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Sentinel Beast - "Depths Of Death" (CD)

Sentinel Beast - "Depths Of Death" CD cover image

"Depths Of Death" track listing:

1. Depths Of Death
2. Mourir
3. Dogs Of War
4. Corpse
5. Evil Is The Night
6. Sentinel Beast
7. Revenge
8. The Keeper
9. Phantom Of The Opera
10. Tonite
11. The Full Treatment

Reviewed by on February 17, 2010

"In terms of ax skills, this band was one to be reckoned with, and it's easy to see why Flotsam and Jetsam snapped up Spencer to replace Jason Newsted on bass when he joined Metallica."

Sentinel Beast had everything you'd need to make the big time in the early thrash era. Guitarists Barry Fischel and Mark Koyasko tore up the fretboards while one of thrash's early female vocalists Debbie Gunn sounded quite a bit like a "Kill 'Em All"-era James Hetfield. Unfortunately, "The Depths Of Death" wasn't just the title of their 1986 Metal Blade album — the only one they'd release — it was a description of the band's fate.

The band broke up in the wake of bassist Michael Spencer's departure to replace Jason Newsted in Flotsam and Jetsam. Cut to the 21st century, with Gunn fronting an all new Sentinel Beast lineup, and Barry Fischel's appropriately named Fischel's Beast releasing "Commencement," a disc full of material the band wrote for its aborted second album.

One thing that is for sure is that "The Depths Of Death" is full of potential, and it's nice to see some of it being realized, even if it is more than 20 years overdue. Listening to the album is a trip in a musical time machine back to the early days of thrash. Back then bands like Metallica wore that New Wave Of British Heavy Metal influence a little more proudly than they do these days. And certainly "Depths Of Death," the opening track on the album, has a Judas Priest "Hellion" feel in the opening, right before it makes the jump to light speed. I'd forgotten how much early thrash abhorred transitions between fast and slow, just making a balls-out leap with the hope that the drummer would be able to catch up.

"Mourir" is loaded with Maiden-on-speed riffage and solos from Fischel and Koyasko. In terms of ax skills, this band was one to be reckoned with, and it's easy to see why Flotsam and Jetsam snapped up Spencer to replace Jason Newsted on bass when he joined Metallica. Unlike a lot of thrashers, Sentinel Beast had a strong bass presence in their songs, particularly in "Corpse," in which the intro is for a few moments Spencer's alone.

Gunn's vocals on tracks like "Evil Is The Night" and "The Keeper" are classic early thrash, adding just enough growl to keep things nice and rough, but not abandoning melody entirely. I personally love the near-scream in "Sentinel Beast." Trust me when I say you'll be in 1986 all over again when you hear it.

There aren't too many downsides to the album, other than a completely unnecessary cover of Iron Maiden's "Phantom Of The Opera." The band had already proven its love for Maiden on tracks like "Sentinel Beast" and "Mourir," and resorting to a direct cover just feels wrong.

It was definitely fun to go into the way back machine for a listen to "Depths Of Death," the one-and-only (so far, anyway) Sentinel Beast album. By the same token, it's a little sad to see that a band with so much potential imploded after such an excellent debut. Oh well, at least Gunn and Fischel are waving the flag for their early thrash sounds.

Highs: "Sentinel Beast," "Evil Is The Night," and "Corpse."

Lows: The unnecessary Iron Maiden cover of "Phantom Of The Opera."

Bottom line: A great trip back to the beginnings of the thrash movement.

Rated 4 out of 5 skulls
4 out of 5 skulls

Rating Description
Rated 5 out of 5 skulls Perfection. (No discernable flaws; one of the reviewer's all-time favorites)
Rated 4.5 out of 5 skulls Near Perfection. (An instant classic with some minor imperfections)
Rated 4 out of 5 skulls Excellent. (An excellent effort worth picking up)
Rated 3.5 out of 5 skulls Good. (A good effort, worth checking out or picking up)
Rated 3 out of 5 skulls Decent. (A decent effort worth checking out if the style fits your tastes)
Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls Average. (Nothing special; worth checking out if the style fits your taste)
Rated 2 out of 5 skulls Fair. (There is better metal out there)
< 2 skulls Pretty Bad. (Don't bother)