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Death Angel: The Enigma Years (1987-1990) (4CD)

Considering that by the time Death Angel’s 1987 debut album, The Ultra-Violence, had been released, Bay Area scene setters Metallica had already unleashed their third album, the seminal Master Of Puppets, it’s easy to suggest that this band from the same setting in San Fransisco were merely following in the master’s wake. However, the very fact that their 1985 Kill As One demo was produced by Metallica guitar man Kirk Hammett should tell you that not only did they come approved by the leaders of the pack, but also that Death Angel had a lot to say in their own right. And never more so than on The Ultra-Violence, an album that still to this day positively bristles with the electric energy that so encapsulated the early thrash metal scene. In many ways this debut offering had more in common with the twenty riffs a second approach that Anthrax initially purveyed than it did Metallica, however, if you’re looking for a prime example of exactly what mid to late 80s thrash sounded like, then you need search no further. Packaged here with the second studio album from Death Angel, Frolic Through The Park and their first live offering, Fall From Grace, this four disc box is then rounded out with an eleven track disc of rarities. Now admittedly, most of that - The Ultra-Violence, Frolic… and the rarities set have already been grouped together as Archives And Artefacts, but adding in Fall… and a few bonus cuts, does pretty much wrap up the band’s story from this era and makes for a cracking run through of the early years of this excellent outfit.

Now, the digital review pack that I was lucky enough to receive only carries the artwork for the box itself and the card-sleeves for the CDs, so I can’t comment on whether there’s an accompanying booklet, or therefore what it may, or may not contain. So, for me, this really is all about the music and if it’s galloping thrash metal of the highest order you crave then hurtle yourself into the likes of “Thrashers”, “Kill As One” and the ten minute The Ultra-Violence instrumental title track to discover a band right at the heart of this scene’s sound. Really, there’s no let up, with the five-piece of singer Mark Osegueda, guitarists Rob Cavestany and Gus Pepa, bassist Dennis Pepa and drummer Andy Galeon serving up some scintillating foot to the floor metal that truly bridges the gap between the classic NWOBHM sound and the then burgeoning thrash scene. From “Evil Priest” through to “Final Death”, it’s an immense debut album that deserves much more acclaim than has previously come its way. Add in the aforementioned Hammett produced three track demo - which features rougher, but maybe even more vital versions of “Thrashers”, “Kill As One” and “The Ultra-Violence” - and really this is a thrashers paradise.

Album two arrived one year after the debut in 1988, and if that sounds like an overly quick-fire follow up, then in all honesty, you’re probably correct. An album that seems to be loved, or not so loved by hardcore fans, it’s easy to understand why Frolic In The Park might be seen as a turning point for Death Angel. Undoubtedly this collection offers just as many romping riffs and grating guitars and yet - as a sign of where the band were kind of headed - it also adds in some thrash fuelled funk and dashes of something altogether more melodic. Some would call the results refined, others unfocused, but strip all of that away and there’s still no denying that when Death Angel simply put their head down and yelled ‘CHARGE’, they really were tremendous. Osegueda in particular sounds in fine form, screaming for all he’s worth, barking in a way that ensured you didn’t want to find out exactly how lethal his bite would be and also bringing a more controlled side that maybe wouldn’t have been anticipated. Ironically it’s as easy as it is baffling to understand why the singer would supposedly be turned down by Anthrax when they were searching for a singer to replace the departing Joey Belladona, with the Death Angel man being described as ‘too metal’ at the time. Whether that’s true, or not, just take in his confident, dextrous display on “Road Mutants” to bask in the majesty, ferocity and sheer elasticity of his voice. However, he’s no one man show, with the bending, shifting “Why You Do This” revealing a band with a much more musical heart than their debut had hinted at, with everything from almost Latin and jazz phrasings chuckling at a snotty punk punch that sneers and spits for all its worth. Is Frolic In The Park just a little too much for its own good? Possibly yes, but with hindsight the almost extreme metal meets prog/thrash of “Shores Of Sin” is classy indeed. Even if following up that with a perfunctory, but damn good fun take on KISS’s “Cold Gin” may well be the epitome of unfocused…

