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Warbringer’s Woe to the Vanquished is a Hyper-Thrashsterpiece

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I’m happy to see that Warbringer are back in shape. After delivering two great albums in Waking into Nightmares and Worlds Torn Asunder and billing on seemingly every single metal tour from 2007-2013, they’ve gone through a Spinal Tap of member changes, made a disappointingly less-vicious yet not-ambitious-enough album in IV: Empires Collapse, then kinda went away for a while.

Warbringer, like their generational peers in Havok, were always one of the more creatively inventive neo-thrash bands. Without steering too far from the ’80s formula, the band added doses of black metal, dirty Thin Lizzy rock, mathy stop-start accents, and catchy choruses underneath John Kevill’s always-be-closing brutal vokills. They were drawing on influences that those other retro thrash bands either didn’t care about or didn’t know: Demolition Hammer, Bathory, Sacrifice, and the like. And though they’ve run through a cadre of fine guitarists, the unique thing about the band is that their sound has always been even more defined by Kevill’s percussive vocal style and his drummers — on the last three albums, the fantastically-underrated Carlos Cruz has manned the skins. So they’re a rhythm-focused band, as opposed to relying solely on a guitar tone.

On Woe to the Vanquished, Warbringer cut right to the core, and have delivered an adrenaline-shot into the heart of Trump’s America. Despite the considerable musical technique on display, Vanquished is the band’s most straight-up punk release. Other than the epic eleven-minute closer “When the Guns Fell Silent” (another fine entry into the band’s string of closers, which they’ve always been great at), these tunes are all riff, no-frills. They may sacrifice some of their past traits — the inventive catchiness of songs like “Jackal” and “Shattered Like Glass” — but in their place is a refined focus.

A few of the highlights include “Descending Blade,” which is like a Thin Lizzy track played at double-RPM, the syncopated doom of “Spectral Asylum,” and the Exhorder-esque grooves of “Remain Violent.” On Vanquished, Warbringer continue prove that, like Havok, they are unparalleled modern masters of this subgenre’s subtleties. But unlike some of their peers, they’re completely unpretentious — Kevill’s lyrics aren’t preachy like Mustaine’s, nor are they fun-silly like Tony Foresta’s. As a vocalist,Kevill continues to develop into one of the most unique performers; as a lyricist, he complements the band’s straight-up-thrash style with refined abstraction. That is to say, what he sounds like is as crucial as what he, um, shouts.

Although their musical brew is complex, what makes this album such an entertaining listen is that it sounds like a supremely talented hardcore band decided to crank the gain channel and write with laser-precision. It’s punk as fuck, and that’s cool. In an era of overly-serious and excessively-performed metal music, Warbringer are one of the most refreshing bands we have.

Woe to the Vanquished is out March 31 via Napalm Records. Nab your copy here.

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