The thrash metal band Hirax was formed in California in 1984 by vocalist Katon W. DePena, bassist Gary Monardo, guitarist Bob Savage and drummer Brian Keith. After an early demo one of their tracks ended up on the Metal Massacre VI compilation. After DePena quit the band in 1986 to later form Phantasm they rehearsed with former Exodus vocalist Paul Baloff for a while until he left to form Piranha. Hirax soon folded. In late 1987 the band reformed with the original line-up and the following year a three track demo was recorded. Tracks from this demo later on ended up on the "Blasted In Bangkok" single. A final reunion took place in the year 1999. Eventually only DePena remained from the original band and ex-Deliverance/Steel Vengeance guitarist Glenn Rogers was added to the fold. Together with Glenn the band released one of their finest albums to date titled "The New Age of Terror" in 2004. In '05 the band began recording demos for their follow-up CD. However, on November 23rd, 2005, the band cancelled their upcoming Japanese tour following the departure of Glenn Rogers (lead guitars), Angelo Espino (bass), Dave Chedrick (drums) and Dave Watson (lead guitars). In 2006 DePena announced that his new band (Lance Harrison-guitars, John Tabares-drums) was recording a new CD titled "Assassins of War". In 2006 DePena announced that his new band featuring Lance Harrison-guitars and John Tabares-drums were about to record a new CD titled "Assassins of War". Soon after, Glenn Rogers (Once Dead) rejoined the fold as well.
Hirax - Not Dead Yet (Black Devil) 1987
"Not Dead Yet" compiles Hirax's first two albums; "Ragin Violence (1985) and "Hate, Fear and Power" (1986) for release on one CD. This compliation, featuring artwork by Pushead, was originally released on Metal Blade in 1987 and was recently re-released by Hirax on their own Black Devil Records. The music here is pure speed metal, through and through. Vocalist Katon W. DePena has style unlike any I've ever heard before or since, although I have heard him compared to guys like John Cyriis (Agent Steel). The disc is filled with thrash chords, hardcore riffs and speedy guitar solos. Lyrically the band is all over the map, with themes of violence and war ("Bombs of Death") and others having medieval themes ("Defeat of Amalek", "Warlords Command"). A demo version of "Bombs of Death", also appearing on Metal Massacre VI. My CD is autographed by Katon W. DePena.
Powergod recorded a cover of "Bombs of Death".
Hirax - Barrage of Noise (Deep Six Recors) 2001
Hirax reform in 2001 with a completely new line-up, save for resident metalhead and vocalist Katon W. DePena. His voice is the biggest link to Hirax's past as the music here is not the same old thrash of the bands' first two albums. That may sound like a bad thing, but personally I like the music here better than anything on "Raging Violence" or "Hate, Fear & Power". The band still plays fast, aggressive thrash metal, but the new band members seem to know how to write more memorable guitar riffs and add some groove to the songs. "Walk With Death", for example, sports a heavy, down-tuned, mid-paced guitar riff, as opposed to the hyper fast stuff like "Barrage of Noise" and "Mouth Sown Shut". These two songs are more typical of what I expect from Hirax. This EP also features two instrumentals; "Jade" starts off as a haunting, melodic piece and builds up to a mid-paced chug. The album finishes off with "French Pearl", a delicate, acoustic guitar piece that is uncharacteristic of the fury of the rest of the CD. My only complaint is that the guitars seem a bit muddy or out of tune or something. Otherwise, the mixture of textures, tempos, and the punk like aggression from song to song make for a solid listen from beginning to end.
Hirax - El Diablo Negro (Deep Six) 2001
1. "I See Blood Red"
Orignally released as a 7" vinyl EP (see below), this CD reissue is actually single than an EP, as "El Diablo Negro" features the title track and two very short, punk-influence thrash numbers. The title track is prime Hirax and was thankfully re-recorded on the band's 2004 album "The New Age of Terror". This version has that same punk delivery that the first two songs have, whereas the version on "The New Age of Terror" is tighter. Personally I prefer the newer version. My copy is autographed by vocalist Katon D. Pena.
