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Saturday, September 19, 2009

CD Review: Whiplash - Unborn Again

Whiplash - Unborn Again
2009 Pulverized Records
Ray Van Horn, Jr.

Pulverized Records is quickly ascending up the totem of the indie metal imprint strata, home to some of the underground's fastest and more extreme acts on the scene today such as The Few Against Many, Seance, Guillotine, Watain, Conspiracy, Satariel, Impiety and Deceiver. Catering to cross-generations of metal performing clientele, it's pleasing to see a band like Whiplash re-emerge with these guys.

1985's Power and Pain remains today one of thrash metal's finest records from the lower tiers of the eighties bracket, while their calling card album Ticket to Mayhem the subsequent year put Whiplash on the map alongside their east coast thrash brethren Overkill, Carnivore and Hades. Though original Whiplash drummer Tony Scaglione departed the group for a brief stint with Slayer in Dave Lombardo's stead, Ticket to Mayhem's drummer Joe Cangelosi and mainstay guitarist/vocalist Tony Portaro nearly had their shot at greatness.

Not that Whiplash disappeared entirely, but the constant changes behind the drum kit (with Scaglione and Cangelosi taking turns amongst themselves and Bob Candella) plus future in-and-out personnel (former vocalist Rob Gonzo and bassist James Preziosa being amongst others) wrecked havoc in the band's camp and thus wrecked their momentum. The unfortunate passing of original bassist Tony Bono in 2002 only further destabilized Whiplash's efforts to remain entrenched in the scene.

Never let it be said however that Tony Portaro doesn't hold the torch high for the old league. Officially returning to the metal world with a new proper release Unborn Again, Portaro, along with Cangelosi and current bassist Rich Day are making the most of the moment in a metal revival welcoming back the classic style of Bay Area-bred speed metal. While the younger bands such as Fueled by Fire, Mantic Ritual and Skeletonwitch are gaining the most attention with their old-is-new ethos, the elder guard is winning over substantial numbers themselves.

Testament, Death Angel, Megadeth, Exodus, Kreator and Destruction have enjoyed press and fan-praised returns to the scene. Whiplash, never one of the front runners of their day, still makes a reasonable impression with Unborn Again, an album which might've caused a slight stink back in the eighties if had run concurrently with Power and Pain, Ticket to Mayhem and Insult to Injury.

Then again, Whiplash began to experiment like most of the thrash bands fighting for survival in the North American metal kill-off during the early nineties. Cult of One comes to mind in this respect. Today is a new day with not as many rules and constraints, which means Whiplash can get away with trading up tempos and schisms on Unborn Again.

You can certainly expect Whiplash to deliver cheek-pulling velocity on "Pitbulls in the Playground," "Float Face Down," "Snuff" and "Feeding Frenzy." After all, this band's identity always was about thrash, considering their moniker runs parallel with Metallica's famous tune of the same name from their faster and more prolific years.

Unborn Again does bring things to a mid-tempo slide on "Hook in Mouth," "Firewater" and "Parade of Two Legs," the latter of which assuumes a Ted Nugent-esque swamp rawk mode. "Swallow the Slaughter" is one of the coolest songs on the album following an amusing carnival skit designed as a nod back to Whiplash's Ticket to Mayhem. After a squabble over a free soda refill, "Swallow the Slaughter" jumps into a chugging rhythm on its verses before speeding away on its tuneful choruses.

Tony Portaro sounds absolutely giddy on the mike and with his riffs and solos. On "Snuff" he shucks as much as he strums with gnashed downstrokes as Joe Cangelosi lays down a snappy polyrhythm beneath the track. Though "Firewater" takes a deliberate ambling pace with its Native American theme, the entire trio rips away immediately thereafter with "Float Face Down."

In one sense, Whiplash are a better band than ever given their experience, albeit Power and Pain is a far superior hellride to anything the band has done since. The cadence of Unborn Again has a seemingly tactical stripped sound, as if to chain it directly to the eighties, which will delight some and probably turn off others. Nevertheless, Tony Portaro and Whiplash are unafraid to take chances; the payoff is they sound invigorated and ready to play.

Rating: ***1/2


Jim Kubisky said...

Tony gave me this cd at Bogey's yesterday and I love it. Well worth it, Whiplash continues to deliver.

Ray Van Horn, Jr. said...

good stuff, my friend; I played it quite mercilessly last week

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