While not as widely known as some of the big-name thrash bands from California, if you’ve explored the genre in depth chances are good you’ve come across something by Anger As Art. Formed in 2004 by vocalist/guitarist Steve Gaines as a solo project before expanding to a full band a year or so later, Anger As Art continued some of the heavy metal and early thrash elements of Gaines’ previous group Abbatoir while exploring some different elements. For album number seven, Virtual Sympathy, Evildead guitarist Albert Gonzales has taken over the spot vacated by Danny Oliverio and the group has continued to offer a blend of faster shredding and mid-tempo grooves. It does have some songs that blur together slightly, in part due to the loudness of the production, but this is still a strong showing from this veteran band with hooks to draw in existing and new fans alike.
Rather than launching right into a burst of fast riffs, Virtual Sympathy opts to kick things off on the heavier end of the spectrum with a slower, methodical build-up on “The Crushing Wheel”. This track feels appropriately named, as the guitar and bass come through with a heavier tone as they lurch forward with quite a bit of weight, and it’s an effective way to draw listeners in before “The Enemy Within” picks up speed and goes for a more blistering approach. Anger As Art continue to strike a good balance between these faster, scorching numbers and slower grooves where you can really feel the weight of each instrument and some darker atmosphere seeps in. Quick bursts like “Ice Pick” showcase that this incarnation of the band can move full steam ahead with precision, but longer numbers like “Absent Sin” showcase that they can switch things up. “Absent Sin” is a great example, as it starts off with a dense groove where the tonality is low enough that it feels like it can punch through concrete, but the riffs move back and forth between flourishes of melody and faster shredding that get stuck in your head over repeat listens. “The Enemy Within”, “Prevail Sympathy”, and “Into this World” are also really effective at this balance of tempo changes, and as a whole there are a number of songs that have staying power. But there are a few flaws with Virtual Sympathy that hold it back slightly, the first of which is just how loud every instrument is on the recording. I appreciate that the chunkier bass breaks through the mix, but during the fastest moments everything runs together as one loud blast and it can be harder to pick out some of the individual details, coming through a bit more uniform compared to Ad Mortem Festinamus. I’m also not a fan of putting together the two longest tracks back-to-back, as it does make the pacing drag towards the end. But there’s nothing outright bad on Virtual Sympathy, and the high points have kept me returning regularly.
If you’ve never listened to Anger As Art before, you’re probably wondering what you’re in for on the vocal front. These days thrash bands tend to go for screaming/yelling, the more modern sounding clean singing, or even some wailing and singing that goes back to heavy metal’s 80s roots. Steve Gaines gives you a little bit of everything throughout the band’s discography, and Virtual Sympathy sees him in fine form. “The Crushing Wheel” opts for the harsher end of the spectrum, with a pretty wide range of screams and growls standing tall above the heavier instrumentation. This is continued on “The Enemy Within”, but some gang vocals are added in alongside Gaines’ raspier screaming to give it that classic thrash sound. Once you get to “Ice Pick” things transition over to some very high-pitched screams and yells that come in very close to Overkill’s Blitz, and “Prevail Sympathy” even injects some booming clean singing into the mix that has more of a doom or traditional heavy metal feel. There’s a consistent level of intensity from beginning to end, and the diverse performance Gaines provides gives Anger As Art some distinguishing elements compared to some of the other thrash out there.
Some of the faster attacks blur together and the pacing suffers towards the end with the placement of two lengthier tracks back-to-back, but the positives manage to outweigh the negatives and as a whole Anger As Art has put together another great release as they head towards their twentieth anniversary. It has that heavier, grittier sound similar to the most recent Metal Church album, and it’s safe to say that if you were a fan of that one that this full length is worth checking out as well. Virtual Sympathy is available from NoLifeTilMetal Records.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg