Vio-Lence are a band so steeped in history that every article about them feels like it has to start with a refresher. They released three albums towards the end of the Golden Age of Thrash Metal, carrying the torch out of the '80s alongside the other California legends like D.R.I., Death Angel, and Suicidal Tendencies. 1988’s Eternal Nightmare remains a classic of the era, stacked full of songs that made it a staple of any self-respecting thrash fan’s collection.
Sadly, not all that’s great was meant to last. Vio-Lence broke up in 1994 as guitarist Robb Flynn became increasingly dedicated to his new band Machine Head. The remaining members would not play live under the Vio-Lence banner for eight years until their reunion at the 2001 Thrash of the Titans benefit following Testament singer Chuck Billy’s cancer diagnosis. Things came back around in 2017 when Vio-Lence reunited once again, this time after vocalist Sean Killian was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis. Upon recovering, Sean and the boys sat down to plot a proper reunion, complete with Vio-Lence's first recorded music in nearly thirty years.
Does Vio-Lence still have it? Short answer, yes. All five tracks of Let The World Burn shred through everything we loved about the Bay Area scene. Guitarist Phil Demmel and drummer Perry Strickland groove like no time has passed, churning out riff after riff of pure uncut thrash metal. Sean Killian sounds better here than he ever has. He wisely ditches the falsetto in the junk bin of metal history to adopt a husky, growling shout. Together with familiar faces Bobby Gustafson (Overkill) and Christian Olde Wolbers (ex-Fear Factory) on rhythm guitar and bass, Vio-Lence have pulled off a full-blown resurrection.
Of Let The World Burn's five tracks, "Upon The Cross" is probably the most impressive. The band slows down into a devastatingly low gear, crushing their way through one of the best songs of their career. Throw in some death growls and this could almost be a Cannibal Corpse song. No longer hampered by the production values of their early career, Vio-Lence can finally let the instruments sound like they were always meant to. That means full-bodied bass tones, thunderous drums and a guitar sound that switches from shred hero to caveman distortion during the same song. Phil Demmel's performance in "Upon The Cross" has to be one of the best thrash displays of the last few years.
There is, however, one elephant in the room. Thrash bands have knelt at the altar of the Big Four for decades, but the overt Slayer worship on Let The World Burn threatens to derail things a bit. Sean Killian's voice might be better, but it's also dangerously close to Tom Araya's circa God Hates Us All, especially on "Flesh from Bone" and the start of "Screaming Always." Hardcore thrash fans will eat it up like candy, but new listeners might be turned off by the similarity to the other, more familiar band. They probably won't get on board with the title track's whispery mid-section, which treads a line between dated and flow-breaking.
Still, Let The World Burn is definitely worth the time. Listeners who stuck around all these years will find their wildest dreams rewarded. Scrappy young thrashers will find out why the old guard are always going on about these guys. Phil Demmel remains one of the most underrated metal guitarists of all time and he delivers the performance of his life. Let's all hope they don't stop at just an EP. This is good enough to launch Vio-Lence into a late career renaissance if they seize the opportunity. Honestly, after what Sean Killian has been through, the fact that we have this EP at all is a great gift.