If the name Anton Reisenegger seems familiar to a good number of you, it’s likely via his portfolio, which has spanned 35+ years with Pentagram Chile, Brujeria, Lock Up and other collaborations, projects and onstage fill-ins. But Criminal is the vocalist/guitarist’s longest consistently running, most prolific baby and the common thread that has existed through the comings and goings of other, more popular bands and his residential ping-ponging between Chile and Spain (with a brief spell in Ipswich, England in the early ‘90s). With a mostly Chilean lineup backing him (guitarist Sergio Klein and drummer Danilo Estrella; Dan Biggin is the band’s bass playing Brit), the quartet has embraced the ongoing frustration and discontent with their home country’s politics, corruption and quality of life and poured it into the most ferocious notch of the nine on the Criminal bedpost.
It’s the same anger that exploded in October of 2019 and led to months and months of massive nationwide protests, violence and vandalism by a frustrated citizenry and heavy-handed government/military crackdowns with the result being political system and norms being chipped away at as the constitution is in the process of slowly being re-written and leaders start to put their hearing aids in once in a while to actually listen to the people’s concerns.
Politics and protests on the other side of the world in a country I’ve never visited aside, Sacrificio crackles with a revived energy. It’s a more intense and vicious sounding album that reeks of the raw blood, sweat and beers of a rehearsal room that could do with a good airing out and vacuuming, but still exists as a hub for some creative crash-and-bang. Just when you think the notion of old guard lifer metalheads and people taking to the streets having effective results is a tired and hopeful folk tale, Criminal and Chile's 99% prove you wrong.
Album opener “Live on Your Knees” is a combustible rendering of classic Max-era Sepultura through the lens of the last handful of Napalm Death albums, banshee-like Japanese hardcore screams in the background to boot. A solid thrash/grind combo with impeccable groove and wizard-like solo makes it the album’s high watermark, though thankfully the rest doesn’t drop off. “After Me, the Flood” employs a spacious, vertical stride groove in concert with super-fast thrashing that remains hummable, as well as another stellar solo. These two songs, chiefly, shine a spotlight on Sacrificio. The band’s ability to write raucous ragers that incorporate tensile riffing and singable qualities at various velocities is the feather in this album’s cap. As is the manner in which Estrella accents parts of riffs and songs with double kick patterns that tastefully emerge from and retreat into the shadows is a masterful song writing spice that noticeably stokes the veracity of “The Whale” and “Zealots.”
There are a small handful of snippets there and about (namely, “Caged”) in which the groove nudges a Latin air which naysayers could interpret as a too-close encroachment to a ‘jump da fuk up’ sensibility. But that rhythmic pulse does get off-set by a remarkably catchy thrash/crossover galloping. Maybe this is me trying to preemptively poke holes in any argument that the album comes within a country mile of anything smelling of nü-metal, but never mind that as there are plenty of highlights to dampen any false pain: “Dark Horse” is ripping and spacious minor key thrash recalling Holy Terror; “Theocracy” and “Sistema Criminal” (dig the space age fusion solo by blah on this one!) sound like classic Sepultura on a grind bender; the minor-key mid-paced slamming of “Age of Distrust”; and “the war for territory” post-goth rock churn of closer “Ego Killer.”
Outside of Latin America, the name Criminal hasn’t ever been one people have been racing to claim when the topic of which thrash/death bands are kicking ass and taking names. This, due to many reasons, including Reisenegger’s more well-known preoccupations, regionality and that the band still developing a relationship with Metal Blade — Sacrificio is release number two for the label. However, this very impressive showing is worthy of attention across the board. Don’t be surprised if the name starts cropping up in future conversations and on year-end lists.