Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Onslaught - Sounds of Violence (2011)

Despite the fact that they've got three of their early members in tow (Sy Keeler, Nige Rockett and Steve Grice), Onslaught don't sound a hell of a lot like they used to when they released classics like Power from Hell and The Force, nor the power/thrash of 1989's In Search of Sanity, with Steve Grimmett at the helm. It's understandable that the band wouldn't want to keep repeating themselves, and thus their last album (and first reunion) Killing Peace was a fairly average slab of modern thrash with grooves and high, glossed production values, but it wasn't bad. The generically titled Sounds of Violence, their 5th full-length in nearly 30 years of existence, continues along this path, but perhaps too far, because it's little more than a heap of cliched lyrics, forgettable riffs and frustrating vocals.

To best describe the sound here would be a fusion of the past three, mediocre Exodus records, with Slayer-like riffs and Sepultura's Beneath the Remains/Arise era punch and occasional whimsied dissonance. Long gone is the harrowing, occult wretchedness that was characteristic of their mid-80s period, and Keeler shifts between a number of vocal styles beginning with a very Devin Townsend-like concentration of angst and ending with boring death growls that are often used to set up breakdowns much like you'd expect of a nickel and dime metalcore band. Very often, they're layered in together. Furthermore, the lyrics are quite weak here, just a meandering string of cliches that feel like they've been pulled out of countless other songs in the 80s and 90s. Nary a fresh image to be found, and the constant use of 'fucking' in the songs does not manifest the anger and power it feels like it should, simply placed to make the lyrics have a hollow impact. I wouldn't say that the subjects were socially irrelevant, but songs like "Godhead" and "Hatebox" sound like they should be on a dumpy Machine Head album in the mid 90s. '666, you wanna start a fuckin' war', 'rise this is the new world order', etc. Not interesting at all, and though they were never poet laureates, give me "Death Metal" and "Witch Hunt" any day.

The music itself doesn't fare much better, and it seems the only thing going for it is the forceful hammering of the rhythm section due to the massive production. A song like "The Sound of Violence" is basically just Exodus/Sepultura 101 circa Fabulous Disaster and Beneath the Remains, while "Code Black" and "Godhead" are loaded with boring groove hooks or Slayer styled descending melodies. The breakdowns feel too manufactured here, either to create mosh pits or set up some octave melody (which, to be fair, do often conjure a sense of atmosphere that is lacking elsewhere). The leads are actually quite explosive and well written throughout the album, but their immediate environment is lacking. The best songs on the album are "Rest in Pieces" and "Suicideology", both of which offer no frills, thrusting modern thrash, but they feel pretty similar to one another and they're not incredibly compelling. The cover of Motörhead's "Bomber" isn't bad, at least the band bring it to their level rather than worrying about a sound too close to the original.

Sounds of Violence doesn't completely suck, but the very 90s elements, vapid breakdowns and some of the vocals/lyrics didn't prompt much interest in my returning to the material. You've heard all of this before, and it's very unlikely to inspire the same level of respect as the band's 80s fare. There's a lot of talent within the band, especially the taut execution, the energy of the leads and the charisma Sy Keeler, but not all of these are used to their greatest impact. Dump the death growls, the bad slam parts, and some of the predictable lyrics and sharpen this beast and you'll get an Onslaught that is once again worthy of its name.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]


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