goes on, it reveals a more varied and surprisingly nuanced understanding of the genre, which remains wholly reverent of what came before while still offering its own winning perspective. The slower pace of “Seeds of Hate” allows the band to build up suspense and atmosphere, while showcasing their superb songwriting chops and understated ear for melody. Oh, and there’s a bass solo[!]. In fact, there are a lot of bass solos littered throughout the record. As a trio, Hidden Intent rely more heavily on the bass than most, and it’s great to see lead vocalist/bassist Chris McEwen’s instrumentation shining through and going toe to toe with Phil Bennett’s guitar work.
Following a brief return to more frantic territory, in the form of the irreverent “Drop Bears Are Real”—lest you forget they are Australian—which features a guest spot from Ryan Taylor (Solstice, Condition Critical); the band continue to showcase their dynamism by dropping one of the best examples in recent memory of one of metal’s most sadly forgotten art forms: the thrash ballad. “Waiting Here In Hell” isn’t breaking any new ground—in fact, its lead vocal is loosely reminiscent of that of Testament‘s “The Legacy” (“Flashes of the day…”/ “Waiting here in Hell…”)—but the way they’re put together is just so masterful. From the sullen opening acoustic chords to the moment[s] its tremoloed distortion comes crashing in, to its inevitably epic solo; the track is a perfect pastiche of 80s thrash metal excess.
“Apocalypse Now” is another impressively potent concoction. The track begins, and is populated throughout, with some tasteful bass leads[!] before launching into a rollicking mid-section that is both reminiscent and worth of the best of Hidden Intent’s contemporaries in Elm Street and In Malice’s Wake, and gives way about halfway through to another long-lost staple: the thrash instrumental. Here, again, McEwen takes the lead and—while it’s odd that the section is tacked onto the end of a more conventional track rather than standing on its own—yet just another component of the thrash arsenal that the Adelaide trio has damn near perfected. “Step Into The Light” is another late highlight, which combines the upbeat melodies of Iron Maiden‘s “The Number of the Beast” with the kinetic grooves of Mortal Sin, and the Pantera-esque stomp of “Petrified” keeps things fresh before “Imminent Psychosis” rounds out the record in fist-pumping fashion, à la Overkill.
The production—handled by Andrew Kite of Against the Grain studios—is another huge step up from the band’s debut. Kite lends a powerful, modern edge to the band’s traditional aesthetic. The one sonic drawback of the album is that the distorted bass leads are noticeably louder than the rest of the mix, which is especially jarring when listening to it through headphones, and makes them feel less organic and somewhat out of place. It’s also a bit of a letdown that the band chose to add a rhythm guitar track underneath all the solos, rather than letting McEwen’s bass stand on its own. It sounds fierce, but Hidden Intent are at their best when they play into their strengths as a trio, rather than trying to compensate for their line-up’s deficiencies. These, however, are petty gripes to have about an album which otherwise excels in each and every area of the wide thrash metal spectrum it embraces. Don’t sleep on this one.