For those who remember the band Vengeance Rising, they were considered to be one of the most controversial thrash/death metal bands of the late 1980's as far as Christian music was concerned. They released four studio albums that never saw the light of day in Christian bookstores, due to the band's depiction of violent imagery from the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the usage of death metal growling vocals that was never heard of before in Christian music. At that time, their music was so raw and intense that several believers were found scratching their heads and asking, "surely this is not Christian music?" Roger Martinez, the primary lyricist and vocalist, eventually gave up on the band in 1993 and turned away from his Christian faith. After a successful reunion show in 2004 with the original lineup, excluding Roger Martinez, the remaining band members returned under the name of Once Dead, which is taken from the title of Vengeance Rising's second studio album. Of course a few of the members, such as drummer Glen Mancaruso and Roger Dale, left the band shortly before the recording process of the band's debut album. After several lineup changes including the addition of Jim Chaffin from The Crucified and Glenn Rogers from Deliverance, Once Dead finally released their debut called Visions of Hell through Open Grave Records.
There is hardly anything original when it comes to the album's lyrics, but Devin Shaeffer delivers a great performance that can, at times, overshadow the lyrical content. Once Dead's lyrics primarily deals with salvation, living a life for God, addictions, and standing firm in faith. The band's most creative lyrical song is "Laodicea," a song about materialism, "Take a look at what I have, these possessions define me, But now that times are tough, where does that put me now, a servant of this world, from birth until I'm put in the ground, Moral depravity, Laodicea, You'll pay the penalty." Another great track is "Feeding My Addiction," where Devin calls out to God for help from an unspoken addiction he cannot get rid of, "Perhaps there is ultimate truth, an escape that is long past due, crying out, who will hear? God, remove this curse, this scourge, Lord, My God." Devin Shaeffer's death metal screams are an odd mixture of vocals similar to Ryan Clark from Demon Hunter mixed with Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage. There is nothing new or original about the screaming vocals either, but there is also nothing worth complaining about. Simply put it, he is great at what he does and he performs something that has been done and overdone by several screamers in the hardcore metal scene.
Hands down, the guitarists Doug Thieme and Larry Farkas have not lost their touch and shred some of the most brutal guitar riffs ever heard on a heavy metal release. Their best work shines on tracks such as "Devotion," "The Contract," "Rise Above" and "Laodicea," and the addition of guitarist Glenn Rogers makes this one of the best guitar-driven metal albums of the decade. While it is fantastic to hear drummer Jim Chaffin involved with this project, there are a few instances on Visions of Hell where his drumming abilities seem a little too repetitive and more creativity should have been brought to his performance. Particularly on tracks such as "Body Parts" and "Laodicea," it feels like Jim hardly changes his drumming style from the verse to the chorus and the listener is forced to hear the same drum beats over and over again as the song progresses. Hopefully these are just minor issues that Jim will work on when it comes to future material.
It has been several years since the thrash/death metal masters have been involved with a new album, but Once Dead's debut release was worth the wait. From start to finish, Once Dead has delivered an album that lives up to its hype and there is not a single bad song in the bunch. One point to make is that if Once Dead decides to make a sophomore effort, it would be recommended to have more creativity involved with the drums and lyrical content. On the bright side, old and new fans of Vengeance Rising will find a lot to enjoy and will definitely not be disappointed. However, if you are not a fan and do not want to have anything to do with the hardcore metal scene, then Visions of Hell is not for you. For the rest of us, we hope that Once Dead keeps the Visions coming.- Review date: 2/8/10, written by Fred Keel of Jesusfreakhideout.com
Record Label: Open Grave Records
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