CD Review: Hirax - Assassins of War
Katon De Pena's yowl is just as distinctive as those of '80s greats like Paul Baloff or Steve "Zetro" Souza. However, while his band Hirax is revered for flying the flag of thrash through the years, it hasn't hit the big time like its Cali colleagues.
This is partly because of its Spinal Tap-esque revolving door of lineups, but it's also due to songwriting. Hirax has consistently delivered solid, energetic thrash, and nothing more. In other words, no crossover appeal or huge anthems – which is fine, since few bands have a Master of Puppets or Reign in Blood in them.
Assassins of War again sticks with the tried and true. However, this incarnation of Hirax does so with precision and power; the band picks up where it left off with 2004's strong comeback, The New Age of Terror. At 21 minutes, this EP feels skimpy, but at least it leaves one wanting more.
Hirax has never enjoyed better production; beefy drums, massive guitars, and warm basslines leap out of the speakers, while De Pena cuts through with perfect clarity. The cymbal work and tempo changes are often Slayer-esque; "Summon the Death Dealers" gets minus points for essentially grafting a Slayer intro onto Judas Priest's "Eat Me Alive."
In a world of Haunteds and Carnal Forges, Hirax is hardly cutting-edge. These aren't the most mind-blowing riffs, but they fit perfectly, with little excess. The result is memorable songs with timely lyrics about war; the title track even drops old-school melodic chords in its chorus. Today's new wave of retro thrashers could learn a thing or two from these masters.