Far from band endorsed, Fall From Grace was a live album that appeared through the Enigma label after Death Angel had already jumped ship to Geffen for the acclaimed Act III album released in 1990. As such it comes across more as a very accomplished bootleg (feedback, rough sound, crowd noise and needless stage banter and all) than it does a polished live album. And boy does it benefit from exactly that. Thrash was never really meant to be all that shiny and safe and Fall… is far from either of those things. Yes, that does mean that you have to take a minute or two of the opening “Evil Priest” to allow your ears to adjust but once they have the seeming disconnect between the band’s first two albums slips away and a truly cohesive set of songs gels into a superb set. The potency of Cavestany and Gus Pepa as they torture their six-strings is incredible, while the immense rhythm work from Dennis Pepa and Andy Galeon takes on a whole new level of immediacy, precision and potency when “Why You Do This” careens from one set of bulging riffs and moods to another. From the anything but disinterested “Bored” right across the stop start bark of “Guilty Of Innocence” and killer blow of “Final Death”, if you can point me at a more vital and vicious live-thrash attack from the time, then I’ll probably disagree.

All of which leaves the rarities disc, and while it is undoubtedly a collection of bits and bobs - many of which have an unfinished sound about them - it makes for an interesting insight into period pieces that never made the final cut. Hence, the real question here has to be why the angry setting of “Vulture’s Nest” or far from ponderous “A Final Thought” never got beyond these well worked but not quite complete circumstances. For me, set-plays such as “The Morrows Memoirs” and straight up metal of “Betrayed” really should have been given the chance to shine under a more complete production. However, as a kicker to two excellent studio albums and an irresistibly flawed live recording, it adds both value and interest.

And with that Death Angel headed off for Act III with Geffen, but sad circumstances brought about their demise; an on tour bus crash severely injuring drummer Andy Galeon, which eventually led to the band’s disintegration in 1992. They would reform again with the full original recording line-up in 2001 and while only Osegueda and Cavestany remain, their more recent output has been jaw droopingly good. This collection, however, is where it all began and as introductions go it was mighty indeed.


Track Listing
DISC ONE THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE (1987)
1. THRASHERS
2. EVIL PRIEST
3. VORACIOUS SOULS
4. KILL AS ONE
5. THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE
6. MISTRESS OF PAIN
7. FINAL DEATH
8. I.P.F.S.
BONUS TRACKS KILL AS ONE DEMO
9. THRASHERS
10. KILL AS ONE
11. THE ULTRA-VIOLENCE


DISC TWO FROLIC THROUGH THE PARK (1988)
1. 3RD FLOOR
2. ROAD MUTANTS
3. WHY YOU DO THIS
4. BORED
5. DEVIL’S METAL
6. CONFUSED
7. GUILTY OF INNOCENCE
8. OPEN UP
9. SHORES OF SIN
10. COLD GIN
11. MIND RAPE
BONUS TRACKS
12. DEHUMANIZATION
13. SILENT KILLER
14. WITCHES OF KNAVE


DISC THREE FALL FROM GRACE (1990)
1. EVIL PRIEST
2. WHY YOU DO THIS
3. MISTRESS OF PAIN
4. ROAD MUTANTS
5. VORACIOUS SOULS
6. CONFUSED
7. BORED
8. KILL AS ONE
9. GUILTY OF INNOCENCE
10. SHORES OF SIN
11. FINAL DEATH
BONUS TRACK
12. 3RD FLOOR


DISC FOUR RARITIES (2005)
1. VULTURE’S NEST
2. THE HURT
3. CONFLICT OF INTEREST
4. A PASSING THOUGHT
5. ELERGY
6. ASPIRATIONS
7. DISMAL
8. THE MORROWS MEMOIRS
9. SAMSON
10. FROLIC THROUGH THE PARK
11. BETRAYED

Added: December 10th 2020
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Death Angel @ Cherry Red
Hits: 164
Language: english

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