I'm conflicted about retro thrash. As trends go, there's far worse, like metalcore, deathcore, and symphonic Hot Topic-core with token sex object keyboardists. It gives exposure to old-school thrash, which is never a bad thing. And unlike other metal trends, at least retro thrash is upfront about the fact that it does absolutely nothing new.
But while respecting the past is admirable, recycling it isn't. The earth does not need more plastic discs that sound just like plastic discs 20 years ago. In that case, I'll take the 20 year-old discs, thank you very much. Let's see, what came out 20 years ago? 1988 yielded Testament's The New Order, Slayer's South of Heaven, Megadeth's So Far, So Good…So What?, and Metallica's …And Justice for All. Not bad. None of today's retro thrash even comes close.
What puzzles me is how labels are lining up to sign bands that are copying second-tier thrash – the kind they so gladly dropped in the '90s when grunge came along. Seemingly every big label has a retro thrash band. Century Media has Warbringer, Metal Blade has Fueled by Fire, Candlelight has Blood Tsunami, Prosthetic has Skeletonwitch, and Earache has invested heavily in retro thrash with three bands – Evile, Short Sharp Shock, and Municipal Waste. What are the odds these bands will get dropped in three years, after the trend has passed?
Warbringer are probably the best of this bunch. Like their peers, they're ripping off the '80s – the upward-modulating riffs in "Instruments of Torture" are pure Slayer – but they're more skilled at it. Instead of the usual polka beat-fests masquerading as songs, Warbringer have hooky solos, catchy choruses, and fluid transitions. They also bring the requisite hasty abandon, recalling the intensity of their avowed influences Sacrifice and Demolition Hammer.
Their songs are strong and sometimes memorable. "Born of the Ruins" has one of the most unforgettable riffs this year from any band. The old-school production from old-school producer Bill Metoyer is eerily authentic (if there's anything retro thrashers do well, it's studio mimicry). Yet this record is ultimately unfulfilling. It thrashes, it rocks, it goes through all the right motions. But it's no more than the latter. That's the difference between a brand name cereal and the store brand knockoff.