Fueled By Fire are a thrash band from Norwalk, California who’ve been around since the early 2000s, bouncing from label to label. Their debut album, Spread the Fire, was initially released on their own Annialation label in 2006 and reissued, with new cover art and two bonus tracks, by Metal Blade a year later. (I wrote about them, and other thrash bands with predominantly Latin lineups, for the Village Voice.) But it didn’t sell as well as hoped, and they were dropped. It took them four years to return with 2010′s Plunging Into Darkness, first as a 200-copy run on Annialation, sold on tour in Europe, and then on NoiseArt, in 2012. That was Europe-only, though; the album was never released in America. (I reviewed it here in 2010.) Their third and latest release, Trapped in Perdition (buy it from Amazon) is also on NoiseArt, but this time they’ve got distribution through Napalm, a German label that used to specialize in Viking, folk and Gothic metal but is now aiming to make inroads into the U.S. market (they’ve recently signed American bands with relatively mainstream followings, like DevilDriver and Huntress).
There were literally scores of bands lumped under the “retro thrash” heading in the mid-2000s, when it seemed like every metal label with a U.S. presence—Metal Blade, Century Media, Earache, Candlelight, and particularly the now-defunct Heavy Artillery—was releasing albums by acts who played, and dressed, like refugees from the Bay Area circa 1985. Long hair; artfully torn jeans; vests covered in patches; chains; studded belts and bracelets; fat white hightop sneakers; and, of course, T-shirts showing allegiance to the metal of decades past were the uniform, and the music was built around the staccato, palm-muted riffs, squealing solos, head-down/full-speed drumming, and hoarsely shouted vocals that had been pioneered by Metallica, Exodus, Slayer, Kreator, Destruction, and all the other bands that had ruled the ’80s. Most of these groups made an album or two, some of them quite good (Merciless Death in particular had an energetic, Venom-meets-early-Sepultura primitivism that makes their disappearance after 2008′s Realm of Terror a real loss), then broke up or just vanished back into the garages from which they’d emerged.
Fueled By Fire have stuck around, though, and after some membership changes (a bassist here or there, a couple of vocalists), they’ve improved substantially. Trapped in Perdition, produced by Hate Eternal‘s Erik Rutan, is their best album yet. Where Spread the Fire could feel like a boneheaded joke, a pile of secondhand riffs and self-referential lyrics about killing posers, getting in the pit, and the general awesomeness of thrash, by Plunging Into Darkness, they’d shifted to apocalyptic tales of horror and gore, and the music was much more accomplished. On the new album, the lyrics have attained a new thoughtfulness: The opening track, “Catastrophe,” deals with the destruction of tsunamis and other natural disasters, while “Suffering Entities” offers an all-consuming despair at the meaninglessness of human existence. But really, the playing is what’s most impressive here. Guitarists Rick Rangel (who also sings) and Chris Monroy riff with intensity and precision, and their dual solos have a wild, nearly out-of-control quality reminiscent of Slayer. But drummer Carlos Gutierrez is one of the band’s true MVPs; his powerful, behind-the-beat groove gives the band serious power (especially on slower songs like “Forsaken Deity”) and his hi-hat work is a subtle highlight, accenting riffs and phrases and making the listener’s ears perk up across the album. Rangel’s vocals retain an unformed quality; he still sounds like he’s been reluctantly drafted following the departure of original vocalist Gio Herrera (heard on Spread the Fire). But he gets the job done, and frankly, the vocals are mostly just there to fill space between the guitar solos, which are seriously ferocious.
Trapped in Perdition wastes no time on atmospheric clean-guitar intros or anything of the kind; “Catastrophe” is all riff-punishment from beginning to end. And while the band downshifts to slower tempos on “Forsaken Deity” and sections of “Defaced Mortality”), they’re able to seamlessly transition back to full-on, pit-starting fury. Fueled By Fire don’t give the listener a break until “Abeyant Future,” an instrumental outro that sounds like music from a 1980s horror movie about psychic monsters from another dimension. But even as that fades out, you’re plunged back into the pit by the bonus track, “Depictions of Demise.”
Look, Fueled By Fire are traditionalists. They’re not trying to break the thrash mold; they owe a lot to classic Slayer and Exodus. But they bring enough originality to their chosen genre to make their music both recognizable and highly enjoyable, and that’s more than enough. Trapped in Perdition is well worth any metal fan’s time.
Stream Trapped in Perdition on Spotify:
Here’s a Fueled By Fire show from June of this year (chopped into four parts by the uploader):