By Thrash-head

The pressure for this band to be awesome must be immense. Jesper Stromblad leaves In Flames to check into a rehab facility to get his alcoholism under control, his band moves on without him, and he hooks up with former vocalist for The Haunted and Face Down, Marco Aro. Add in a couple of other guys whose bands you've heard before, namely Glenn Ljungstrom (ex-In Flames, ex-Hammerfall), and Chris Barkensjol (ex-Contrstucdead, ex-Carnal Forge), and voila, you have a Swedish metal supergroup.

Right off the bat, album-opener "Clearing the Slate" does just that. Lose all your preconceived notions of what this band should sound like considering who's taking part, and instead of being disappointed for what it's not, be really content with what it actually is. It's in-your-face, aggressive old school Swedish death not unlike Entombed, Dismember, Carnage, and yet with a slight smattering of very old Arch Enemy and At The Gates thrown in for good measure just to mix things up and keep this from being a boring listen. The band is as tight as a band of this style can be, with thrashy rhythms, stop-on-a-dime syncopation, and just a smattering of punky groove. Jesper obviously is reinvigorated now that he's off of the sauce, as here he writes some damn good old school riffs, only slightly reminiscent of his pre-In Flames band Ceremonial Oath, and therefore proves to us exactly where he came from musically. Breaking out the Boss HM-2 pedal, he lays down some downright sick lines, and leaves me wondering what In Flames might have been like had this side been more present in past efforts. Marco's vocals are a seamless blend of his Haunted/Face Down hardcore tendencies fusing with "Wolverine Blues"-era L.G. Petrov. Speaking of Entombed, I gotta say that I was expecting to hear that lead line in "Eye For An Eye" at some point with the wah pedal and the slow bends. In addition, tunes like "Imperfected" and "The Serpent King" also throw in some awesome harmony guitar lines that this style somehow handles so capably. Despite his technical abilities on his instrument, Barkensjol holds back on the crazy fills that he's done in previous bands and sticks to the script here. He pounds on the toms as opposed to sporadic rolls, the double-bass is only present when it's needed, and he pretty much sticks to either Slayer beats or the occasional thrash groove to break up a chorus or bridge section.

This album, is as meat-and-potatoes as it gets, and damn if it isn't awesome for being so. Those expecting In Flames' catchy choruses are going to be out-of-luck, and truthfully, that's an awesome breath of fresh air. Here's to Jesper's sobriety! May we hear more awesome old-school brutality as a result!