Saturday, June 11, 2005

Review: Angel Of Pain - Take a Free Look (2004)

Angel Of Pain [ Website ]
Take a Free Look...

Angel of Pain, or AOP  for short, is a melodic thrash outfit from eastern France. Formed in 1998 by drummer Roger "K-Jo" and bass player Guillaume Benoit, the band released two demos and contributed to a compilation CD prior to releasing Take A Free Look..., their debut full-length. I am intrigued by this album because, though unpolished, the songs reflect not only a group of talented musicians but also their ability to put together complex and aggressive compositions that are both melodic and listenable. For a young band like Angel of Pain, that's cause to take notice.

Most strikingly is the influence the Bay Area thrash scene has had on the music presented on Take A Free Look.... Intentional or not, there is an underlying resemblance to the material put forth by bands such as Metallica, Testament, and Slayer during the early to mid-1980s. The twin-guitar battery of Xavier Moutrille and JB Baumont lays down riff after biting riff, with Xavier's solos being well-executed and exciting. The crushing guitars being at the core of AOP's sound, the skinwork of K-Jo is no less admirable. He's able to lay down extended double-kick and can just as easily switch beat patterns to give some of the songs more interest.

Riding atop this tried and true metal formula is the voice of Baumont. For much of the album he snarls the lyrics in a pseudo-death metal style, at times heavily synthesized, and occasionally out of tune (but hey, that just adds character!). While perfectly fitting for the songs, there are specific moments where both he and the band as a whole rises above to show what they are truly capable of. I refer first to the third track, "The Empty Fool", to illustrate my point. Baumont's vocals are cleanly sung, though processed, and contribute significantly to the overall melodic feel of the song. Enhancing that melodic quality during the choruses is the accompanying voice of a woman credited only as Sophie. This is without question my favorite track on the album.

Other highlights include "Another Game To Lose" with its furious, headbanging pace. It is during this track, though, that Baumont attempts to add some melody to his thrashy style which only results in him being comically out of tune. Aside from that, the buzzsaw riffs and distorted solos keep the song interesting and enjoyable. "Wicked Inside" is another melodic track like "The Empty Fool", though not quite as catchy. The chorus is memorable, with Sophie making yet another contribution, and the guitars are as crunchy as ever. The remainder of Take A Free Look... is as close to pure old-school thrash as I've heard in some time.

Since the release of the album, K-Jo and Guillaume have departed the band. Replacing them are Elize and Jean Baptiste Chalmandrier, respectively. Though all of the original members have left Angel of Pain, I suspect that the band's musical direction will not undergo any significant detours. Fans of early, aggressive thrash who like that extra bit of melody tossed in should keep an eye on these guys.

Track Listing
1 Back to the Real Life 4:45
2 Left (H)overs 5:18
3 The Empty Fool 4:27
4 Another Game to Lose 7:30
5 Wicked Inside 5:18
6 Guardian of Stones 4:54
7 Wounds of the Past 6:08
8 The Pain This Gives To Me 5:03

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