Album Title: Hell Unleashed
Label: Napalm Records
Date of Release: 30 April 2021
Evile are a name synonymous with the UK thrash metal scene. Actually, scrub that. Since their inception in 2004, rising from the ashes of Metal Militia, they have delivered music that has made them well-known the world over, and rightly so. Heavy, aggressive, no nonsense, heavy thrash metal is what this band are known, respected, and loved for. Each of the four preceding full-length albums, beginning with ‘Enter the Grave’ in 2007 and ending with 2013’s ‘Skull’ has delivered quality music that fans took to their hearts thanks to the authenticity and honesty of the material.
Whilst any new Evile album would be greeted with enthusiasm, in the lead-up to the release of the band’s fifth full-length, ‘Hell Unleashed’, it is fair to say that the anticipation has reached fever-pitch. And there are two main reasons why this record is so hotly anticipated. Firstly, it represents the first new album in eight years. By anyone’s standards, that’s a lengthy absence, especially when the band are so well-loved and respected. Secondly, it is the first record that does not feature Matt Drake on vocals, since he recently stepped down for health and personal reasons. It leaves Ol Drake, who took a leave of absence from Evile between 2013 and 2018, to step in to the vocalist duties, which he shares with his usual lead guitar responsibilities. He is joined by drummer Ben Carter, bassist Joel Graham, and new guitarist, Adam Smith (RipTide).
I’m no ultra-afficionado of Evile’s music, but even I can detect that ‘Hell Unleashed’ is a more muscular, bruising, and aggressive affair than much of their previous offerings. They’ve done it before, but for my money, there’s a more pronounced dalliance with death metal on this record than anything before it. It’s as if Evile have taken the last eight years to store up all their anger and frustration, only to unleash it across nine tracks of uncompromising extreme metal. And boy, does it sound great.
At first I wondered whether, for all its brutality, it might lack a little of that wow factor that I’m always searching for in my music, regardless of the genre. However, this scepticism was short-lived because I found myself itching to return to the album again and again, often listening back-to-back without hesitation. The extent to which I have rediscovered my love and enthusiasm for thrash metal has surprised me a little of late. But then, when you consider the quality of the releases over the past 18 months or so, it’s hardly surprising. And you can add Evile to that list without a shadow of any doubt.
The aptly-titled ‘Hell Unleashed’ opens with ‘Paralysed’ which, after a short, quiet intro, launches into full assault mode. It doesn’t take too long to warm to the vocal delivery of Ol Drake, as his deep gravelly tones are as equally perfect a fit as his brothers. Long-term fans should welcome his vocals with open arms, I reckon.
The pace is quite frenetic, but nothing untoward for a proper thrash band, and Evile handle the aggression expertly. There’s a good blend between technicality and brutality, meaning that everything is sharp, precise and on-point rather than being overly complicated. The production is great too, affording the guitars the necessary muscularity, the drums a crisp snap and authoritative thump and the bass, joy of joys can really be heard, demonstrating the important low-end power that this instrument provides. The song is, not unkindly, a fairly straightforward thrash affair but because it is a quality composition, the enjoyment it provides is immediate, and only gets better with repeated listens.
‘Gore’, which features a guest appearance from comedian Brian Posehn, begins in a much more moody, beefy fashion, with those classic old-school death metal nuances clear to hear. But before long, the speed is increased and we’re treated to another attitude-laden thrash workout. I get a more pronounced punk feel to this track; it feels looser, deliberately so, complete with shouted ‘gang’ vocals, and lead breaks that squeal. But I love the changes in tempo too, as Evile slow the track down in places to add welcome dynamics that elevate the song higher in my estimations. Oh and the longer lead guitar solo towards the end is killer, as is the return to those chunky death metal riffs at the death to bring the song full-circle.
The acoustic intro to ‘Incarcerated’ is full of malevolent, dark atmosphere, whilst the ensuing slow-paced plod only builds the tension and intensity ever further. I love this track as it pays homage to the band’s past as well as the halcyon days of the Bay Area thrash scene. I hear hints of Slayer at times, early Metallica at others, but this is always an Evile track, as their hallmarks are stamped deep into the song. There’s also more of that demonstrable death metal vibe too, especially in the slower moments. This is easily one of the most varied and complex compositions on the record, but again, the quartet never come close to putting a foot wrong, always adding enough groove, just enough melody, or enough all-out savage attack to create a scintillating heavy thrash affair of the highest order.
Skipping on a few tracks, another favourite of mine has to be the penultimate song, ‘Control From Above’. The deep, bass-heavy intro is marvellous for a start, but being a sucker for more overt melodies in my metal of any genre, I can’t help but enjoy what is undoubtedly the most melodic cut on ‘Hell Unleashed’. Hints are heard in the first lead guitar line that emerges and is reprised at points within the song. But at the 3:15 mark, I’m transported to another place entirely. The pace slows and in comes the most sumptuous NWOBHM-inspired melodic interlude complete with the most gorgeous and eloquent lead guitar solo. Oh yes indeedy, this is good. But in typical Evile style, we’re back to the breakneck speed in the blink of an eye.
It’s interesting to hear the band’s take on the Mortician track ‘Zombie Apocalypse’, particularly because it helps to deliberately undermine those death metal undertones on this record. It’s done well, but to be honest, not being the biggest fan of covers in general, I’d have rather heard more of Evile’s original material. Others may well disagree.
Speaking of original material, ‘War Of Attrition’ is a no-holes-barred thrash blitz, whilst the album-closing title track is an exemplary slice of catchy yet bruising muscular thrash that encapsulates just about everything that is so good about this band. Head banging is mandatory, as is a solid dose of air guitar, air drumming, and random fist-punching, as I’ve discovered over the past couple of weeks. And then there’s the band’s own homage to a horror classic in the form of ‘The Thing (1982)’ which deserves a mention just because it confirms that Evile are seemingly incapable of any wrongdoing; this could have been a disaster, but it’s a glorious, frenetic thrash metal triumph, blending technical prowess with hooks that are surprisingly sharp.
There’s no wonder that for many a metalhead, the return of Evile after some years in the wilderness is one of the most important moments in metal in 2021. And so it makes it all the sweeter to be able to report that the results are very much worth the wait. In many ways, it’s like Evile have never been away, but in others, it’s patently obvious. The precision and seemingly effortless ability to write head turning thrash metal is to the quartet’s immense credit, whilst the genuine aggression and ferocity with which they approach this new material demonstrates how much it means for Evile to be back and firing on all cylinders. I defy any fan of heavy music to not enjoy this brilliant slab of heavy thrash intensity.
The Score of Much Metal: 93%
You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here: