It’s only July, but 2016 is already making its case as the best year for thrash metal in recent memory. Vektor released their instant classic Terminal Redux, Death Angel extended their recent hot streak with The Evil Divide, and even two of the genre’s elder statesmen, Megadeth and Anthrax, dropped solid albums. The party appears set to continue into the year’s second half, too, as big names such as Metallica and today’s subject, Ghoul, are planning to finally release long-awaited LPs. As an enormous thrash metal enthusiast myself, I’ve been in musical nirvana for the past six months, and am happy to report that Dungeon Bastards is another worthy edition to what’s shaping up to be the Year of Thrash.
For those familiar with Ghoul’s previous work, Dungeon Bastards will be met with warm familiarity—a husband returning from war, if you will. After a short but effective atmosphere-building opening track featuring a well-placed excerpt from Rise and Fall of Idi Amin, the album roars to life with “Bringer of War,” a track that features just about everything we’ve come to expect from the band. Boasting a sound that hearkens back to both the loose confidence of Anthrax and the unmitigated brutality of Slayer, it’s one of the best tracks on the album and an excellent way to establish a mission statement and grab the listener’s attention early on. Though it’s followed by the lackluster but solid “Shred the Dead” (the only slight hiccup), “Bringer of War” is a pretty good indication of the album’s overall sound and quality. That’s not to say that it lacks variety, though; in fact, it’s probably Ghoul’s most versatile release yet. “Word is Law” is heavily influenced by early Anthrax, while heavier numbers such a “Death Campaign” and “Blood and Guts” have much more in common with death metal and even a smidge of grind.
Much of the success of Dungeon Bastards is rooted in a sense of undying energy and confidence that pervades throughout the entire record; it’s simply a hell of a lot of fun to listen to. Ghoul clearly don’t take themselves too seriously, an attitude that greatly contributes to the success of the sarcastically self-aggrandizing “Ghoulunatics,” a definite highlight. “Guitarmageddon,” probably my favorite track from an instrumental standpoint, manages to kick a great deal of ass despite entirely ditching vocals in favor of soundbites; again, it’s this confidence and willingness to step outside the genre’s collective comfort zone that make Dungeon Bastards more than just another thrash metal album. It’s also worth noting that Ghoul wisely avoid the pitfall of overproduction; the album sounds modern, but not to the point in which too much grit or heaviness is sacrificed. In typical Ghoul fashion, it’s rock-solid from an instrumental standpoint, although the vocals made more of a lasting impression on me. Alternating almost constantly between death metal growls, gang vocals, shouts, and more traditional thrash tones, the sheer number of different sounds and attitudes that the band can pull off keeps the album fresh and varied throughout its entire runtime.
In a year with no shortage of quality thrash metal, Ghoul’s Dungeon Bastards nonetheless manages to carve out a sizable space for itself near the front of the pack. The instrumentation is excellent, the songwriting is effective and often clever, and the vocals are some of the best you’ll find on a modern thrash album. Though there’s nothing here that fans of Ghoul or thrash metal in general haven’t heard before, it’s an album that’s both varied and consistent, resulting in an end product that you simply can’t go wrong with.