Album Title: The Vale Of Shadows
Label: Massacre Records
Date of Release: 22 July 2022
Hatriot is one of those names in the thrash arena with which I am less knowledgeable than perhaps I ought to be, especially since they were formed over a decade ago by the Exodus vocalist Steve ‘Zetro’ Souza. Since their inception in 2011, the US band have released three albums to date, and all three have passed me by completely. If you have a hand available, you may wish to indulge in a facepalm in my direction; it is completely justified. Determined not to repeat the failure, I have duly dived deeply into ‘The Vale Of Shadows’ to see what I have missed previously.
‘The Vale Of Shadows’ is the fourth full-length album under the Hatriot banner and I will immediately join you in a facepalm because it’s a really quite decent thrash metal affair. This might seem like I am damning the record with faint praise, but it’s not meant to be the case, I assure you, as I have grown to enjoy ‘The Vale Of Shadows’ a lot more than maybe I thought I would, especially after a first spin late one night that left me feeling somewhat cold and incapable of getting past the fourth track.
I shouldn’t be surprised that the talent, desire, and hunger of Hatriot would eventually make some kind of mark on me though, given the clientele involved. On the mic and bass is Souza’s son Cody who sounds remarkably similar to his dad in many ways, whilst another Souza son, Nick, sits on the drum stool. Joining the brothers Souza are guitarists Kosta Varvatakis, an original member of the band, alongside Kevin Paterson who also adds some vocals for good measure. Thrash is in the blood of these guys and so it shows when you listen to the racket that they have created here.
But thrash is apparently not the only substance that runs through their collective veins because ‘The Vale Of Shadows’ also exhibits a fair quota of death metal too, of the slightly more melodic variety, as well as a smattering of metalcore here and there. It all points to what is actually a rather varied and entertaining affair, whilst remaining true to the core thrash approach. In fact, the best thing about ‘The Vale Of Shadows’ is the way in which the band effortlessly seem to deliver the goods with blisteringly rapid ferocity, or in a manner that’s slower and more measured. In either guise though, the caustic barks of Cody Souza, alongside his equally angry bandmates, ensure that Hatriot’s music is always an aggressive affair.
The album kicks off in a manner that means business, with a handful of blistering, savage cuts that are way more interesting and nuanced than I first thought. As it happens, I’d suggest that the opener, ‘Horns & Halos’ is one of the very best here, setting things up very nicely indeed. The more I listen, the more melody I hear, and the more I like it. I get a distinct early melodeath vibe, especially when the vocals switch from a higher pitch, so something much deeper and meatier. And the chorus is an insidiously catchy affair too just to complete the edifying package.
The swift, speedy cuts continue with ‘The Hate Inside’, ‘Forceful Balance’, and ‘Verminous And Vile’. The first of the three is a much more ‘straight-up’ thrash affair but with an unexpectedly brooding core accentuated by moments of reduced pace. The intense groove and ensuing solo are delightful as well. ‘Forceful Balance’ is arguably the paciest of the three, as it skips along at a fair old lick, with uncompromising drumming, slice and dice riffs and tempered aggression aplenty. After a creepy introduction that sees a small child sing in a weird possessed fashion, the final of the trio also sees the accelerator pedal floored, a crossover thrash element injected,and a groove-heavy, stomping mid-section that I wish lasted just a smidge longer if truth be told.
It isn’t until the album’s midway point that Hatriot offer anything over the three-minute mark. When ‘Clemency Denied’ enters though, it does so with a lovely acoustic guitar melody, a staple of the Bay Area thrash approach. The ensuing riff is chunky and muscular, laying down some delicious mid-tempo groove. I hear a fair bit of Exodus within this track in particular, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially given that it has taken this long for me to utter such a thing.
I’m also a fan of ‘The Twenty Fifth Hour’ which starts slowly, with a malevolent edge, before picking up the pace in the blink of an eye, led by the furious blasts of drummer Nick Souza, who lays down a killer performance here. The wailing and gnashing leads, the incisive riffing, and the ravenous vocals all add up to a full-on thrash assault that’s music to my ears.
In truth, Hatriot barely put a foot wrong throughout the entirety of ‘The Vale Of Shadows’, leading me to surely conclude that we are faced with one of the best thrash albums of the year so far, right? Well yes and no, actually. Whilst the performances, the hunger, the desire, and the violence are all on point, I have one small reservation, and that’s that there is a lack of what I will call ‘stickability’. When I’m listening to ‘The Vale Of Shadows’, I find myself headbanging furiously, or nodding appreciatively at what I’m hearing. But, the minute the album ends, I struggle to remember too much about it. And it is maddening, because it doesn’t really make any sense. There are a couple of tracks that don’t hit the mark quite as strongly either, but it still doesn’t explain why I don’t find myself falling head over heels in love with it. Of course, ‘The Vale Of Shadows’ will find an audience who think much differently, and I sincerely hope Hatriot find the success they deserve with this release. And who knows, maybe in time, I’ll suddenly feel differently about it too?
The Score of Much Metal: 79%