Sunday, September 16, 2012

Bonded By Blood - The Aftermath (2012)

If you asked me a few years ago, I would have named Bonded by Blood as one of the premier entries into the now-overflowing arena of new thrash projects, alongside wholly enjoyable acts like Warbringer, Vektor, Skeletonwitch, and Havok, among others. Indeed, their debut album Feed the Beast was one of the best of the Bay Area canon I’d heard in years, an incredibly fresh take on the maniacal, street-carousing sound that Exodus had pioneered all those years ago. Their sophomore effort, Exiled to Earth, was likewise energetic and fun, if less memorable overall. Now, they’ve returned for a third effort with a new bassist and vocalist (effectively half the band).

Have you ever heard the old adage about a bands third album being a defining moment? A sort of indicator as to how a band will evolve in the future? If one is to take The Aftermath and inject it into such an equation, I’m afraid the future may be bleaker than originally anticipated for Bonded by Blood. Now, let me qualify this statement by saying that The Aftermath is by no stretch a bad album, but in comparison to the wild debut, it lacks that special pissed-off spark that a thrash album requires to truly shine.

My biggest complaint by far concerns the production, as chafing and polished a product as I’ve seen all year, nearly decapitating the inherent raw energy that the band admittedly still produce, if in much smaller quantity nowadays. The Aftermath just sounds so frustratingly, immaculately clean; it basically castrates that carousing energy before it can even take hold. This, my friends, is what we call ‘over-produced’, and I can’t help but feel that with a grittier, much more natural tone, these songs would have the breathing room they need in order to grow in my consciousness, rather than stagnate. It’s like the whole effort is suffocating in plastic wrap, so obsessively nice and neat, any imperfection scrubbed out by total engineering OCD. This is the antithesis to what I enjoy in a thrash album. Everything is nice and level, sure, but there is absolutely no punch, no grit, no bloody balls! I truly think this holds the album back far more than any other factor, infecting even the better aspects with its lifeless grey energy.

Another mark against it are the vocals of Mauro Gonzales, once again by no means bad, but they simply lack the psychotic, maniacal energy of Jose Barrales, and even worse, are also produced into plastic sterility, with a consistent and obvious filtering/layering effect that robs them of any natural enthusiasm. His energy level is consistent, and his voice fits the music, but it all begins running together after awhile, despite a selection of truly good riffs.

And indeed, the riffing here on The Aftermath is consistently strong, definitely the albums saving grace. Though the songs don’t seem to flow as naturally as they should (due to composition or production is not entirely clear), many of the individual note progressions are simply fucking awesome. Guitarist Juan Juarez is a very talented young man, able to craft highly infectious riffs and spectacular solos at the drop of the hat. However, in this instance, they simply do not seem to mesh into an overly compelling product, likely again to do with the nature of the sound itself. The individual subsections end up being much more exciting than the congealed whole. I have simply never heard an album so gimped by its production, not since …And Justice For All. It’s like some Barbie blonde with the soul sucked right out of her…. still pretty, in a weird, slightly unsettling way, but without any depth or character.

At its core, The Aftermath is a nice, groovy thrash album that boasts a bevy of savage guitar strikes and a number of hooky choruses, though it stays pretty much entirely in the established archetypes of Bay Area thrash, doing little to distinguish itself. It’s inherently simplistic, as you would expect of a thrash album, romping from song to song in standard verse/chorus format. Unfortunately, and despite the obvious talent of Juarez and his army of cool riffs, The Aftermath succumbs almost entirely to its myriad problems. The stifling production is certainly a huge issue, but The Aftermath also feels lacking in the essential spirit that makes the new efforts from bands like Havok and Warbringer so virulent and infectious. If it had a more natural tone, it would be a good album, but I’m afraid the indefinable edge that makes a thrash record great is entirely lacking, perhaps due to the ho-hum vocal performance of Gonzales, or maybe a dirth of dynamic songwriting. Perhaps both. The Aftermath is mildly fun, inoffensive bran-flakes thrash metal from start to finish, which, despite the caliber of its riffing, fails to attain anything more than genre standard acceptability, and even after a bunch of listens, I struggle to remember even the most basic chorus. I know these boys can do much better, though, and I’ll be awaiting their next effort with cautious optimism. For now, I’d suggest allotting your thrash cash to something more substantial, such as the strong new effort from Teutonic beer-barons Tankard.

5.5 / 10 - Honey, Where Are My Bran-Flakes?