In the history of heavy metal, there have been many hotbeds of activity. New Jersey, New York, Dallas, Austin, Los Angeles, San Francisco, the entire nation of Germany, and most of the Scandinavian states. In all that time and distance, no one has ever mentioned the town of Kenosha, Wisconsin. That sounds more like a town where serial murders happen. It sounds like a place where if you’re driving along the load and see “Welcome to Kenosha,” you know you’re lost. It sounds like a town where you drive fifteen miles down a dirt road, and just when you get to Nowhere, you take a left.
Now though, the town is a relevant part of the metal situation. For it is the hometown of Lazarus AD, the band that’s joining the ranks of America’s thrash metal comeback. Their newest effort, “The Onslaught” was originally released in 2007, but then was given the full remaster treatment by Metal Blade Records in 2009. Quick aside to Metal Blade: excellent decision.
Lazarus AD’s self-professed slogan is “Thrash or Die” which seems incredibly generic until the listener realizes that that’s exactly what they’re doing. “The Onslaught” is an unforgiving, overpowering juggernaut of non-stop thrash with a new edge. With an ear for the early work of Megadeth, guitars that mimic Zakk Wylde’s sound, and just a dash of punk-infused call and response, Lazarus AD puts all their cards on the table and does not disappoint.
The more I listen to this album, the more I like it. One of the things that impresses me the most is the band’s ability to ease off the throttle when need be. It is all too common in this genre to witness a band that thinks they must play at mind-numbing speed at all times. When done poorly (which it often is,) the band ends up drowning in its own sound. The music becomes derivative and unvaried.
Not the case with Lazarus AD. Despite the “Thrash or Die” mentality, the band has clearly been studying the right sources, and has an incredible ear for when to hit the gas. Where “The Onslaught” truly shines has nothing to do with its speed, and everything to do with its design. The album is extremely well crafted, and the slow, plodding, head-banging dirges could whip a mosh pit into an easy frenzy in seconds. Rather than the verses or choruses, it is the breakdowns, bridges and solos which are the strength of the album.
To posit an example, look at the song “Absolute Power.” The chorus is awful (sorry guys, it is,) but the sections in transition, and the impossibly hook-laden end makes the song a gem. Almost every song has at least one section that grinds out a superb distortion riff, a well placed double kick drum line, an old-school shredder’s gallop riff, or a head-banging anthem. From “Revolution” to “Last Breath” to “Lust,” the songs all contain the same rough construction, but the pieces are individually so different as to make the formula seem less dull.
It’s not all peerless excellence, as “Thou Shall Not Fear,” is the poorest imitator of what the rest of the album has to offer. It’s not unlistenable, but I find myself skipping past it to get to the better parts that lie beyond. While each song has amazing and memorable parts, it’s more difficult to pick an entire song that shines from beginning to end. “Lust” or “Revolution” probably come the closest. Lazarus AD may have created a number of great ideas, but then had difficulty connecting them. The lyrics are not the album’s strongest point. Luckily, the band makes up for this by having few verses, keeping them short, and mostly letting the music fill in and speak for itself. Another good decision.
While Dan Gapen and Alex Lackner are a well-oiled guitar tandem who can weave in and out of each other, they are not the top pair in the new American thrash genre. Off the top of my head, I think Unearth’s axmen may be more accomplished. Ryan Shutler is a great drummer by most standards, but for what’s come to be normal in thrash, he is good but not great. His timing is perfect, his ability to effectively balance his drums (not too much tom, not too much snare, etc) is excellent, but his bag of tricks is somewhat shallow. Since Metal Blade chose to make the drums dominate the production, you can’t help but notice.
Anyway, let me stop with the disparaging commentary and make myself clear. “The Onslaught” is just that, and is one of the best releases I’ve heard this year. Lazarus AD as a band is way more than the sum of its parts, as the musicians together create a sound that’s unique while being accessible. It’s ugly and dangerous while at the same time being vital and energetic. The album is both refined and unrefined; it has a solid core but is jagged around the edges. The riffs are sharp, the sounds is all their own, and it’s a fresh if not new take on American thrash. There’s something here for all fans of metal.