By Avinash Mittur
A few years back, thrash was making a major comeback in the metal world. The bands borne out of this movement saw packed houses weekend after weekend and small labels began to sign these acts like no tomorrow. For a short time, these so called ‘thrash revival’ bands were the supposed future of old school American heavy metal. It didn’t take long for the movement to become oversaturated; for every decent thrash band formed, ten mediocre ones would join in. After only a couple of years, the kids grew bored of the music and fashion (and MySpace), and most of the bands refused to change their sound for a new audience. The crowds and the hype disappeared, and the thrash revival was silenced. While Bonded By Blood, Warbringer and a short list of other acts were able to narrowly escape the slaughter thanks to relentless touring outside of California, Hatchet from Santa Rosa wasn’t so lucky. Hopes were high for the young act- the band released their debut record, Awaiting Evil, on Metal Blade Records in 2008, but they soon suffered many changes to their lineup with guitarist Julz Ramos being the one founding member left. After parting ways with Metal Blade in the wake of the thrash revival’s death, Julz has spent the last five years quietly writing and testing new material onstage with a revolving lineup of Hatchet. Now with a stable lineup in place and a recent string of killer live performances under their belt, Hatchet are set to release their long-awaited second album, Dawn of the End, on The End Records on March 5th.
The similarities between Awaiting Evil and Dawn of the End are few and far between. On the former record, ex-vocalist Marcus Kirchen offered an odd Paul Di’Anno impersonation instead of the commanding thrash bark he was known for, the drums packed no punch and the album as a whole sounded about as thin as a sheet of paper. Though the songs varied from okay to very good, the biggest problem with Awaiting Evil was that it did an abysmal job of capturing the power and energy Hatchet gave off onstage. More than anything else, Hatchet seem hell bent on rectifying that issue on Dawn of the End. Both albums begin with a short instrumental, but the one featured on Dawn of the End, “After the Dark”, wastes no time in getting the energy flowing. And then “Silenced By Death” goes and tears the listener a new one. The six minutes in this song alone has more palpable intensity and fury than all forty six minutes of the first record, and the tracks afterward promptly follow suit- ”Fall from Grace” in particular is more ambitious, mature and downright adventurous than any of the tracks from Awaiting Evil. Its stop-start riffing traverses territory rarely explored in thrash, the chorus is practically tailor-made for an audience shout-a-long and Julz and his new foil Clark Webb lay down a pair of solos (and one kickass harmony section) that will make guitar lovers plenty happy.
Now taking on vocal duties, Julz shows off a raspy, high-pitched snarl that gets the job done (and without the lame Schmier screams from the last record), but it’s the guitars that see the biggest improvement from Awaiting Evil. Not only is Julz’s rhythm tone beefy and bludgeoning this time around, but he and Clark attack their soloing with a newfound intensity and aggression. The two rip high velocity solos left and right throughout Dawn of the End, and they reach a scorching high with their rapid-fire tradeoff in “Signals of Infection”. The two dial things back for a more melodic duel in the title track, a display of their versatility and musicality as soloists. Bassist Travis Russey remains a mostly amorphous and subtle (yet pleasantly audible) presence throughout the record, though he is given a place to shine with the angular rhythms in “Screams of the Night”. It’s drummer Eli Lucas who absolutely steals the show however. The guy doesn’t go overboard on the double bass, mainly using plenty of cross-kit fills to punctuate his traditional thrash beats, but Eli brings an intangible energy and drive that that pushes these songs into a level of white-hot intensity. Sure, his kick drum sound could be a good deal meatier, but otherwise Eli shines throughout nearly every minute of Dawn of the End.
All three of those minutes where Eli isn’t beating the living hell out of his drums are collected on the mid-album acoustic instrumental, “Revelations of Good and Evil”. It’s a pretty piece to be sure, but it more than overstays its welcome and it basically kills the momentum Dawn of the End establishes with its first four tracks. Luckily “Signals of Infection” is a huge wake up call, and the second half of the record finishes strong. For a song so focused on imminent doom and the apocalypse, the title track marches along with a NWOBHM-style chug that’ll surely bring a smile to the more old-school headbangers at a Hatchet show, while “Vanishing Point” and “Welcome to the Plague” are extended tech-thrash workouts that finish the album on a dizzying note. With only about forty one minutes worth of full songs, Dawn of the End is an amazingly consistent record when picked apart, and an engaging, if flawed listen from start to finish.
The first time I saw Hatchet, they played for a crowd of practically no one at the Gilman in Berkeley- not too long after their show I asked Julz when the second record would be coming out. He told me, “we’re working on it, hopefully sooner rather than later!” That was two very long years ago. After seeing these guys live way more times than I can remember, and sharing some good times with them offstage too, March 5th 2013 feels like the culmination of what has become one hell of a journey. To listen to this album and know that my faith in the band in their darkest days was not a mistake is both an amazing relief, and an unadulterated pleasure. It isn’t perfect, and it won’t turn the world upside down, but Dawn of the End isn’t merely a damn fine thrash record, it’s an aural manifestation of the hard work, perseverance, patience and sheer willpower Julz has exhibited since the metal world turned its back on him five years ago. Dawn of the End is the album that Awaiting Evil should have been, it’s everything that a Hatchet fan could ask for after five years of waiting, and it’s a genuinely killer thrash record- let’s hope that the next one comes out sooner rather than later.
Record Label: The End Records
Release Date: March 5th 2013
1. After the Dark
2. Silenced By Death
3. Screams of the Night
4. Fall From Grace
5. Revelations of Good and Evil
6. Signals of Infection
7. Dawn of the End
8. Sinister Thoughts
9. Vanishing Point
10. Welcome To The Plague