Ohio thrashers, War Curse, feared their 2019 effort, Eradication, could be their last album once the world went into lockdown. We now know that this was an overreaction, but nobody could predict the future at the time. War Curse had tour dates booked at the beginning of 2020 and saw their main source of income wiped out in an instant. Like most bands, they recognised that this inertia would be better channelled into writing the next LP. They took their time throughout 2020 and 2021 to make sure they had pre-production watertight. Yet even in the studio, they managed to slim their songs down by cutting eighteen minutes from the finished product. Confession is the outcome of these obsessive writing and recording sessions, and they make it clear that this is their Black album.
You can tell in the opening ten seconds of ‘The Nothing (That is Me)’ that War Curse want to emancipate from their head-banging thrash origins into a more thoughtful beast. Clean guitar chords pluck with great resonance as another layer of harmonising melodies expand the template for the first power chord to arrive at 00:44. It’s a clever way to prepare the way for a mid-tempo thrash stomp in the manner of Anthrax, but vocalist, Blaine Gordon, replicates James Hetfield for most of the action and struggles to deliver a chorus to match anything on the Black album. Incessant repetition is a stubborn way to lodge it into your head when a change of key would do the job more effectively. ‘Fortress of Agony’ does the same. The hard-hitting vibrato riff and chunky verse rhythms lead into a promising bridge, but it feels like an inferior version of ‘Holier Than Thou’ from Lars Ulrich and the boys.
Few bands recover from an underwhelming start to a record, but War Curse fight hard to be the exception. Only at track three (‘Confession’) do we hear the true potential of this album. A wise interplay of bass and clean guitar phrasings set the scene for a cunning assault of palm-muted guitars and pentatonic fills. Blaine ascends through the semitones in the chorus to raise his fist and his voice to a more powerful crescendo. His words menace the listener in a death metal tone in the middle eight. This is more like it. Listen to the invincibility of the steel-plated Prong riffs in ‘Miracle Broker’. The axe attack of Joshua Murphy and Justin Roth teases you with a plethora of scraping power chord movements and fast scale runs like Hetfield and Hammett jamming ‘Of Wolf and Man’ in a soundcheck. It reminds you that thrash metal excels best when it remembers the hard rock roots of its founders. The imaginative laser-precision guitar hooks in ‘Rusty Nail’ are as good as anything from the new Evile record, even if the band hesitate in the bridge with excess drum fills and no clear idea how to give the song the anthemic chorus it deserves.
All the ingredients are here for a modern classic, but the band fall short of the two other records this year from Evile and Orbit Culture that looked towards the Black album for inspiration. Both managed to put a modern spin on a genre-defining masterpiece. Not so with War Curse. Confession pleases you with a succession of colossal guitar riffs, yet it never breaks clear of the predictable Sacred Reich thrash of 1990. ‘Sowing Division’ could be from any major label thrash album in the late pre-grunge era. ‘Power of the Powerless’ suffers from a monotonous chorus when it needs a burst of melody to bring it to life. War Curse are much more successful when they approach a chorus like Nevermore, as they do in ‘The Convoy’.
Confession is a brave step for War Curse, but it falls short of its promise because of its obsession with Metallica’s heyday at the beginning of the 1990s. You can’t fault the ambition or the quality of the guitar work, and the quintet are on the right track with this change of direction. Their challenge on album number four is how to turn these ideas into a record that belongs in the 2020s.
Release Date: 20/10/2023
Record Label: Metal Blade / Blacklight Media
Standout tracks: Miracle Broker, Return to Dust, Rusty Nail
Suggested Further Listening: Sacred Reich – The American Way (1990), Evile – The Unknown (2023), Xentrix – For Whose Advantage? (1990)