Thrash came back in a big way in the mid-2000s, with quite a few new bands leading the charge in what was often called the “retro thrash revival”. During this time Spanish group Angelus Apatrida joined the charge, releasing two full lengths in 2006 and 2007 respectively after forming in 2000. There was clearly some quality evident during those earlier days, but unlike bands such as Evile, Havok, or Warbringer (to name a few), Angelus Apatrida didn’t quite break out in the same way internationally. But that hasn’t slowed them down at all over the past two decades, and with 2018’s Cabaret de la guillotine and 2021’s self-titled effort more of that exposure started to happen. 2021’s album was a bit learner and sounded re-energized, really leaning into the purer thrash approach, but this year’s follow-up Aftermath brings back a wider range of styles. There are still plenty of straight-up fast paced riffs and heavier tonality, but the band also injects some groove, slower riffing, and even a slight hint of hip hop towards the end. In lesser hands these additional elements would feel disjointed, but Angelus Apatrida has pulled it off and released another thrash highlight of 2023.
Where a lot of other thrash bands have started to head towards the 90’s Metallica path on recent albums with ballads and emphasis on slower tempos, Angelus Apatrida smartly decides to show that speed and aggression remains one of core components of their music. Opener “Scavenger” wastes no time in picking up the speed to showcase heavy, scorching riffing that has that 80’s flair to it while still having some modern sheen. “Cold” then showcases the opposite side of the spectrum a bit more, settling into a mid-tempo groove early on and showcasing a bit more rock influence before kicking things back up into thrash. For each track that takes a bit of a slower, methodical approach where the instrumentals explore some softer nuances, there are just as many that go for 100% aggression and this balancing act works well for Angelus Apatrida. I was a bit concerned when I saw the track listing that the eight-and-a-half-minute “To Whom It May Concern” would fall into repetition and derail the energy, and while it could’ve been trimmed just a little bit the riffs still managed to hold my attention. It also helps that this slower, almost hard rock/grunge sounding tune is punctuated by some faster bursts and has the sheer speed of “Rats” and “Gernika” on either side of it. Some of the songs head into crossover territory with some hardcore elements shining through (particularly “Snob” with the Jamey Jasta feature), and it’s clear that the group has been able to pack a lot of diversity into this later offering. “Vultures and Butterflies” even goes more traditional heavy metal right at the end, finishing off Aftermath strong. Not every song is one that’ll stick with you for weeks to come, but quite a few stand out and even the pretty good ones are stronger than what your average thrash band has to offer.
The vocal work on Aftermath strikes a balance between aggressive and melodic, and while not everyone likes clean singing in their thrash I think the way Angelus Apatrida uses it works well. “Scavenger” showcases the rougher edged side of the spectrum first with gruffer screams and growls that tower over the recording with quite a bit of intensity, but also transitions to some slightly cleaner yells around the minute mark. “Cold” is where you get a bit more singing, as there is initially some almost crossover style screaming/yelling that gives way to somber singing that has a lot of power behind it. “To Whom It May Concern” incorporates a lot more of this, and in the wrong hands it would turn into an off-key mess, but these guys pull it off. Where 2021’s self-titled effort featured no guests of any kind, this time around Angelus Apatrida has brought in quite a few to help shake things up. As mentioned earlier, “Snob” prominently features Hatebreed’s Jamey Jasta which injects more of a hardcore feel, but it’s the two closing tracks that are the most surprising. “What Kills Us All” has a rap verse around the halfway point from Sho-Hai which is sure to get a love or hate response from listeners, but I personally found it worked better than I expected and made that particular track stand out more. “Vultures and Butterflies” then pivots over to something different with Queensryche’s Todd La Torre adding that heavy metal flair. Aftermath isn’t dependent on its guests as the performances are strong enough on their own, but they do help to make the final product a bit more special.
The nine-minute track does drag slightly and a few of the other songs don’t stand out quite as much, but the sheer amount of quality on the other tracks outweighs it. Angelus Apatrida hits that fine balance between modern and retro thrash with some other stylistic elements thrown in for good measure, and their songwriting is strong enough to keep listeners coming back again and again. With two back-to-back albums that are at this high level, they should be on their way to gaining even more of that international exposure and being a name people think of when it comes to thrash. Aftermath is available from Century Media Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg