Death Angel - The Enigma Years(1987-1990) [HNE Recordings/ Cherry Red - 2020]The Enigma Years is a four-CD boxset bringing together the early work from US Thrashers Death Angel. Featured here are two studio albums- their 1987 debut The Ultra- Violent, and the bands' follow-up 1988’s Frolic Through The Park. Their 1990 live album Fall From Grace, and Rarities, that appeared in 2005, but featured only early work from the band.
The set presents it’s self in a card slip sleeve- with each of the CD’s getting their own card sleeve taking in the original album artwork. Also featured is a double-sided colour inlay- on one side is full tracklist/ credits, and on the other side, we get a collage of press clippings & band pictures. The release appeared on HNE Recordings, which is the metal reissue focused sub-label of Cherry Red Records.
Death Angel formed in 1982 in Daly City, California- which is part of the San Francisco Bay Area. The original line-up brought together young Filipino American cousins Rob Cavestany -lead guitar, backing vocals, Dennis Pepa -lead vocals, bass, Gus Pepa -rhythm guitar, and Andy Galeon -drums- with lead singer Mark Osegueda( a second cousin of the four) joining in 1984. The band played around the San Francisco Bay area, tightening up both their sound & stage show- then in 1985 released their first demo Kill As One- it was produced by Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett, so this and the bands fairly distinct take on the Thrash metal sound led to great interest in the then huge worldwide metal tape trading scene, which led onto the band signed to Enigma Records in 1986, with all the members still be under the age of twenty- and drummer Galeon was just fourteen.
So first up here, we have the bands' debut album The Ultra-Violence- an eight-track track affair that highlighted the bands meatily chugging-yet-at points memorable & mosh-able take on the Thrash genre- making it stand up with classic debuts of the genre like Kill 'Em All, Killing is My Business... , Show No Mercy, Fistful of Metal, and Bonded by Blood. The album kicks off with “Thrashers” which brought together the gallop harmonics of NWOBHM, with speeding & careening passion of Thrash. By track four we’ve come to the back snapping chug ‘n’ metallic scrubbing of “ Kill As One”- with its blend of baying & screaming lead vocals from Osegueda, and joint chanted chorus singing. Track five is the ten & a half minute instrumental title track- and here the band perfectly blend their frantic ‘n’ galloping riff craft, with scrawling atmospheric soloing & moody break-downs. The final vocal track comes in the form of “Final Death” which brings a chug 'n' slug riff, with searingly moody guitar harmonics & darkly bounding bass lines- topped with Osegueda manically shifting between mid-range wails/ grunts, and piercing highs. The CD is topped off with the bands 1986 demo Kill As One, featuring the tracks "Thashers", "Kill As One", and "The Ultra-Violence"- and these are certainly more manic at points messy take on these tracks- but it's certainly great to hear in the context of the debut album.
Disc two takes in 1988’s Frolic Through The Park- this was an eleven-track affair, and it saw the band somewhat slowing & refining their sound, with Osegueda been a lot more controlled with less sudden shifts in pitch. This is the album I came in with the band when I brought the tape back in the late 80’s- and seemingly it’s generally not very liked, which I don’t understand as there are some great cross blends here between thrash & more meaty general metallic songcraft here. We kick off with the “3rd Floor” which brings together a manic ‘n’ spinning lead riff edged with crashing drums, topped with chanted chorus vocals, and a malevolent slower bridging riff. As we move on we come to almost groove-bound trashing meets ringing pumped-up blues of “Bored”. Onto the slurred chugging harmonic menace of “Confused”. The latter half of the record does lose its way a little with the Led Zeppelin like blue rock meets Thrash of “Open Up Your Eyes”, or the unneeding & rather by numbers( if a little more meaty) cover of the Kiss track "Cold Gin". Though we do lead out on the furiously bounding & chugging wonder of “Mind Rape”. The CD is topped off with bonus tracks, which I presume where unreleased tracks recorded around the original release.
Disc three is the 1990 live album Fall From Grace- it’s a fourteen affair that blends together tracks from the first & second album. The recording here comes from 1988 when the band played the Paradiso in Amsterdam- on the whole, it’s a raw & raucous live album. With the guitars, then bass then drums coming in the mix- sadly the vocals often get rather buried/ lost in the more intense & dense riff bound moments. I’m not the biggest fan of live records I’m afraid, and this album doesn’t improve my feelings on live records. We do get another bonus track here through, a nicely manic version of "3rd Floor"- though again the mix isn't great.
The set is finished off with the rarities disc- this originally appeared back in 2005 on Reckless Records, taking in eleven tracks. All the tracks here date from between 1982 & 1989- and as with these type of collections it’s a rather mixed bag, and you can certainly see why some of these songs never got beyond demo form. The best of the batch is the almost vicious funked bass & crashing high hat hits of “Elegy”, the looping chugging of “Dismal”, or the jerky guitar harmonic meets battering almost Thrash rap feel of “Conflict of Interest”- which sort of works at points. So really an interesting few plays worth, but nothing I can see myself rushing back to.
The Enigma Years presently has a price range just below the £20.00 mark, which isn’t too bad for a four-CD boxset. So I can see this appealing to those who want to get all of the bands early work in one place, or those who have an interest in the Thrash scene- but haven't heard Death Angel, because at their best they were up their with the big fours best work.