It came as a shock in August 2020 when Evile frontman and guitarist, Matt Drake, announced his departure from the group to preserve his health and concentrate on his family. Even more surprising was the band’s subsequent signing to Napalm Records a month later with lead guitarist and brother, Ol Drake, taking over the microphone duties. The Englishmen that spearheaded the thrash revival in 2007 with the classic Enter the Grave LP are back on the scene for the first time since 2013’s Skull album, but you’re right to ask in what state of disrepair they find themselves after such a turbulent last decade. The answer: Evile will never forget what it means to be a top-class thrash metal outfit.
Hell Unleashed is a raucous piece of high-octane metal, full of chunky palm-muted riffs and rapid alternate-picked guitar licks that shake your cranium like the devil hands of a fallen angel. Evile’s influences have always been obvious considering they started life in 2000 as a Metallica tribute band called Metal Militia. This time it looks like Ol Drake had a date night with his Sepultura record collection when writing this album, if the opener, ‘Paralysed’, is any indication of what to expect. The riff borrows from ‘Arise’ to the point of plagiarism, yet it’s impossible not to tense your neck muscles and twitch your nostrils in honour of the fast attack served up by drummer, Ben Carter. Unlike Sepultura’s 1991 opus, Evile determine to make their compositions as extensive and challenging as possible, unrestrained by the commercial pressure their Brazilian heroes faced back in the day to rush out a follow up to Beneath the Remains.
New rhythm guitarist, Adam Smith, maintains the intensity of the classic Drake brothers’ assault from the mid-2000s with an excellent plectrum offensive against his strings on ‘War of Attrition’ and ‘Control from Above’. These may not be the most original numbers, but they thrive on the zealous precision of their creators. Ol Drake’s wet baritone snarl is strong for somebody who used to perform backing vocals. It’s a pleasure to hear him rediscover his love for classic Death on ‘Gore’ and the magnificent, ‘Zombie Apocalypse’. Gojira talk about saving the planet in their songs, but Evile prefer to deal with blood-thirsty lobotomised creatures stalking the lands in their lyrical themes. Likewise, they give us a run-through of the extreme isolation faced by the characters in John Carpenter’s remake of The Thing in ‘The Thing (1982)’. The fact they need to be clear about which film remake inspired them tells you that Evile are a band with a sense of humour.
The Huddersfield boys were always proud of their no-nonsense thrash sound and aesthetic, and they don’t disappoint anyone here with their homage to the E-flat tuning. Standout track ‘Incarcerated’ is Evile at their best with chunky guitars and pinch harmonic squeals roaring from the strings like mosquitos crashing into the zap of an electric fence. Ol Drake serves up his finest grooves here and emulates vintage Metallica in final song, ‘Hell Unleashed’, where he gives us a ‘Dyer’s Eve’ ending to keep the adrenaline levels high. It’s also the reason why this LP eases into a solid comeback effort rather than a reinvigorating one that can breathe new life into the scene. A couple of tracks border on imitation, with ‘Incarcerated’ ripping off two iconic Slayer songs in the first thirty seconds (‘Seasons in the Abyss’ and ‘Dead Skin Mask’). But thrash metal needs its acolytes and custodians, and Evile show they’re still worthy of the responsibility.
Hell Unleashed is an admirable effort that will get the pit going once lockdown restrictions come to an end. Welcome back, lads.
Release Date: 30/04/2021
Record Label: Napalm Records
Standout tracks: Gore, Disorder, Zombie Apocalypse
Suggested Further Listening: Sepultura – Arise (1991), Death – Scream Bloody Gore (1987), Xentrix – For Whose Advantage? (1990)