Original vocalist Katon W. DePena is the band's mainstay. His unique howl is unlike any other and really gives Hirax their unique sound. Together with guitarist Dave Watson, bassist Angelo Espino and drummer Jorge Lacobellis, Hirax are one fierce thrash unit. This CD starts off with the aggressive, ferocious track "Kill Switch". This intensity doesn't let up throughout the the CD. Each and every song is as intense and aggressive as the next. The CD finishes with one of my favorite tracks on the CD, "Unleash the Dogs of War." Another standout cut is "El Diablo Negro," a re-recorded version of a Hirax classic. On top of great songwriting, this CD also features a very good recording with razor sharp, buzz-saw guitars. Now I want to see these guys live.
I was fortunate enough to get to hang out and share a stage with Glenn Rogers for a couple of days in August of 2005. Since Glenn was the original guitarist and wrote some of the material on the first Vengeance Rising CD, he came out on stage and performed with Once Dead, which is the band I am currently singing for. At our practice the evening before I had Glenn sign both my Deliverance CD and my Hirax - New Age of Terror CD.
I also have a green vinyl copy of "The New Age Of Terror" autographed by Katon, Glenn and Angelo.
Hirax - Thrash 'Til Death-Live in Concert (Black Devil Records) 2006
Well, they say live albums are an end of an era. In this new millennium, live albums seem to have been replaced with live DVDs. Hirax's "Thrash 'Til Death" is the end of another era in their history. Before the release of this DVD, Katon's entire band left for reasons that aren't really important to go into in this review. This is a shame because I really think that Katon, Angelo and Glenn had a chemisty together, and no where was that more apparent than on this live DVD. (Soon after writing this review I received news that Glenn was back in Hirax, although Angelo Espino and Dave Watson have been replaced.) "Thrash 'Til Death" was recorded live at the Minnealpolis Mayehem II festival and captures the band in their prime. The band is energetic and the crowds are rowdy. The sound isn't perfect, but then, it's thrash metal! It's not suppose to be pristine. The band charges through a good selection of songs from Hirax's whole catalog, focusing heavily on the fantastic "New Age of Terror" material. The video is professional and features multiple camera angles. The band is obviously enjoying themselves on stage. Bassist Angelo Espino stomps around with an authority like he owns the stage. Glenn Rogers and Dave Watson are a solid team, shredding through the entire show. The star of the show is founding member Katon DePena, who has the audience in his hands. What more do I need to say? This is fantastic. If that weren't enough, there is a ton of bonus footage including all the songs listed above, a promo video, discography, photo gallery, and a hidden live track from 1985 from Fender's Ballroom, Long Beach, CA. Thrash 'til Death!
Hirax return in '07 with
an almost completely new line-up and a new EP. Since the writing team of Glenn
Rogers and Katon W. DePena are still in place from "New Age of Terror", the
new EP continues in much the same manner. "Assassins of War" features five new
songs of blistering thrash metal. The disc starts off with what is sure to become
a staple of Hirax shows, "Lucifer's Infierno". The song starts off with a mean,
slow mid-paced crunch before bursting into a fast, speed metal number with a
quick down beat. Katon's raspy, charismatic cackles are in fine form. The guitar
tag team of Lance Harrison and Glenn Rogers both unleash some fast guitar solos
towards the end of the song as well. "Summon the Death Dealers" starts of with
a familiar Glenn Rogers sounding open before picking up the speed. Once again,
the song is completed with some tag team guitar solos. This song is a little
bit slower than the album opener and has a memorable, repeated chorus. "City
of the Dead" is a mid-paced thrasher complete with a furious double bass assault
and Katon screaming in his best punk/crossover voice. "Invasion" is a short,
slower, doomy, heavy metal number with a Black
Sabbath influence. This song acts as an opening for the title, which is
guaranteed to be a classic in the Hirax catalog. The title track has a familiar
sound. Those familiar with Glenn's work with Deliverance and Vengeance will be pleased with
this song. To put it in the simplest terms, "Assassins of War" rules!
