Release: September 1, 2018
lineup: Wayne Abney – Bass and Vocals, Michael Huebner – Guitar, Anthony Walker – Drums
2018 in metal, what a doozy of a year. A procession of post-rock masquerading as “black metal,” awful hipster doom bands, and (of course) the continuing devolution of progressive metal into the “that one riff from ‘Rational Gaze’ all the time” genre. Worst of all, of course, were the continuing witch hunts being conducted against bands by attention seeking bloggers. One also can not forget the deluge of insipid think pieces by self-styled “metal experts” eager to proclaim the death of the genre at the hands of those dastardly “elitists.” It’s a good thing that metal fans aren’t particularly given to online sperg outs over this music, or we’d be looking at yet another go nowhere hashtag gate. On that note, and with an eye toward a brighter 2019 that will, among other things, hopefully deliver the well deserved demise of MetalSucks, I’d like to close out my 2018 music reviewing on a high note.
Life of Scars is a thrash metal act out of Texas. The band play a style of death metal tinged thrash that lies somewhere between traditional thrash metal and “groove metal.” Not surprising, given the band’s pedigree. Abney is a founding member of classic underground thrash act Hammer Witch, one of the early purveyors of this particular style. Walker actually drummed for the band during their 2013 reunion. So one could describe When the Devil Walks In as a stylistic continuation of Legacy of Pain. Albeit with more focus and quite a bit more polish.
The first thing that jumped out at me upon listening to this record was how clean it sounded, especially for an independent release. I’ve reviewed a lot of, for lack of a better term, neo-traditional thrash and death metal records over the last couple of years, and while i’ve enjoyed some of them, their commitment to worshipping the 1980s runs so deep that they even go so far as to try to replicate the bargain basement production that plagued records like To Mega Therion, Show No Mercy, and numerous other early thrash and death metal records. In the end, it ends up making them sound less like the “old school” or “classic” vibe they’re shooting for, and renders it sounding more dated. That is not the case with this record. This is a modern thrash production done right. It avoids ridiculous attempts at faux rawness, and it also avoids the tinny, sterile, ear drum piercing sound of some more mainstream modern thrash records. Every instrument sits in the proper place sonically. The guitars and the bass don’t bleed into each other, the drums sound clear and full, the cymbals don’t distort, and the vocals don’t drown out the mix. Nearly every note of every riff, no matter how dense and frenetic, can be heard. It’s clear that some time and effort was put into making this record sound good. The songs are kept fairly short and focused, and lean on more conventional pop song structure. This works to the record’s benefit. There are some seriously hooky vocal passages and riffs on this record, and it would be a pity to have them fly by and never be heard again during the course of a song. Songs like the title track, “With My Last Breath,” and “Just Because I Can” boast very catchy choruses that could easily get stuck in the head of any music fan with ears and an open mind. Although I described this as being somewhere between thrash and groove metal, I feel like I have to stress that it leans much much more strongly toward the former than the latter. This band are not allergic to high tempos or melodic guitar solos played in key, and do both with some frequency. You won’t hear many blast beats, but this is certainly not a meandering half-time, all the time kind of affair.
As far as negatives go, for me, the intro track. I feel like sound collage, atmospheric, and spoken word intro tracks are a thing that could use a break. Too many band are doing them these days. While the individual parts of the title track are great, some transitions are a little jarring in comparison to the later songs on the record. Other than that, I don’t have much to complain about.
I’ve heard it said that metal is a genre for angry young men making noise. Thankfully, given the rather pathetic state of many a young metal band at the moment, nobody gave these guys that message. When the Devil Walks In is a killer independent record that could easily compete with anything labels like Century, RoadRunner, or Nuclear Blast are putting out at the current, in terms of production, songwriting, and performance. If you’re a fan of bands like Exhorder, Pantera, or Sepultura, or just brutal, aggressive thrash metal in general, it’s definitely one that should be on your radar. I would definitely rank it as one of my top picks for the year.
Top songs: When the Devil Walks In, With My Last Breath, Just Because I Can, Give Me a Reason