It’s been a little while since last we heard from UK thrash/death crew Thirteenth Sign. Having started off life on the well respected Battlegod label, the band decided to forgo outside parties and unleashed their second album, ‘rise of the black angel’ themselves. Proving that the ‘difficult second album syndrome’ is a myth cooked up by journalists desperate to justify their existence, ‘rise of the black angel’ managed to improve on the debut album in just about every way and so it is with no small amount of anticipation that I placed ‘evolution’s end’, the band’s third full-length album, into my player. That anticipation was justified for, despite personal changes, Thirteenth sign remain one of the UK’s most potent purveyors of death metal.
Offering up twelve tracks over seventy minutes, ‘evolution’s end’ is a lengthy album in which Thirteenth sign afford themselves plenty of scope to indulge their ambitions. The CD opens with ‘the alternate truth’, a melodic, moody instrumental that recalls ‘ride the lightning’ era Metallica with its neat shift from clean, picked guitar to full-on metal grind. It sets the scene and when ‘keepers of the peace’ is unleashed courtesy of Llyod Stringer’s thunderous drum work, fans of hard-edged thrash will find it difficult to contain their glee. With vocalist Rob Norrington giving the whole thing a taut, Exodus-esque feel, this is brutal, stirring stuff whilst the clean-vocal chorus showcases an Iron Maiden influence that was less obvious on the last album. Once again it’s Matt Moore at the production helm ably abetted by Lloyd, and once again the production affords each instrument admirable clarity with Adam Moore’s lead guitar work given plenty of space to roam freely without being obscured by the rest of the band. It’s a hell of a start to the album and the band continue to ramp up the pace with the stunning ‘phoenix ritual’ which initially sounds like Arch Enemy taking on Maiden’s ‘wasted years’ before the band develop a gnarled groove that is all their own. This is full-tilt, head-banging fare and there is no mistaking the adrenalin rush that greets the twin guitar assault of Adam Moore and Chris Hubbard. With a melodic chorus that is memorable and powerful in equal measure and riffs to die for this is Thirteenth sign at their very best and there is no doubt that they can stand up tall next to any of the bands from whom they have taken their inspiration thanks to their exceptionally strong song writing and musicianship. ‘Ghosts beneath the skin’ has a powerful opening that sees a cascade of notes coalesce into something altogether nastier and heavier the band drawing influences from Exodus, Arch Enemy and Machine Head whilst simultaneously imposing their own fearful stamp upon proceedings. On this track it’s more noticeable than elsewhere just how unprocessed the clean vocals sound. This is not a negative thing, but in an age where everything seems to be smothered in studio effects to the point that everything starts to sound somewhat anodyne, it’s unusual to hear a band so resolutely live and in your face – it’s commendable and it lends the band an air of authenticity that seems to be all too rare. ‘Slave, master, god’ has a clean, atmospheric introduction that gives way to a slower, darker, more introspective track which once again gives Lloyd plenty of opportunity to exercise his not inconsiderable drum skills. With clean vocals form the off, it highlights the fact that Thirteenth sign are not afraid to break from formula and when the deathly vocals do kick in it is with real force.
Kicking off with the sort of surging, chrome-plated riff that is the band’s brutal stock in trade, ‘only through loss’ is a blistering, mid-tempo beast that offers no quarter and recalls long-lost UK metallers Pulkas whilst ‘edge of the abyss’ is an atmospheric track that sees complex riffs give way to a seething death metal riff that tears at the listener with unexpected ferocity. Phasing in from echoing guitar, ‘legions of hate’ is pure, malevolent death metal that commands “listen with every inch of your soul!” and such is Rob’s presence that there is no question of not obeying. ‘Embers of defiance’ is an imperious piece of music that veers between ferocious thrash riffs and darker, deeper death metal riffs that may be slower yet which carry far more weight. It’s yet more evidence of the power of the song-writing in Thirteenth Sign that the band can incorporate numerous elements into their music and make it sound both natural and coherent, not to mention astoundingly exciting. ‘Faceless enemy’ opens with Nat Cook’s sinister bass work and when the band come in, it is with a fearsome force that threatens to overwhelm. In terms of shock and awe, Thirteenth Sign’s only direct competition lies with Slayer on this complex, devilishly dynamic track and it’s impressive that this far into a lengthy album, Thirteenth song are able to maintain energy levels with such potency. ‘inferno horizon’ is a short, sample-laden blast that sees Thirteenth sign delve into complex, politically-informed thrash before the album closes with ‘evolution’s end’, a lengthy (twelve minute) piece that opens with some beautiful clean guitar work before running the gamut of Thirteenth Sign’s impressive range, providing a suitably epic and ambitious conclusion to an album that never once lets up.
Thirteenth started with an incredibly strong debut album in ‘oracles of Armageddon’ whilst Rise of the black angel’ was no less impressive and it is pleasing to report that this third outing does not disappoint. Indeed, line-up changes and the search for a new label to call their home has not slowed down the band at all. If anything it has fired them up to deliver the best album of their already impressive career and the only disappointment is the fact that the band are not already signed. Offering up a complex and impressively brutal mix of thrash and death metal, Thirteenth sign have the skill, the melodic nous and the passion to go far and if you consider yourself a fan of heavy metal then you owe it to yourself to support this incredibly potent act. In a world where excellent music can be found in every corner of the internet, Thirteenth sign still manage to stand out imperiously from the crowd and it’s high time their potential was rewarded with the attention and financial support they deserve. Another cracking album, then, from one of the UK’s best-kept secrets.