My copy is autographed by Glenn Rogers.
1. "Chaos And Brutality"
Brand new CD/EP from Katon and Company recorded in February 2007 at Shiva Industries in California. In reality this is more of a CD single for "Chaos and Brutality" than it is an EP. Basically it is the only new song on this and was recorded at the same time the tracks for "Assassins of War" were recorded. The re-recorded "Walk with Death" is quite good. I like it better than the "Barrage of Noise" version. The playing is tighter and the overall production gives it less of a punk/crossover feel and more of a metal vibe. A lot of this is due to Glenn Rogers influence on the band. The final two songs are short instrumentals that the band used as concert intros. Unfortunately all this material is the last studio recordings of Hirax with Glenn Rogers doing the writing. I must also say that this is one of the most expensive CD singles I have ever purchased at $13 for one new song, one re-recorded song and two short intros. I would have rather have had the two actual songs on this CD released on "Assassins of War".
Hirax unleashed, raw and live! "Thrash and Destroy" highlights the bands performance at Keep It True XI in Dittigheim, Germany. Katon and crew rip through an extremely high energy 75-minute set that includes classic 80's favorites such as "Bombs of Death" as well as plenty of their newer material. In my personal opinion, I think the stuff the band has done since Glenn Rogers joined the band and recorded "The New Age of Terror" is better than anything the band did before. Songs like "Lucifer's Inferno", "Unleash the Dogs of War", "Chaos and Brutality" and "Hostile Territory" simply rule. Unfortunately, Rogers is absent from this recording as he has exited the band for a short time and recorded with California thrashers Once Dead. Thankfully, Glenn has returned to Hirax and is again touring and writing with them. Katon, Rogers and the Harrison brothers seem to be the perfect formula for Hirax.
The multiple camera angles are very professional looking and are actually better than their other live DVD, "Thrash 'til Death". Although the sound recording is raw, the audio is overall clean with each instrument heard. The band's performance isn't extremely tight, but then this is thrash metal as it was recorded. I seriously doubt there are any overdubs to fix the rubs. Katon's rant at two audience members who were fighting in the middle of "Hostile Territory" was amusing. I actually thought this was rather cool. Katon is metal!
Thankfully the band saw fit to release the recording on CD as well as DVD. I've said it before, but I spend much more time listening to music than watching it. As a matter of fact, as of writing this, I had heard the audio a few times, while only having seen the video once.
There are several version of this live recording. Two different DVD/CD combos were released. The photo above is the European release, which is the one I own. The US version includes the same tracks on both the CD and DVD as far as I am aware, but has a completely different cover. There is also the double LP version on colored wax, which also includes a completely different cover.
The legendary thrash mongers Hirax return with their first full length release since 2004. In between that time and now the band has gone through many members and has release as handful of EPs and singles. What has not changed however, is the writing team of Glenn Rogers and Katon DePena. Together with Lance Harrison – Guitar, Steve Harrison – Bass and longtime drummer Jorge Iacobellis the band has delivered one fine thrash metal opus! It may sound trite, but El Rostro de la Muerte is exactly what anyone would expect from Hirax; fast, heavy, on-the-edge, thrash metal complete with manic guitar solos and Katon’s raspy yell. It is, of course, Katon’s voice that gives Hirax much of their character. Call me a Hirax fanboy, but this CD has been in blasting from my CD player for weeks upon receiving it in the mail.
This release collects three Hirax EPs on one disc. It features 2000's 'Barrage of Noise' and the 2007 EP's 'Chaos and Brutality' and 'Assassins of War.' 17 songs in all, plus a live video of "Bombs of Death" live in Japan in 2009. Not really an essential release for most Hirax die-hards, since most of us already own the EPs, but a nice collector's disc nonetheless. For those who don't like short EP's and only care about full length albums, this collection is perfect. The insert features the cover art from each of the EPs. In my opinion, the 2007 material is much stronger than the 2000 songs, both in production and songwriting. "Walk With Death" is featured twice on this EP but both are vastly different.