Chris Cleo checks out the return of Solstice
They’re back. After a twelve year wait since their last full-length release, genre veterans Solstice return firing on all cylinders with eleven fresh cuts of their signature sound. While a twelve year gap in full-length releases is not the longest anyone’s had to wait for new material (come on Dark Angel it’s been 30 years!!!), there have been some changes to the Solstice lineup – with Ryan Taylor taking on vocal and guitar duties in 2013 and Marcel Salas on bass in 2017. While popping up here and there on a split with Cyst in 2015, a YouTube reveal of the title track in 2020 and the first official single released in early February, true fans would have heard something in the way of new material in the last few years, but how does the album function as a whole?
In short – it’s fucking violent. All eleven songs are short, sweet, riff-focused thrashy numbers that all clock in from three minutes flat to just over four and a half. ‘Casting the Die’ follows a similar approach to the band’s debut album, focusing more on aggression, with the technicalities that have grown from the last album worked in sparingly. Riff work and song structures are noticeably simpler with an unmistakeable hardcore influence that is equally clear as the bands’ death metal flavours, where D-beat and upper mid-tempo grooves show up far more frequently than any of the previous albums.
Personal favourites ‘Eyes Sewn Shut’ and ‘Cast the Die’ focus more on the thrash and death sound, being four minutes of straight skank beats beneath flurries of riffs. While the title track blasts off from beneath a menacing intro, ‘Eyes Sewn Shut’ wastes no time reaching out from the speaker and slamming your head into the floor, where the odd phrasing sounds fresh after the previous nine tracks. Both of these tracks work through the fastest riffs on the album where one breaks into a beautifully melodic solo and the other into a crushing breakdown. Other moments to note are the outro of ‘Who Bleeds Whom’, where the bass creates a melodic feel that is completely new to Solstice’s catalogue, and the appearance of Rob Barrett on guest vocals on the closing track ‘Scratch’.
While by no means a departure from the Solstice sound, the simpler riffs and drumming give the spotlight to other elements. Ryan Taylor’s vocals fit so perfectly with the old-school early 90’s era of death-thrash that Solstice were one of the founders of. As a huge fan of his work with Condition Critical, his vocals resemble a more guttural but clearer version of Rob Barrett’s vocals from the first album. As angry as the vocals sound as they’re being shouted across, it’s easy to hear the lyrics, which topic-wise has always been one of Solstice’s strengths. Secondly, the solos are both played and written perfectly into songs with ‘Ignite’ being a great example of a versatility in playing and writing ability. The buttery smooth lead tone that’s graced Solstice’s entire discography returns once again in all of it’s melodic, shreddy glory.
So after 12 years one of the original death-thrash outfits return with what could be a cult fans’ most anticipated album of the year. With Solstice clinging tight as ever to the hardcore influence that is shared by so many of the founding death and thrash metal acts of the golden era, it’s really nice to see some of the real veterans doing it right and reminding us that all the new acts chasing each other’s tails outside the box can never replace good old-fashioned aggression by those that basically invented it. With the simplified riffing and a songwriting approach that less resembles a chaotic meander through as many different sections as physically conceivable, fans that wanted a clone of the debut Solstice release may be left wanting in the riffing and drumming department, but this is nonetheless an enjoyable sonic kick in the head that could be the subtle induction for new fans to the seemingly forgotten world of quality old-school death-thrash.
released via Emanzipation Productions on the 27th May check out the Target Shop to snag physical copies