on July 9, 2008
Intensity is a unique and intangible thing; a band either has it or they don't. And all the computers, hype, label promotion, and production values in the world can't generate (or compensate for a lack of) it. Thus, upon hearing an album, the listener should be able to know instinctively if the band is a) just an untalented imitator, or b) really has what it takes to be genuinely intense. Unfortunately, due to the popularity surge of hardcore-influenced metal groups in recent years, the scene is now completely glutted, thus blurring the line between the two categories, and sometimes making it kind of difficult to discern who belongs in which one. Well, I'm here to help change this by telling you that an Oakland quintet by the name of Watch Them Die fall in the latter of the two. In fact, they can take their place right alongside any of the category's all time greats - trust me, folks, this is the real deal. And man, in this day and age, is it refreshing to find a band that's truly worthy of saying that!
On their second effort, 2005's "Bastard Son," Watch Them Die have mastered the art of capturing intensity. They could even share some with those less fortunate, and it would still be virtually flowing out of their ears! Watch Them Die's core sound is based on fusing thrash with hardcore, and even though there are numerous other new bands doing the same, this album manages to make most of them sound like U2 by comparison. And the answer to how they accomplished such a feat might be simpler than you expect. They did it the old-fashioned way - i.e. by stripping down the album's sound to a very lean, mean, and no-frills approach which never loses its focus or strays far from the course. So, things like melody and slow breakdowns (or any mid-tempo parts, for that matter) are, at best, put on the back burner in favor of continuing to pummel your eardrums with blindingly fast speeds. Moreover, all the usual metalcore cliches - i.e. multi tracked crooning, "wah, wah my girlfriend left me" lyrics, and anything that even remotely resembles emo - are completely and totally eschewed. Instead, in their place, lie elements taken from other sub-genres (all of them very heavy, of course) that the band members draw influence from, including quite a bit of death, melodic death, sludge, black, and gothic metal, and undeniable traces of punk, crust punk, and grindcore can also be heard throughout. (The final sound is perhaps most comparable to, say, Anthrax meets Exodus meets Slayer meets Kreator meets Acid Bath, and parallels to the likes of Pantera, Corrosion of Conformity, and Soilent Green can also be made.)
The record begins with an absolutely killer and highly addictive one-two punch in the form of the title cut and "Onslaught." Watch Them Die kick more butt in these two tracks (which, when combined together, form one vicious statement of intent) than many bands can in an entire career. The insanely catchy titular track is an explosive, manic speedster with blazing, blasting guitars, cool, black metal-derived harmonies, a steady bass bottom, quick, cracking skins, and a hooky chorus that practically screams to be a concert favorite sometime soon. And the proceeding "Onslaught" features a slower, hardcore-style intro, fiery, crunchy riffing, and interesting, punk-like bass-driven sections.
None of the remaining songs are quite able to match the level of greatness of the first two, but that's certainly not to say any of them sure aren't without charm, either. "Throne Of Lies" finds things getting a little experimental by dabbling in Novembers Doom-inspired power metal (complete with acoustic guitars, somber clean singing, and weird, cheesy lyrics), before gaining speed and becoming quite aggressive and cacophonous by the end. "Horizon" works similarly, with slower tempos and nice guitar harmonies before snowballing into a fiery, chugging, fist-pumping groove. Then comes "Belial's Path," a full-on brutal, breakneck thrasher with a scorched earth policy. (It is also boasts a good, well-placed, winding solo that is tastily tucked in amidst the background of the song's carnage-inducing arrangements.) Next up, "Under Flames" is highlighted by an intro that sounds as if it could have been ripped out of the New Orleans sludge playbook (the exact same one Eyehategod uses!), lightning fast guitar leads, another good, and quite ripping solo, and a completely unexpected mellow ending (where some nice, female singing joins the picture). Then, the listener is dealt another interesting twist - Eastern-tinged melodies are skillfully fused into the mix throughout "Early Mourning" (despite the song's prevalent use of monstrous, steamrolling riffage.)
The momentum tapers off a bit, as does some of its initial sonic rush and punch, by around the time track eight, the over seven-minute long"Battle Lost," and its follow-up, "Born To Suffer," (which clocks in at the exact same length) roll around. Neither of these less-than-irresistible epics is bad by any means, but they ultimately come across as slightly overlong, out-of-place, and the cause of a little bit of drag. Fear not, though, for all is well that ends well: set closer, a frantic and competent cover of Bathory's "Armageddon" which bursts at the seams with ferocious, barn-burning, machine gun power chords, wraps things up in a suitably strong and stylish fashion.
"Bastard Son" is such a turbo-charged, rip-roaring slab of fiery, savage, powerful, and heart-racing thrash metal, that anyone from the Bay Area in the 1980's - or anyone who's a fan of that scene - would nod in approval. Maybe it's not a perfect record, but it is an excellent, and very memorable, powerful, potential-filled, satisfying, and exhilarating affair. If nothing else, it cements Watch Them Die's status as a great, up-and-coming young band, and that you should be sure to watch and keep an open ear for in the future. And if you're a heavy music fan, but have not yet discovered WTD...sit up and take notice already!