Monday, June 10, 2013

Album Review: Zafakon - "War as a Drug"

Hey, so uhhh... I just wanted to let everyone know I'm still alive. I know haven't posted in over a month, but I've been really busy and worn out from my new job. I'm working back where I was last summer, but I've got a boatload more work to do this time around. Enough of that, though. You folks don't read this shit to hear about what I do for a living, you read it to find awesome new music, and holy hell, have I got some awesome music for you today.

Zafakon is a band that is rising out of the Puerto Rican scene, beating the shit out of anyone's eardrums that dare stand in their way. They throwdown a crossover between old school Swedish melodic death metal, traditional death metal, and thrash. This leads to fast, brutal tunes with enough badass riffage to make even Scott Hull blush. The band is still short in tooth, having only been around for about 2-3 years now, but they've already gotten around to pumping out an EP, opening for bands like the almighty Goatwhore, and dropping their debut album, War as a Drug.

The first thing that struck me on this album, has to be the way it was produced. All the instrumentation sounds fucking amazing. Guitars sound huge and thick (heh), the bass is surprisingly defined and can be heard through the mix at all times, and the drums share that same massive sounding quality as the guitars. So far, it's a pretty above average sound coming from these dudes, but the vocals really take away from the hugeness of the band's sound. Don't get me wrong, the vocalist here has major chops (more on that, later), but he sounds like whoever produced his tracks tossed on a little too much reverb. While it's not uncommon to add some reverb to a vocalist to give them a fuller sound, too much makes them sound a bit muffled and distant, which in this case kinda clashes with the confined and in your face style of the rest of the album. By about halfway through the record I seemed to get used to the vocal style and it didn't really bother me too much. However, each time I start War as a Drug over again, it always takes me some time before I re-warm up to this.

Production nitpicking aside, War as a Drug rips pretty hard. The music itself is solid death/ thrash. There are plenty of blast beats, double kicks, and tons of facemelting riffage, but the band knows exactly when to pull back into mid-tempo groovy sections for maximum headbangability. Like I said, there seems to be a strong melodic death metal influence, with quick, alternate picked/ economy picked riffs flying around everywhere, and a guitar harmony here and there to go underneath. Very reminiscent of bands like Dark Tranquility, The Crown, and Arch Enemy, which when mixed in with the thrashy bits makes for a European thrash sound. Some bits like the guitar leads in the second song (third track) even have a distinct Michael Amott flair to them, which if I didn't know better, I would have thought he actually played. Something I really loved about War as a Drug was that the bass actually acted as another instrument, not as just a compliment to the guitars. Instead of just bouncing on root notes, bassist Wesley actually riffs pretty hard, occasionally taking counter-point to the guitars (a la Chi Cheng and Stephen Carpenter of Deftones). Coupled with the bass' awesome clarity, it really makes for something refreshing in the death/ thrash sound.

Speaking of guest artists, Zafakon have their very own on War as a Drug. The unfuckwithable Joel Grind (of Toxic Holocaust fame) jumps in on vocals for the track "Summoning the Vortex". Unsurprisingly, this is easily the most straightforward and thrashy tune on the album, and honestly, it sounds like the best song Toxic Holocaust never wrote. Joel brings his gut-wrenching snarl into the mix, and actually compliments pretty well with Zafakon's vocalist, Marcus' style.

Bomb-Ass Tracks: Fall, Summoning the Vortex, At the Mercy of Fate

On a Playlist With: Arch Enemy, Kreator, Destruction

Overall Score: 4/5

Slammin' riffing, excellent production (save for the vocals) and solid songwriting make for some headbangable as fuck death metal in Zafakon's debut album War as a Drug. It's for anyone who digs melodic death metal, European thrash, or even traditional American thrash.

War as a Drug is out now, check it out on their BigCartel page. Zafakon are also on Facebook and Myspace, so go toss 'em a like/ whatever the MySpace equivalent is. They deserve it.

That's all for now, folks! Remember, always leave a note.

-Grave Dave

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