To any thrasher of a certain age, Hirax needs no introduction. The southern California pioneers were at the vanguard of the burgeoning speed/thrash metal scene in the early-to-mid ‘80s, contemporaries of bands like Armored Saint, as well as both Metallica and Slayer. Their debut record, Raging Violence, originally released on Metal Blade way back in 1985, was seen as a thrash metal cornerstone as much as Hell Awaits, Bonded By Blood or Kill ‘Em All were.
As well, and it bares mentioning in the context of the era, that frontman Katon W. De Pena, who possesses a unique, one-of-a-kind metal voice, was one of only a handful of African Americans in rock and roll, much less a then-underground genre like thrash metal. Really, the only other African Americans in the American underground, back then were Bad Brains, as Living Colour had not yet released their debut. It may not seem like a big deal nowadays in 2023, but in the mid ‘80s having an African American fronting a metal band was a rarity, and it did give Hirax a little more attention than they may have otherwise not received.
I had the original Metal Blade release of Raging Violence as a young thrasher, but that LP has long been lost to time, and despite my hearty thrash collection, for whatever reason, I never replaced it. So, upon seeing that Armageddon Label had licensed the first two Hirax albums, I jumped at the opportunity to revisit a band I had not heard in a very long time.
So, how does Raging Violence hold up thirty-eight years later? Following some, especially on ears that have aged thirty-plus years, goofy, spoken-word randomness I’d forgotten about, Demons gives way to the chugging, hyper-aggressive (for the time) riffage of Evil Forces my memory is instantly jarred with a straight-to-the-throat ripper featuring some blazing solos from original guitarist Scott Owens, and a full-on ‘80s thrash breakdown/bridge. De Pena meanwhile makes his presence felt immediately as his unique, uber-metal-wail vocals soar above the charging riffs.
Raging Violence hits the gas right off the bat, and charges relentlessly as Hirax put the ‘speed’ in speed metal. Blitzkreig Air Attack flies by in under two-and-a-half minutes with a blur of riffs, pounding drums, and De Pena wails, while Guardian Protector is even shorter, yet no less aggressive with De Pena letting loose with all sorts of vocal dynamics, while Owens unleashes more flame-throwing lead work as Hirax stuff a lot into little time. Bombs Of Death is a riff-stuffed ripper, possessing some early Slayer energy, as De Pena’s vocals hit the stratosphere. Lyrically, we’re in prime ‘80s thrash, nuclear war territory, but Hirax again stuff a speedy section, a breakdown chug section, and De Pena’s ever-present dramatics into a short, brutal burst.
one of the quintessential thrash releases of the era delivered with aggression, authority and confidence…
The title track, Raging Violence, has a particularly catchy riff, and De Pena is displaying prime Halford energy throughout the start-stop riffer. Other favorites include the Show No Mercy-era attack of Call Of The Gods, the pounding double bass and mid-tempo chug of Warlords Command and the epic and mega-aggressive riff thrust of The Gauntlet. Then there’s the speed-picking meets metal boogie attack of Destruction And Terror, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it attack of Destroy, complete with a wicked bass intro from Gary Monardo and some of De Pena’s most over-the-top vocal theatrics on the entire record, and to say nothing of the frenzied, thrash madness of closer Bloodbath.
Listening with fresh ears, a few things jump out to me on Raging Violence, like the totally ‘80s, low-budget production that while Owens, and De Pena manage to overcome, the rhythm section of drummer John Tabares and bassist Gary Monardo do not in most cases. Tabares drum performance is fantastic throughout, he pummels, pounds, fills, and bashes his heart out but the production leaves him sounding thin. Also, even with headphones on, Monardo, excluding the intro to Destroy, is buried pretty far down in the mix, as the production understandably pushes De Pena’s vocals and Owens guitar to the forefront, and with good reason.
De Pena himself is a highlight throughout Raging Violence as his voice is so incredibly unique, and his histrionics over the top metal, it’s pretty stunning. He can easily hit the Halford and King Diamond notes, yet he doesn’t sound like either. He truly is one of the more underrated metal vocalists, especially for this genre, as most thrash bands vocalist offered up more of a bark, than a wail, so he’s occupying a very rare space.
I had a blast revisiting Raging Violence. It conjured up memories of hot, New Mexico summer days in my bedroom, with my old buddy Steve (RIP) blasting thrash, smoking shitty weed, and playing air guitar. Raging Violence, perhaps a bit overlooked at the time, if not seen as a slight novelty due to De Pena’s ethnicity, is one of the quintessential thrash releases of the era delivered with aggression, authority and confidence. And to top it off, Raging Violence also boasts killer, old-school Pushead album art for the cherry on top of the ‘80s thrash cake. It warms my old black heart to see Raging Violence get the proper reissue it deserves.
Scribed by: Martin Williams