Bay Area super team-up Dublin Death Patrol, that singular commiseration of well-known thrash superstars, has produced a second album to follow up their debut “DDP 4 Life.” Beginning with Testament vocalist Chuck Billy and former Exodus lead singer Steve Souza, this heady collaboration has presented the world with “Death Sentence.”
One of the commonly cited critical flaws in the band’s debut record was that it felt more like a bunch of friends jamming over beer than a serious metal effort. For this second record, DDP’s elongated “self-high five” (sorry, couldn’t resist,) is over, leading to a more focused, consistent and aggressive effort.
The music itself has a harsher edge and a grittier feel, which is not only evident through the music, but is focused through the juxtaposition of Chuck Billy’s gravelly roar and Souza’s anguished, road-grated, stretched thin metal scream. (The man still sounds like Cobra Commander to me. I’m sorry if that ruins him for some of you, but it’s true.) The two vocalists trade parts in tandem, working to create a palpable feeling of being attacked from both sides relentlessly. (Note to DDP: it would be cool to see this feeling accentuated by having Chuck and Steve each claim one ‘side’ of the mix, left or right.)
One of the immediate impressions of “Death Sentence” is that Dublin Death Patrol is trying to take another step. Not just another step in their career, but another step musically, branching out into a more modern American metal sound. To hear “Welcome to Hell” (not a cover of the Venom classic,) is to hear DDP emulating the crushing, down beat cadence and sludge of a band fifteen years their junior.
The band manages to balance this new concentration with the old for “Butcher Baby,” which admirably sounds like an updated, more serious version of Overkill’s fan favorite “Old School.” This is the best single moment the album has to offer, the perfect synthesis of the old guard and the new ideal. For its four minute runtime, “Butcher Baby” teaches us that perhaps an old dog can, and sometimes should, learn new tricks (Slayer seemingly excluded.)
The weight placed on sounding modern and severe feels comfortable for the musicians, but it also feels oddly out of place. There is a hollowness or disconnectedness when listening to “Death Sentence,” and the record doesn’t draw the listener in nor repel him or her. At first blush, listening to a song like “Death Toll Rising” would make one think that the feeling is a result of these musicians trying to expand out of their comfort area, but that’s not it. Their execution is perfectly fine, especially by side-project standards, but there is an emotion missing, as though the music feels robotic and/or disingenuous. Yet, in a curious and unexpected twist, the hammering cadence of this track makes it one of the album’s finest, regardless of whether the musician\s are playing to their strengths or not.
There is an automatic mental association between these artists and the music we’ve come to know them from, so the listener’s brain unconsciously connects Dublin Death Patrol with the pure thrash sound of the mid-to-late eighties. In order to take any value from “Death Sentence” at all, this association must be severed. While it is true that playing a more modern, less crunchy style isn’t in the typical paradigm for Billy or Souza or their compatriots, that’s also not what they’re going for, and the listener should account for this cognitive dissonance.
Many of the hallmarks of the Bay Area scene from those halcyon days are still intact despite the band’s new objectives. The first half of the album in particular features much of the buzzsaw guitar and bitten off vocals that are part and parcel with textbook thrash. You need not get farther than “Dehumanize” to hear the prototypical guitar structures we’ve all come to know so well. Following that, “Blood Sirens” brings back the all-too-familiar galloping snare drum that carried so many Anthrax, Exodus and Overkill albums.
With a chance to gel and with the back-patting out of the way, Dublin Death Patrol focused on the themes of death and destruction and low and behold, the product improved. This sophomore effort, while flawed, is clearly superior to “DDP 4 Life” and while DDP can’t quite seem to get off the ground, the foundation blocks are solid and modestly enjoyable. “Death Sentence” is no worse than ‘above-average,’ and no better than ‘good.’ Take that for what it is and rent before you buy.