posted on 11/2009 By:
Folks obviously know and deservedly love the Bay Area thrash metal scene of the early/mid-80's, but when it comes to classic North American thrash metal bands of yore, I actually prefer, and most often return to today, that which bubbled forth from the New York/New Jersey area during that time period: Overkill's Feel the Fire and Taking Over, Nuclear Assault's Game Over and Survive, Blood Feast's Face Fate EP and Kill for Pleasure, and two of my absolute favorites, Whiplash's Power & Pain and Ticket to Mayhem.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that my taste has changed quite a bit over the years, so I'm not nearly as close to the "pure" thrash scene as I once was. Twenty to twenty-five years ago, however, thrash was a vital tool I often turned to help vent my frenzied, sometimes rampaging youth. Now that I've matured into an old sweetheart of a cuddly-chap (and partly because of my discovering the violence of black metal), I just don't feel the need for thrash's bite nearly as often as I used to. But when I do, I have the above-mentioned classics, along with a select few examples from our Canadian and European brothers to help quell my hunger. This essentially means I've been mostly uninterested in the recent resurgence of thrash, especially when it comes to old bands rising from the grave to release new material. Honestly, is there anything worse than a band you once loved soiling beloved albums of yore with shitty, lackluster albums today? Nope.
Anyway, this is a (relatively) short explanation as to why I approached this new Whiplash release with great caution: I love their first two records and have had no desire to soil those memories with a stack of newer releases that sound limp in comparison (something that already began to rear its ugly head with their third release, Insult to Injury); limp thrash is meant for the trash, as far as I'm concerned. But I gotta say, Unborn Again has really taken me by surprise. Yes, it's missing the exact bite that fueled classics such as "Warmonger", "Nailed to the Cross", "The Burning of Atlanta" and "Snakepit", but what it lacks in cruelty, it more than makes up for with its solid, catchy songcrafting. Actually, that's something that's always set this band apart from many of their peers: Whiplash know how to pen immensely catchy tunes. Put a gun to Tony Portaro's head and I'd imagine he could fashion one hell of a pop song...but yeah, you'd probably have to put a gun to his head.
Part of the reason for the newer, gentler beast is due to Tony's more relaxed vocal approach nowadays. But to be fair, it would be nearly impossible for the dude to maintain the same rasped, burning throat delivery he used 25years ago -- seriously some of the most billowing furnace-styled vocals in thrash history. Still, I'd say his current delivery is perfectly suited for the music on tap, so the change doesn't take away from the overall enjoyment of the record.
Unborn Again also spends a good bit of its time in a nice, galloping mid-pace that shows more of a melodic, traditional metal flare than anything I've heard from the band in the past. That's not to say the album's completely devoid of old habits, however. "Snuff", "Fight or Flight" (especially), "Pitbull's in the Playground" and the closing "Feeding Frenzy" all flash ample measures of that classic Whiplash attack that'll have you scouring the attic for those old white high-tops and skinny jeans. The standout tracks, however, would have to be the insanely upbeat charge of the album's sole instrumental, "Parade of Two Legs", and the utterly brilliant "Firewater" -- a tune that stands on a towering echelon on its own in terms of snappy, infectious heavy metal tunes. Seriously, this cut has already solidified itself as one of my favorite fun songs of the year; it's bright, blithe-as-balls, and does a wonderful job of spotlighting another huge selling point of Unborn Again: the supreme production that does an excellent job of letting all the instruments get ample time under the spotlight.
The album does have a few flatpoints worth mentioning. The Montrose cover could have been trimmed entirely, and "Float Face Down" and "Hook In Mouth" lack the same depth and long-lasting catchiness when compared to the rest of the album's material. Still, these relatively minor flatpoints don't detract from an otherwise wholly enjoyable record, but they did knock the "songwriting" portion of our score formula down a couple notches.
In a sea already teeming with new-fangled acts trying to push the thrash resurgence even further, alongside piles of other elder bands piecing together lackluster releases in hopes of re-catching $ome recognition, it's a great relief to see a band like Whiplash release something as fun and satisfying as this. Unborn Again isn't exactly something I'd call a "savage return to form," but it's certainly a record I'd recommend to folks interested in spinning something well-suited for tipping a few (or more than a few) back with your metal crew. Welcome back, Whiplash.
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