Despite an abundance of documentation and perpetually rabid fandom one could easily argue that several of the ‘long in the tooth’ legacy artists involved in Bay Area thrash metal’s era of impetus continue to blur and drag its history for their own gain. The concept of the ‘big four’ becomes meaningless when considering lasting influence and continued support of new artists; Without respect for the still burning fire of thrash metal the old ‘gods’ sour their value as fad chasing millionaires, the Kardashians of auld, dead thrash metal. What true sovereignty remains in the Bay Area comes from many of the bands perceived as second fiddle back in the 80’s (Testament, Forbidden, Possessed, Heathen, the list goes on..) who continue to operate with leagues more integrity and surprisingly ‘grounded’ mindset. Without denying the proven classics their already overflowing dues, there is something incredibly special about truly diving into any ‘scene’ and seeing the diver’s seeds of interest flow outward into greater fandom. There are few better places to start than Bay Area thrash and this is in no small part due to the high technical standard, approachable production values, pronounced classic heavy metal influences, and strong melodic focus. On thier debut full-length Oakland (by way of San Lorenzo) thrashers Cultural Warfare arrive at the highest standard representing, and some might say epitomizing, Bay Area thrash metal while putting their own Priest-like edge on the sound.
The most immediate reaction ‘Warmageddon’ serves is surely a comparison to Testament thanks to weighty production (Juan Urteaga) and guitar forward mix (Jens Bogren) that recalls ‘Souls of Black’ and/or Defiance‘s late-to-the-party ‘Beyond Recognition’. As first impressions fade a bit you’ll likely hear as much Metal Church-isms (“Punished”) and ‘Painkiller’ style melodic builds (“Divided We Crawl”) across the length of ‘Warmageddon’ but it takes some extra fortitude to sit through the full 55 minute stretch as the songwriting arcs from Bay Area bangers towards a set of tracks I’d associate with Halford‘s solo albums and the confluence of Nevermore and Sanctuary. Though that sort of thing has appeared dime-a-dozen on paper since the early 90’s Cultural Warfare need that full hour to prove they can weave memorable songwriting while still giving the impression of a ‘Victims of Deception’ style riff-factory.
‘Warmageddon’ nails the big sound Cultural Warfare were going for and no doubt impresses on their debut but, the need for balance between heaviness and melodic interest ends up neutralizing any sort of passionate response from me. Vocalist Jaques Serrano (Taunted) soars all over this album backed by gang-shouts and layers of his own affect but seems to aim for stoicism rather than unhinged howler. I know he is capable of greater flailing and wanted more than a hint of higher register. The same goes for the lead guitars; Just a few more pyrotechnics could have set off some of the more energetic songs (“G.O.D.”, “Politikill”) on the record. Despite some gripes with how buttoned-up the record is, taken as is this debut couldn’t possibly be more professional.
Cultural Warfare make a great first impression here as a seasoned set of musicians who earnestly take Bay Area metal as key ingredient in their joint musical personality but there are a few tracks that really transcend the importance of and nostalgically valuable sound or association. The great standout duo demonstrating this come later in the record with “Witches Prayer” for its slow-building cyclone of riffs paired with “Shadow Priest” which features some unexpected melodic interest that probably should have come sooner in the track list; If it had served to replace the abysmal duet/ballad “Two Spirits” I’d have been much more impressed with the record as a whole. I can still recommend ‘Warmageddon’ despite any faults because it makes a worthy contribution to modern thrash metal and absolutely outclasses a lot of inferior Bay Area throwback artists in terms of authenticity and a songwriting sense that avoids rote imitation.
Perfect storm abrew. 3.75/5.0
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