Pillbox

Big Al’s Metal Shop

American thrash has at its center the unholy trinity of Slayer, Metallica, and Megadeth. This much is known as far as the everyday music fan goes. But, if one were to delve further into the black heart of the U.S. metal fan, a love for much-unheralded bands like Exodus, Testament, and Dark Angel would be revealed. Exodus has put out two mighty fine albums recently — one could say Gary Holt’s finest work since Bonded in Blood, perhaps. Testament has shown that no form of metal is safe and has reformed the original lineup for a few festival appearances. A little less on the radar has been Dark Angel — specifically Jim Durkin. While Gene Hoglan has gone on to drum for Strapping Young Lad, among others, Durkin (guitarist extraordinaire) has not been as prolific in his output. After D.A. broke up in the early ’90s, Durkin and Hoglan formed a project named “Dreams of Damnation,” which seems to have gradually become Durkin’s main focus. In 2006, D.O.D. released Epic Tales of Vengeance. With new addition Loana D.P. Valencia, D.O.D. has emerged with a very current and urgent sound.

The notion of the female singer in metal has lost its novelty, thanks in no small part to the recent, stellar work of Angela Gossar (Arch Enemy), among others. These women have distinctive voices but still sound as powerful as any of their male counterparts. Valencia’s voice is no different. Her vocal abilities impressed me on this album: She mostly stays within a tight range familiar in the death metal genre. While not straying beyond the standard range, her style perfectly complements Durkin’s quick riffing and the solid rhythm section behind them.

A little deeper, the arrangement and the lyrics that the band chose to focus on fascinate me. This album starts off with the instrumental “Crimson Vengeance,” a recurring theme and a slow build-up of rage that explodes into the opener, “Kill for Peace.” While the notion of political hypocrisy in war is not a novel one, Valencia succinctly gets her point across in verses like “We kill for peace — the soldiers who fall; we’re your children — not names on a wall.” As the song segues into “The Bloodletting,” the verse “Welcome to the bloodletting/Crimson symphonies of our justice/Litanies to our survival/Blister... in our hate” rings in my head.

One gets the feeling that Valencia has been carrying these lyrics in her mind and heart for some time now. The semi-sexual yet violent “The New Flesh” is a case in point: “Seductive in its calling/You long to taste the sting/Of whips that kiss like angels/Reborn with darkened wings.” In “Patricide,” this anger reaches its apex. The title alone should evoke deep emotions from anyone, but the lyrics themselves leave me angry and saddened. Juxtaposed with the violence in all the other songs here and sequenced right after “The New Flesh,” one gets the sense that this is a subject matter that weighs heavily on her thoughts. I will say that listeners should read the lyrics to take meaning for themselves: I’m certainly not one to misinterpret an artist’s words. War as child abuse, however, is not a thought we discuss in our society, although it makes sense here. When I think of child soldiers, I see images of young African boys conscripted and sent off to fight a war they need no part of. Yet anyone who goes off to war comes back scarred, and their vision of reality is forever scarred, too. D.O.D. is arguing that to take away one’s innocence is indeed child abuse.

The anger employed here touches a nerve, one that I hadn’t thought existed in me. Metal in general is often used as a cathartic release for listeners and performers alike. Epic Tales of Vengeance is an album that strikes a little harder in me, and I hope you’ll give it a little of your time, too.

Until next time.