Criminal: Akelarre

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Criminal: Akelarre
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Criminal: Akelarre
Death Metal, Post-Thrash Metal, Thrash Metal
Massacre Records
August 19th, 2011
Release length: 41:32
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Formed back in 1991, Criminal has gone through a decent number of changes over the years. This includes varying band members, as well as home town, apparently having relocated from Santiago, Chile to Basque Country, Spain. Back in 1994, the band issued their debut full-lenmgth release, Victimized, and since then has been issuing full-length albums every few years along with an EP in 1996, and ea Live album in 1998. Despite their upgrading from the lesser known Inferno Records to the larger, more accessibl Metal Blade, and more recently with Massacre Records, the group is still not as well known as they should be after all this time. But does Akelarre have what it takes to push this band out of the shadows and into the spotlight?

Like many of Criminal‘s efforts, it’s impossible to deny this release does sound pretty heavy. The audio quality to Akelarre may not be the best, having a slight rawness to it that leaves the music a bit open instead of full and rich, and a stronger, deeper bass presence would definitely have been welcomed on here, but it still sounds pretty good. The guitars have that modern Thrash sound that has a nice edge to it without becoming razor sharp, finding aid from the bass to make them have a bit of a deeper kick that’s necessary for this style of music. The drums here are great with a nice subtle click to the bass kicks that doesn’t overpower anythingh but is still obvious in the mix against the the louder, tight sounding snares and cymbols. Vocally, the album has that rhaspier approach common to more modern recordings, a bit deeper in tone at times but when there’s a good deal of energy they can get higher in pitch and more aggressive towards a traditional Thrash sound. While the songs on this release still sound great, you can’t help but wish it had a deeper quality, as outlined above, since this slightly opened quality leaves some of the really catchy tracks like “The Ghost We Summoned” without the commanding sound that makes it mandatory to headbang along to. Sure, you’re going to here and there on this song, as well as from time to time on other tracks here on this release.

Akelarre varies heavily in the Thrash department as to what you’ll receive. While “Order from Chaos” is how the release starts, taking the listener on a generally fast paced assault of carnage with a stronger Death Metal touch to it, much of the release could be compared to the style of music bands like Exodus would pump out in this day and age, though overall not quite as sleek or polished. One thing the audio quality does work in the favor of is giving the audio a bit of a more rawer, primal feel and, with songs like “Resistance is Futile” and “The Ghost We Summoned” which relies on catchier grooves in the Thrash riffs and drumming, it sets the two bands apart quite well. The first of the two takes a little while for it’s catchier hooks and grooves to kick in, but the rhaspier vocals instead of modern screams of many Thrash acts today includiing the aforementioned one, really causes the brutality of the band’s music to stand out even without that deeper crunch to the audio. The latter of the two is simply an infectious Thrash track that, while a little simpler, it doesn’t hold back on the intensity that the band tries nicely to put into the recording, though again would have benefitted greatly from a deeper bass sound to the audio then what’s already present.

There’s a lot of great tracks on here regardless of whether you find some of the Exodus similarities to be a bit too much, or if you don’t like the lack of a deeper audio quality. But, of all the songs for this release, tere are a few weaker tracks that pop up towards the end. “The Power of the Dog” is one song that, while it’s a solid performance, it just doesn’t really have anything much to keep the listener’s attention, caving more towards just a generic mixture of modern and Post-Thrash concepts with a heavy Pantera-esque “Respect” style groove (more as a way to state the sound of the song then to call it a rip-off of that classic song). “Vows of Silence” even kind of pushes it with the music, but while it’s not too bland a song, it again is nothing that spectacular. The guitar solo in it ends up being pretty impressive, and there’s a little more intensity to it with a haunting closing section that’s heavy with blast beats and an eerie atmosphere that really stands out on this release and would have been nice to have outside of just this one song.

Aside the atmospheric material at the end of “Vows of Silence”, there are some other stand out moments that can be found, though sadly remain at only a few. On the whole album, it’s the title track, “Akelarre,” that really stands out the most, largely because you don’t hear anything like it elsewhere on the album. The song takes the band into Grindcore and Death Metal territory, and it sounds great honestly. The music is catchy and even kind of works with the audio quality a little better then the Thrash material present. Sure, it’s pretty Napalm Death-ish, but honestly it’s hard to find a band in that style you can’t compare to the group, and overall the song is just pure enjoyable adrenaline with some catchy somewhat Thrash driven bridges thrown in for good measure. “Tyrranicide” also makes for a nice jump in musical style for this album, sticking to a more common traditional Thrash sound instead of the modern or Post-Thrash ideas they work with. Again, with the audio quality of this effort, it allows the riffs to stick out a little more thanks to the catchier, mid-tempo pace and two stepping drum work instead of just blistering fury with intense music behind abrasive vocals. This is one of the few songs on here that will really get your head bobbing along to the beat, and the guitar solos here stand out a lot cleaner compared to other tracks, as well as more impressive through a complex, yet suiting pace and early Metal ideas that end up brought into the mix. There’s also a breakdown that comes towards the end of the song that shifts up the pace nicely and adds a little more of a bludgeoning edge to it thanks to the bass shining through a little more then it already does here then on other cuts. In fact, “Tyrannicide” becomes the perfect example of what this album could sound like with that aforementioned deeper bass presence, and it’s sad to hear this one with the guitars kind of easing back a bit and allowing the bass performance to shine through a little more, and not really hear it again throughout the rest of the album. There’s also “La Santa Muerte,” but the only stand out part of this is that the band wrote it in their native tongue instead of English. Other then that, it does have a strong Death Metal presence, and it works well with the material, but it’s not the first to focus more on that approach then the Thrash concepts.

Overall, Akelarre is a pretty good album, but that’s about where the line gets drawn. It’s a heavy album that could have been heavier with a deeper audio quality, and many songs could have benefitted from that and been far more aggressive in making head banging mandatory. Other then that, there’s a few songs towards the end that aren’t anything all that special, but Criminal does manage to do a good job at offering up a decent variety to the Thrash and Post-Thrash approaches they bring to the release. Sure some similarities are pretty obvious, and Akelarre is far from one of the most original sounding releases available in today’s market, but the group does a good job at taking the styles they work with and, regardless of the quality, creating some catchy, abrasive, and heavy material fans of the styles will sit back and enjoy. It’s a mixed grab bag of solid Metal, and if you enjoy this more modern approach to the Thrash style, or even it’s more intense sound from the Death Metal input in general, then Akelarre by Criminal is definitely something worth checking out.

01. Order from Chaos – 4:53
02. Resistance is Futile – 4:40
03. The Ghost We Summoned – 4:03
04. Akelarre – 2:00
05. State of Siege – 4:11
06. Tyrannicide – 4:20
07. Feel the Void – 4:40
08. The Power of the Dog – 3:36
09. Vows of Silence – 4:17
10. La Santa Muerte – 4:47
Overall Score: 7.5/10
Criminal (band)
Criminal (logo)Digital review copy of this release provided by Massacre Records.