Death Angel – The Enigma Years 1987-1990 (HNE Recordings)

In 1983 a bunch of spotty Bay Area kids recorded a tape called Heavy Metal Insanity.

It did what it said on the tin.

And it made a big noise on San Francisco’s underground scene.

If Death Angel’s early work took its lead from NWOBHM’s heavier hitters then within two years their thrash metal credentials were sealed.

Metallica’s Kirk Hammett — who’d met the band at a record store signing — produced the highly collectible Kill As One demo.

And suddenly the Big Four were looking over their shoulders as the new kids on the block made their play for the big leagues.

But that’s another story.

Death Angel determined to Kill As One

Back to Kill As One and the three-track showcase of Death Angel’s raw talent is tagged on to the end of The Ultra-Violence in this 4CD collection.

Featuring the title track, fan favourite Thrashers and The Ultra-Violence, it’s an early glimpse of a band fired up by the fearlessness of youth.

And it’s the sound of teenage angst, burning ambition and a keen ear for metal melody all rolled into one.

No wonder Hammett loved what he heard.

The Ultra-Violence is ultra special

By 1987 The Ultra-Violence was a fully-fledged album featuring polished reworkings of the Kill As One songs and killer additions including Evil Priest, Voracious Souls and the magnificent Mistress Of Pain.

As an exceptionally assured debut it destroyed any lingering doubts that Death Angel might be a flaky flash in the pan.

And the decision to produce The Ultra-Violence with sleaze grinder Davy Vain proved inspired. 

Retaining Death Angel’s raw aggression, the man helming the band’s Enigma debut nevertheless positioned vocalist Mark Osegueda as a singer far more nuanced than many of his hell-for-leather peers.

Join Death Angel on a Frolic Through The Park

No wonder Vain reprised a fruitful partnership in time for 1988’s Frolic Through The Park.

By now Death Angel were chasing the coat tails of Metallica, Slayer et al and label bosses truly believed album number two would be the game changer.

But don’t let the fact that it limped into the top 150 of the Billboard charts fool you.

Frolic… is a fully blown thrash metal assault and features some of Death Angel’s finest work in the shape of Why Do You Do This, Shores Of Sin and the outstanding Guilty Of Innocence.

Founder Rob Cavestany’s fusion of breakneck riffs and thought-provoking lyrics outclassed so many of the genre’s lame also-rans. 

And for a while the frantic Frolic… had Death Angel lording it over Exodus, Testament and Overkill in the race to become thrash’s Fantastic Fifth.

All seven minutes of Confused represent heavy music at its brain melting best and the live version on disc three is a treat to behold.

Death Angel live and dangerous

It’s never a great start when your favourite band complains of feedback on stage barely before a note has been struck.

But that’s exactly how Death Angel introduce their summer 1988 show at Amsterdam’s Paradiso.

Reassuringly, things go from strength to strength after that early misstep.

And this fascinating bridge between Frolic… and 1990’s Act III (the band’s first and last record for Geffen) is a must for thrash metal devotees obsessed with the genre’s rapid evolution.

Sure, speed is of the essence for Cavestany and co. but Osegueda works tirelessly to hit the high notes at the right time and make a case for measured melody.

At a time when Metallica were already on the road to the Black album and Anthrax’s rap rock was asking difficult questions of thrash metal’s long-term future, Death Angel were more than capable of reinventing the wheel and reviving the scene.

Of course Act III — surely the band’s most complete and compelling album until 2010’s rousing Relentless Retribution rewrote the rulebook — did just that.

Osegueda’s vocals reached a whole new level and Cavestany combined pacey fretwork within a less familiar trad metal framework. 

But what of the rest of The Enigma Years?

Death Angel: a rare treat

A comprehensive collection of Death Angel’s formative years comes to a typically bludgeoning conclusion with the reissue of 2005’s Rarities collection.

It’s easy to imagine The Morrows Memoirs making the cut on Act III and just as difficult to propose a better example of punk-fuelled metal thrashing mayhem than the ‘Garage Recording’ of Frolic Through The Park.

Some of these demos come across as exceptionally silly: Samson would sound embarrassingly out of place on just about any Death Angel album.

But The Hurt is a fear-inducing barrage of foreboding thrash metal and who knows why this rarely heard classic never made the cut?

With Death Angel on hiatus for a decade through the 1990s heavy music was somehow weaker. 

In 2020 the band remains a staple of the thinking man’s thrash.

And this rewarding insight into their formative years reveals just why those wide-eyed Bay Area kids were built to last.