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Death Angel - "Relentless Retribution" (CD)

Death Angel - "Relentless Retribution" CD cover image

"Relentless Retribution" track listing:

1. Relentless Revolution (4:28)
2. Claws In So Deep (7:44)
3. Truce (3:31)
4. Into The Arms Of Righteous Anger (4:31)
5. River Of Rapture (4:35)
6. Absence Of Light (4:32)
7. This Hate (3:33)
8. Death Of The Meek (5:15)
9. Opponents At Sides (6:21)
10. I Chose The Sky (4:06)
11. Volcanic (3:34)
12. Where They Lay (4:30)

Reviewed by on December 20, 2010

"Maybe Death Angel should take another decade off to stockpile more ideas."

Death Angel has been a largely forgotten thrash band, despite releasing three critically acclaimed records and displaying impressive musicianship early in its career. Even in a piss-drunk-bull-in-a-china-shop genre in the late 1980s, Death Angel was not able to crack the thrash metal pantheon of greats before grunge took over a few years later. While problems with various labels and a 1990 car accident that critically injured then-drummer Andy Galeon certainly had a large impact, Death Angel seemed to be going the way of Anvil instead of Anthrax even before those incidents cropped up. Reunited in 2001 at the Thrash of the Titans cancer benefit for Chuck Billy, Death Angel gave it another go and has released three albums this decade. The most recent, 2010’s “Relentless Retribution,” is a hit-and-miss affair that showcases both the band’s veteran skill and lack of focus.

After two decidedly average releases previously this decade - 2004’s “The Art of Dying” did more bruising than bone breaking and 2008’s “Killing Season” was a one-note wang-bang - Death Angel is spreading its wings a bit by throwing various things against various walls, but the band can’t make it really work. “Into the Arms of Righteous Anger” is based on, wait for it…. metalcore (!) layers and structures, but the mid-tempo amble doesn’t do the song any favors, nor does the exciting-like-melted-vanilla-ice-cream solo build. “River of Rapture” starts out at a good clip but slows into a set of choruses that politely ask for approval, although the speedy bits toward the end are a decent recovery.

Continuing on that theme, “Claws In So Deep” is a total misfire: the syncopated rhythms with straight counted drumming is awkward, the chorus vocal hook just hurts, and the breakdown is lighter than a virgin amaretto sour. But the biggest problem here is Rodrigo y Gabriela’s outro. I love Rodrigo y Gabriela, but I can’t help but laugh at the irony - three minutes of acoustic introspection by a completely different band on the second song of an album from the actual band that wrote the all-time great ballad “A Room With A View.” Again, I love Rodrigo y Gabriela, and partnering with friends of the metal community is nice and all, but, I mean, come on dudes, just write the thing yourself.

Now that’s a lot of ranting, but I am simply disappointed. Why can Death Angel write such schlubby junk and still include absolute detonators like “Truce” and “This Hate?” If “Relentless Retribution” had just six repetitions of each I would give the album three-and-a-half skulls. Those cuts are aggressive, modern, and inventive thrash at its best, mostly because they are more focused on the bits that Death Angel is good at. Those things are namely inventive grooved riffs, not overwrought solos, growling bass lines, and rhythmically catchy vocals. “Where They Lay” and “Death of the Meek” are also significantly above average.

Death Angel is seemingly good in small doses – the band is well received live and each of the last three albums has enough good material for an EP instead of a long-player – but over a full album the ideas clank more than they cruise. Maybe Death Angel should take another decade off to stockpile more ideas.

Highs: “Truce” is a modern thrash masterpiece – brutal, musical, heavy and varied in less than four minutes.

Lows: When Death Angel tries to expand its palette the picture isn’t pretty.

Bottom line: Old school thrash vets still can write some great stuff, but not twelve songs worth.

Rated 2.5 out of 5 skulls
2.5 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)