Album: Death Be Thy Shepherd
Record label: Static Tension Recordings
Release date: February 27th 2015
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1. Faustian Mastery
2. Harbinger of Decay
3. Hypnotise the Masses
4. Gates of Sanity
5. All Is Lost
6. The Love of a Dying God
7. Sorrow Made Flesh
8. Death Be Thy Shepherd
Thirty years may have come and gone since thrash metal arguably reached its apex, yet its steadfast spirit not only survives to this day, but also continues to thrive thanks to the interminable flurry of new arrivals. The stalwart survivors of that era are far from washed out either; the likes of Exodus, Testament and Kreator are all still churning out superior releases and showing no signs of slowing down. Combining traditional thrash pace with lashings of melody as the likes of Metallica and Megadeth have mastered so consummately in the past, Reign of Fury’s take on such an established sound pays dues to their peers and yet the production here is distinctly modern, breathing clarity and punch into the music yet clearly lacking the dynamic range that helped to solidify these mid-eighties releases as timeless classics.
That being said, Reign of Fury have far too much going for them for this to be an overwhelming crux on their sophomore release, and from tightly wound instrumentation through to strength in songwriting, Death Be Thy Shepherd impresses on multiple levels. Vocalist Bison Steed leads the charge as riff after riff dominates this hour-long exhibition of exemplary melodic thrash, electrifying solos and memorable choruses, all helping to push the band forward from their 2012 début World Detonation.
They also possess the notable skill of writing uncommonly lengthy thrash songs that manage to confidently justify their prolonged existence, and whereas some would experiment with such ideas to their detriment, Reign of Fury harness it to the point where it becomes their greatest strength. Opener ‘Faustian Mastery’ and closing track ‘Death Be Thy Shepherd’ both demonstrate this admirably, and despite the band’s tendency to stick to standard song structure, the thrash indulgence is accentuated rather than becoming fatigued. After the former’s breakneck tumult, it genuinely doesn’t feel like nine minutes have passed, or indeed that any one of those minutes was unwelcome or superfluous. The title track particularly shows off their aptitude for intelligently crafted and structured songwriting – an area that saw Metallica shine at their most creative – executing changes of pace (and even an Iron Maiden-style mid-section) in ways that only makes the composition stronger.
Elsewhere, the shorter songs (although still clocking in at six minutes plus) continue to impress and define the band’s sound; ‘Hypnotise the Masses’ and ‘Sorrow Made Flesh’ both show that despite the emphasis on the melodic aspect of their sound, the band can still deliver supreme energy and belligerence.
Bison’s impressive voice plays a significant role in what makes Death Be Thy Shepherd such an enthralling listen, and with thoughtfully placed harmonies and gang vocals dotted throughout, the verses become as commanding as the choruses. At their very best, Reign of Fury come across like a coalescence of the so-called ‘Big Four’, exhibiting many of the legends’ greatest strengths and fundamental traits whilst never particularly sounding like any one of them. Precision is the key here, and when combined with everything from the consistently strong songs through to the fantastic cover art, Death Be Thy Shepherd is the full package.
This may be a tad diluted for those who demand extremity and aggression in their thrash metal, but the unmitigated energy is unquestionably present throughout, and the mix of the old-school and the modern is balanced well. As such, this is certain to garner wide appeal with fans throughout the heavy metal world.