Album Review: Hirax - "Immortal Legacy"

…and so the thrash revival rolls on. Next up in the batter’s box is Hirax, the Southern California band originally formed in 1982 in the shadow of other SoCal acts like Metallica and Slayer. Through the ins and outs and machinations of a musical career, there have only been two constants in the extended history of Hirax – thrash and founding lead singer Katon W. De Pena. So what makes Hirax stand out? Well, they’ve got a thick and crunchy guitar sound, a badass attitude and a singer who looks a little like Tim Meadows. Let’s get to work.

At this point, every metal fan has some functional knowledge of the Bay Area thrash scene from the early-to-mid ‘80s, but the history of the SoCal scene is less well known despite the impact of some of its constituents. Metallica, Megadeth and Slayer, seminal names in the metal world, all began or came to fame in the southern half of California, and their style was distinguished from their northern counterparts by virtue of increased musical ferocity and dirtier tones.

Hirax, perhaps the only SoCal member to not undergo a stylistic change at any point, represents the purest version of the SoCal thrash sound. Their new record “Immortal Legacy” brims with a pristine replication of the foundations of extraordinarily famous metal records like “Ride the Lightning” and “Seasons in the Abyss.” There are hook-laden melodies, no-holds-barred vocals and the kind of stalwart determination that characterizes the band’s idiomatic sound.

There are overbearing, powerful guitars running the course of “Immortal Legacy,” and that is very much to the album’s credit. There’s no ambiguity what the mission or intent of Hirax is – to deliver a high-octane, non-stop thrash experience to not only anyone listening, but to anyone walking by the person who is listening. The execution in this regard is peerless; the pounding rhythm of leading cuts “Black Smoke” and “Hellion Rising” in undeniable.

Too often when addressing an album of new thrash by a throwback band, the complaint is that the band sounds dated, or has refused to adapt to the evolved environment of metal in this brave new world. None of those complaints hold water weighed against Hirax’s new record, which is strong and clearly learned in the must-haves of modern metal. “Tied to the Gallows Pole” is a perfect example, the song maintaining a strong sense of the thrash past, but combining it with the power of contemporary structures, expectations and production.

It’s hard to get too excited about Hirax’s new record though, when all the things the band does well are the ONLY things they do. “Immortal Legacy” features no variation from the baseline theme, which appears to be something along the lines of ‘go as hard and fast as possible all the time.’ That works, but only for so long, when it’s all that’s on the table. Right in the album’s first half, there’s “Victims of the Dead,” which begins with as a brooding, shambling monster, doubled down on grit and menace – yet within a minute, the promise of all that buildup gives way to just another thrasher. There’s no gearing down here, no time made to create something anthemic and memorable. The album is simply possessed by the concept of playing at a million miles an hour and leaving the listener in a neck-bending blur. It’s too easy to get distracted while listening to this album from end to end, as one manic, thrash crusher rolls into another one, lacking an anchor to keep the album grounded and lasting. The mere addition of one or two doom-influenced thrash dirges would have made a huge difference. We don’t hear anything that’s remotely of another color until the very last cut “The World Will Burn,” which at that point is a mere teaser of what Hirax could have done.

It’s hard to judge Hirax’s new record, because I like all the songs individually, but as a compendium, it’s too much of the same thing. No one can come away from “Immortal Legacy” with a poor impression of Hirax’s talent or passion, but their versatility as songwriters, even within the narrow allowances of thrash, could be called into question. In the end, this record carries the torch for its specific brand of SoCal thrash in a way other survivors of that scene don’t, but that’s also all it does. An entertaining listen to be sure, but one with questionable permanence.

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