Grey’s Retro Review #2: Wrathchild America- Climbin’ The Walls Review
By: Grey Banner, Contributing Writer
Thrash Metal. Combining the grandiosity of The New Wave of British Heavy Metal with the speed and attitude of an emerging hardcore punk scene, thrash is undoubtedly one of the most vital and important subgenres in the history of metal. We all know the big dogs: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer; the so-called “Big Four.” But start talking to fans of the genre and you’ll get a fuller picture of all that thrash has to offer. Bands like Testament, Exodus, Overkill and Death Angel were ripping it up right alongside The Big Four, making great thrash metal – and are all still alive and kicking today. But I’m here today to sing the praises of a thrash band not a lot of people know about. And that band is Wrathchild America.
The band, consisting of drummer and founding member Shannon Larkin (now with Godsmack), bassist / vocalist Brad Divens and guitarists Jay Abbene and Terry Carter, never got their due as far as I’m concerned. The band came into the spotlight right at the end of thrash’s heyday, as Climbin’ The Walls wasn’t released until 1989. Grunge would sweep in soon and wipe out most of metal’s popularity, at least with the MTV masses. In fact, Wrathchild would try to adapt by changing their name to Souls at Zero, tuning down to “Drop D” and doing their best to be angsty. I kid, a bit. I do enjoy their self-titled debut and even saw them live in support of the record.
Another possible reason they never caught on could be the fact that the band never really seemed to find an identity. For example, songs on Climbin’ The Walls are all over the place, thematically. You’ll find teenage metalhead angst (“Climbin’ The Walls”) odes to horror movies (“London After Midnight”) and even cheeky sexual double entendre (“No Deposit, No Return”). Throw in a cover of “Time” by Pink Floyd and an average listener is going to rightly ask, “What the hell?!”
But to me, this is what makes Wrathchild so great. They never come across as serious as Metallica, or as angry as Megadeth or super evil like Slayer. The vibe is more of just four dudes having some beers and rockin’ out in the garage. Every song on this album contains nothing but great riff after great riff, all arranged in a manner that makes them very listenable. The aforementioned cover of “Time?” I actually heard before I heard the original and I will argue with anyone who says it isn’t an awesome cover. The band plays it pretty much note for note and really nails it, in my opinion. Honestly, there isn’t a bad track on this album, nor is there really one track that jumps out as a clear cut centerpiece. Just one fun tune after another.
Musically, the band is really cooking here. Shannon Larkin is an incredible drummer and remains one to this day. Divens’ bass work is much more up front than your average four-stringer in a thrash band. His bass pops up in the mix here and there to let you know that he can play his instrument. Vocally, Divens is no Joey Belladonna. The lyrics can be fairly silly and he doesn’t have great range, but he gets the job done.
And don’t even get me started on the guitar playing here. It’s some of my all-time favorite axework. The guys have a really unique tone. It’s not super up front or heavy; everything sits nice and even in the mix. And the lead work is really top notch. The guys weren’t quite as obsessed with shredding as many of their contemporaries were. There’s much more of a blues influence going on, which leads to very melodic playing. And I’ll take melody over shredding any day of the week.
All in all, if you are a fan of thrash metal, do yourself a favor and give this record a listen. Yes, Divens’ vocals may strike you as a bit hammy, but everyone in this band can play and they know how to put a song together. Grab a couple of brews (if that’s something you’re into) and just sit back and enjoy this little lost gem from the late 80s. Bon apetit!