Don't let the first :26 of "War" fool you into thinking Vendetta has transformed into a funk abortion, because a few moments later you'll be fully immersed into one of the greatest German thrash albums of 1988, a year that really needs no introduction, so saturated it was with quality across a number of metallic themes. Brain Damage is a slightly altered beast from its predecessor, Go and Live...Stay and Die, in that Vendetta had weathered their sporadic spurts of aggression with mature songwriting, heightened melodies, and a more accessible tone which stands today as one of the best produced albums of its entire school of thought. Riffs. Leads. Songs. Fucking songs. This band had them all in spades, so it comes as quite a surprise that this sophomore didn't take off to the stars.
But it should have, and those :25 of slapping, popping bass transcend into a gyrating flux of crisp, dynamic melodies that eventually cede to increased velocity. When you've got a song with such a vague title as "War", you really need to flesh that out, and Vendetta do so. Daxx has a stronger presence here, his snide vocals far easier to pick out from the fray, due to the clarity of the mix. The lead at 2:20 is immensely catchy, and the verse lead-in lyrics are pretty hard to deny: 'hey mother, do you want war, hey mother?' "Brain Damage" itself once again flexes the band's new found versatility, with a jazzy clean guitar passage which gives the impression of falling snow before the belligerent guitars hammer out around :40. The galloping verse riffs in this song are impressive, and it's no surprise that the leads also glisten with memorable, crystalline presence, before the thrashing trampoline of "Conversation", or the drawn out power ballad "Precious Existence", which despite being the weakest track on the album, still has hooks aplomb.
After this, the album surges into a pair of shorter vignettes, the raging "Never Die" providing 2:32 of excellent speed/thrash, with a little bridge that seems an obvious nod to Destruction. "Love Song" is barely over a minute, a fun number that alternates samples and wild synth sounds with grooving basslines and thrash lines, the band repeating: 'we hope that you love - as I - as we do'. I don't really get it, but Vendetta don't plan on giving me the time to, as the bass solo weaves into the nearly 7 minute instrumental "Fade to Insanity", which is choked with great riffs, one of the better thrash instrumentals of the 80s outside of "Orion". "Dominance of Violence" whips up another sequence of glorious, unforgettable rhythms before the album's finale, "Metal Law", which is probably the closest you're going to find to the material on their debut, though cleaned up quite nicely.
There are some who consider Brain Damage to be an example of progressive thrash metal, and I can't say I completely disagree. It's not technical or complex to the point of being bewildering or genius (ala Deathrow's Deception Ignored), but certainly the band were introducing a lot of elements that betrayed the charging, voracious mentality of Go and Live...Stay and Die. It's feet are firmly on the ground, it's relationship with the audience open and embracing rather than cryptic and alienating. This is easy to write off as 'goofy' or German (Helloween, Pink Cream 69 and others seem to tread a similar, friendly yellow brick road), but it's still a thrash album, with meaningful and relevant layman lyrics, most of which still hold up, almost like the album's bright, fluent production. Vendetta were surely a band aimed at bigger and better things, so it's a damn shame that this would be the last anyone heard from them for nearly 20 years. They've since revived with a decent comeback, but had it all ended with Brain Damage, there could be no regrets.
Verdict: Epic Win [9/10] (a road with one more station)