Noise Chaos War
posted on 8/2010 By:
Californian thrash unit Hirax is a truly old-school outfit that never seems to get much attention outside the underground—they've been around since the first wave, alongside the Exodus’ and Metallica’s and the like, but they remain a cult phenomenon, virtually unknown to all but the dedicated metalhead. After taking the 1990s off, the band reformed in the new millennium, although only indefatigable vocalist Katon W. DePena remains from their earliest incarnations. Something of a one-man metal exhibition, Katon and his seemingly limitless energy pretty much define Hirax—he’s unabashedly possessed by the fire and fury of all things heavy… freakin’… metal. As an old-school headbanger, he’s a bit of a legend and a true thrash-metal poster child, all denim and leather and patches and spikes and aviator shades and attitude.
And his band rocks, too.
Noise Chaos War is a compilation of three of Hirax’s post-reformation EPs (even its title is a compilation of theirs)—2001’s Barrage Of Noise, 2007’s Chaos And Brutality and Assassins Of War. The tracks appear in the same order that the names of the original-source EPs appear in the overall title, which is not in chronological release order. (That would be "Noise War Chaos.") That sequencing choice does create the slight paradox of having "Lucifer’s Inferno (Reprise)" directly precede the track that it’s reprising. "Walk With Death" also appears twice, in its original Barrage Of Noise form and re-recorded for Chaos And Brutality, with the latter version punchier and thus a hair more powerful, although in both versions, that track remains a modern Hirax highlight.
One thing Hirax doesn’t do is deviate from their metal-thrashing-mad mission statement—what’s here is vintage thrash, pure and simple, although like their first-wave peers, Hirax has modernized in the new age; they’ve tightened up, sharpened their attack, polished their punch. This Noise is groovy and catchy, with DePena’s insistent yelping layered atop chugging mosh-worthy riffs and bouncy, pounding drums. More snarling now than on the earliest Hirax efforts, Katon in the 2000’s is often a dead ringer for Overkill’s Blitz—witness the vibrato-laden growl of "Assassins Of War."
Largely alternating between fast and faster, with a few notable excursions into a controlled mid-tempo drive, these tunes are crossover-tinged violence infused with speed-metal frenzy, custom-made for circle pits and crowd-surfing, memorable and filled with a fist-pumping, grin-inducing fury that makes them almost wholly irresistible. The band is best when playing that skanking groove that pervades "Walk With Death" or "Assassins Of War," but that’s not to downplay the moody power of "Invasion" or the full-on speedfest of "Mouth Sewn Shut." The only weak points come with the insertion of a pair of toss-off instrumentals—"Jade," "French Pearl," both originally on Barrage Of Noise—with only fellow instrumental "100000 Strong" standing as tall as the vocal-sporting tracks around it.
Noise Chaos War serves its purpose well—pulling together three smaller releases into one convenient package. Although its patchwork nature creates a few minor nature-of-the-beast listening hiccups, Noise overcomes all obstacles by virtue of simple quality—this is thrash made by thrashers, for thrashers. It rips and it kicks, and it may well cause serious neck fatigue in those listeners inclined to show their appreciation of metallic madness through that time-honored tradition of banging their damn head. Still going strong in their third decade, Hirax might forever be among metal’s best-kept secrets, but they’re a secret that you’re in on, so give ‘em your ears.
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