Last Thursday, I saw Death Angel play a home stand before touring in Europe for their new record, Killing Season (Nuclear Blast, 2008). That night, I heard two venues across the street from each other playing Metallica’s Ride the Lightning; SF is that kind of town. Chuck Billy was in the crowd! Forbidden opened, and they were on fire. The Forbidden Evil lineup reunited for this show, but since Paul Bostaph has been recording with Testament, the mighty Gene Hoglan took his place! Russ Anderson hit all his notes, and Glen Alvelais was shredtastic. SF is that kind of town.

Sonic Beatdown
Carnival Justice

Killing Season is like 2004’s comeback effort The Art of Dying, but more focused. After 1990’s Act III, Death Angel’s members undertook all kinds of side projects, elements of which have seeped into the band’s sound. Death Angel have always been malleable – see the addition of acoustic guitars and funk bass between debut The Ultra-Violence and Act III – but they’re really a different band now. Instead of “sharp” thrash, the attack is now more “rounded” and bluesy. The performances are still precise, but now there’s Motörhead-esque d-beats, groove metal, and even Thin Lizzy in the mix. Death Angel are basically a straight-up metal band now.

While I prefer the first three records (perhaps only Bonded by Blood compares to the runaway energy of The Ultra-Violence), and normally I wouldn’t like a band with Death Angel’s current elements, their execution is so exuberant and efficient that it wins me over. Mark Osegueda has struck a good balance between singing and yelling; as always, Andy Galeon’s drumming is subtly creative. I’m not crazy about the super-bluesy guitar solos, but they’re fluid and fluent. Despite its horrible title, “Sonic Beatdown” is a solid single. My pick is “Carnival Justice,” which has cute, proggy accents and awesome closing harmonies that are total classic metal.

The production here is nicely defined and heavy. But the mastering, by the aptly nicknamed Brian “Big Bass” Gardner, is horribly over-compressed, sacrificing high end and dynamic range for loudness. This is industry standard now, though – what can you do? Pancake sound aside, Killing Season is a charming little record. I’m curious how Death Angel mk2 will continue to evolve.

Killing Season is available physically from CM Distro and Relapse, and digitally from Nuclear Blast and Amazon.