Monday, December 24, 2012

Warhawk - Sic Semper Tyrannis

Vir prudens contra ventum non mingit

If you look back through my reviews, if you see which albums I namedrop as my favorites and the genres I normally stick to and things of that sort, you'll notice I tend to prefer stuff with cleaner production.  I get why people say super clean production jobs sound sterile and plasticky, but they don't bother me at all.  I understand why people feel the music loses aggression, but I disagree and feel like a different sound doesn't necessarily mean a worse sound.  I mean, I listen to a fuckload of new age tech death, and I can't imagine how Hour of Penance or Fleshgod Apocalypse or any of my other pet Italian bands would sound with a production any less pristine than the ones they already carry.  It's something I've grown accustomed to over the years and something that never really bothered me.

But then every once in a while, I get reminded why the old schoolers feel the way they do, and Warhawk's debut full length, Sic Semper Tyrannis, is one such reminder.

It's rare that I come across a thrash album where I have more to say about the sound than the riffs, but this here was such an unexpectedly great kick in the teeth, and a large portion of the reason why is because of the stripped down, organic, sloppy sound of it all.  It's a rough, unpolished, and unsanded piece.  There are still splinters near the cuts and the corners aren't smoothly rounded off, but to further tweak the piece would strip it of it's natural splendor.  Okay so woodworking is a bad analogy, sue me.  The point is that even if Warhawk was yet another Kreator or Exodus clone like 93% of thrash bands that started post-2003 (they aren't), the precise sound they employ is freaking perfect.  The bass is punchy, the riffs are sharp, but it all sounds as though a bunch of drunk and/or high thrashers were just rocking out to a bunch of Venom and Slayer records back in 1985 and then just ran to their garage and started improvising equally fast and dirty tunes.  This is like walking into that garage.  There's an unrefined dirtiness to Sic Semper Tyrannis that calls to mind those early 80s classics, and to the surprise of precisely nobody, it rocks as a result.

Now I always gab off about how thrash is a super restrictive genre and all, and Warhawk really don't do anything to disprove that theory.  You've heard hard and angry thrash like this before, but what the band lacks in Vektor-esque experimentation it makes up for with solid riffs, songwriting, and sheer enthusiasm.  To drop a whole bunch of totally great names, they're like Exhorder, but not quite as brutal, like Rigor Mortis, but not quite as precise, like Slayer, but not quite as intense, but despite all these "almost there" qualities, they're not even remotely close to a middling band like Testament.  Warhawk owns what they set out to do, and that's shove some visceral, bone breaking thrash straight down your gullet with riff after riff after riff.  "Hungry are the Damned" and "Projected Aggression" are potentially the most vicious cuts on display, with "Outbreak" and "Litany of Woes" (both from the previous demo, Peace and Quiet, though now improved with a less trebly production) taking the tag team runner up spot.  "Hungry are the Damned" in particular is based around one of the more ear catching riffs this side of the millennium. 

I always stress how I like my music to be fun most of the time, and while this isn't the most apt description, it's certainly vicious, which is probably my #2 most looked for quality in metal.  It's not perfect, as "The Chalice in the Square" is a bit too ambitious for its own good, clocking in at well over twelve minutes while feeling like two or three tangentially related songs just being smooshed together, and like with most thrash nowadays, the tracks don't always lend much to distinguish themselves from one another (notable exceptions with "Hungry are the Damned", "I Love the Guillotine", and obviously "The Chalice in the Square").  The vocal performance is inconsistent as well, with him switching between a mid 80s snarl and a more eccentric wailer, something like an odd cross between Show No Mercy era Tom Araya and Paul Baloff.  It's certainly a good performance, just a bit across the board and not entirely reined in.  I could yak forever about how much old school thrash was simply the purest form of aggression and how so few bands really nail that genuine feeling nowadays, but all you need to know is that Warhawk nails it harder than John Holmes.  Frantic leadwork, sharp riffs, rough sound, everything that made 1985 such a great formative year for the style is represented here in spades.

Oh, and the band offers it totally for free, with a handful of physical copies to be pressed in the near future.  Listen to this shit, SPREAD THIS LIKE A DISEASE.

RATING - 80%

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