I rarely find death metal "bad-ass". It's not a quality I require from the music, since it has not made "bad-ass" a priority. Maybe Krisiun is bad-ass, or Arise-era Sepultura. But death metal is mostly too nerdy to be bad-ass. It has other concerns, like being necro, epic, offensive, or technical. None of these really resonate with me. Satan, mythology, gore, and sweep picking are just not germane to my life.

The law is, however. For the last two years, I've lived in locales with heavy police presences. Guns and crime are real to me - which is why Criminal Element makes my hairs stand on end. The only constants in the band have been vocalist Vince Matthews and his lyrical obsession with the streets. Imagine gangsta rap minus the misogyny, foul language, and celebration of crime - Matthews' criminals are not heroes - plus some, well, bad-ass metal.

"Fake and a Fraud"

You might wonder what I mean by "bad-ass". It's one of those things that shouldn't be explained. But to try to break it down - it's attitude. It's swagger with the skills to back it up. Criminal Element has both. Its lineups have been Matthews plus his pals - a big deal, since his pals play in bands like Suffocation, Dying Fetus, and Misery Index. The current lineup includes Mark Kloeppel and Adam Jarvis of Misery Index; this EP features guest vocals from Jason Netherton of Misery Index and John Gallagher of Dying Fetus.

Thus, Criminal Element kind of sounds like those bands. Early on, it was grindcore-influenced, but this EP has big dollops of thrash. Serrated machine-gun riffs trade off with half-speed beatdowns. A few fleet leads add zing up top. The performances are tight but raw: virtuosos taking a break from their day gigs to let loose. If the New York thrash/hardcore vibe of Anthrax/S.O.D./Nuclear Assault got a death metal update, Criminal Element might be the result. Matthews' throaty bark even sounds like Roger Miret at times.

Bullets and riffs fly hard and fast in this 15-minute firefight. It needs no underworld, because earth is hell enough. Survival is the end, and being bad-ass is the means.

"Crime & Punishment"

— Cosmo Lee

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