If an old-school band releases albums every ten years or so, can it be considered another comeback? This would definitely be the case for Florida’s Solstice, who returned with To Dust in 2009 following two well regarded albums in the 90s and then went quiet outside of a split with Russia’s Cist. But like many of the other early names that helped to shape death metal and thrash in the US, Solstice has continued to carry on though this third decade of existence brings some changes. Original drummer Alex Marquez has returned and two new members (Ryan Taylor and Marcel Salas) have joined for Casting the Die. With some new blood helping to drive things forward, this fourth album continues the blistering precision and melodic flourishes of the group’s earlier material while still having plenty of its own hooks.
Compared to the bands that would go on to define death metal once death and thrash became separate metal styles, Solstice has always leaned a bit more towards the thrash side of the spectrum. That’s once again the case on Casting the Die which feels like a natural continuation of what the band has written on their first three releases even with the lineup changes. And boy does this album deliver when it comes to riffs, as the instrumentals sling together aggressive yet catchy guitar and bass work with drums that go for sheer speed. There are some melodic flourishes at some key points, like the introduction to “Who Bleeds Whom”, and these slight breaks in the action help to differentiate some of the material from falling into too typical of a pattern. It’s refreshing to hear the bass be this prominent after hearing too many modern releases in both genres where guitar and drums dominate the mix, and the way that Solstice are able to fluidly string all of these riffs together continues to work to their advantage. Admittedly while the material is consistent from beginning to end, I did find that the first half stuck with me a bit more than the second and the best riffs did seem to peak a little early.
Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of Ryan Taylor on vocals, as while he’s been with the band since 2013 if you missed the split with Cist this is likely your first taste. Taylor also recently joined Malevolent Creation as well, taking over from Lee Wollenschlaeger, so it’ll be interesting to hear how his approach varies between both groups. On Casting the Die he goes for a rougher edged scream that’s a lot more thrash than death metal, sometimes reminding me of recent crossover bands like Enforced. The nonstop aggression suits what Solstice is going for throughout the album though, and Taylor’s ability to keep up with the constant transitions between riffs works well. Rob Barrett makes a surprise appearance on the final track “Scratch”, chiming in on the first few verses, and it’s great to hear his voice again after so many years since he’s almost exclusively stuck to guitar ever since leaving Solstice in 1993.
Despite the decade-long gap between releases, Solstice sounds energized and deliver what they do best with killer riffs and some scorching solos. Although the first half overshadows the second for me a bit and this doesn’t quite reach the heights of Solstice or Pray for me, this is still a quality album that is far better than the stale thrash and death metal that comes across my desk on a regular basis. Here’s hoping this new incarnation of the band is here to stay, as they seem capable of even greater heights. Casting the Die is available from Emanzipation Productions.
-Review by Chris Dahlberg
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