This Is Hell's Warbirds is a compact exhibition of the band -- a product of the American Nightmare and Modern Life Is War phenomenon -- strolling into simpler "crossover" territory. Some may be comforted by the change in sound, but the metallic trajectory set by their Trustkill farewell Misfortunes was pitched with this unexpected old-school curveball, and may take a few spins to finally warm up to.
Their subtle melodic and progressive tendencies are substituted for jarring, shifting power chords and wah-tinged guitar solos ("The Search") and their structures are dumbed down to shorter song lengths and some traditional-styled breakdowns ("Worship Syndrome"). The production is crisp, antagonistic and the instruments sound tight, with lots of power on the accents. The two covers, Warzone's "Crazy But Not Insane" and the less predictable "Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS are fantastic; the former is a balls-out, modern rendition while the latter is a complete stylistic shift.
You have to hand it to This Is Hell -- they never write the same thing twice and they'll continue to polarize their fans with admirably bold songwriting.
Generally when hardcore bands begin meandering down the path towards crossover, thrash, and eventually full-blown metal, it's because they're running out of ideas, trying to expand their fanbase, or possibly see a little bit more cash potential in headbangers than two-steppers. But for whatever reason said unnamed bands begin blowing the winds of change, This Is Hell gets a free pass for probably not falling into those categories even while turning slightly in the direction of crossover thrash.
Although the band's preceding full-length was interesting and enjoyable enough, Warbirds looks slightly more appealing right off the bat, with song lengths hovering around the two-and-a-half-minute mark instead of the four-and-a-half minute tracks that populated Misfortunes. Furthermore, by the time the music gets going, it's fairly evident that This Is Hell aren't barking up too high on the thrash tree. Aside from some guitar soloing rarely seen in the band's previous catalog, not much is different, and the tunes certainly don't lack the hardcore wallop the best tracks from Sundowning, Cripplers and Misfortunes packed. Well, "Never Tear Us Apart" does, but that's probably because it's an INXS song. The other cover of the bunch is Warzone's "Crazy But Not Insane," which plays a great deal more to This Is Hell's strengths, especially given that Warzone was exploring similar avenues at the time the song was written.
The three originals on Warbirds range from pretty good ("Worship Syndrome") to great ("Warbirds"). The treated vocals may be a little off-putting in this era of AutoTune, but evaluated without bias, they really don't affect the songs negatively or otherwise. "The Search" opens the EP with machine gun riffs and vocalist Travis Reilly proclaiming "We're searching for oil / We're searching for gold / We're searching God / Or so we're told." Midway through, searing metal scales enter into the equation to confirm claims of such crossover tendencies. The aforementioned greatness of the title track is held up by a solid minute of hardcore chaos with an interesting breakdown and subtly slick guitar playing through the second half. "Worship Syndrome" drags slightly in comparison and starts to lose energy, though "Crazy But Not Insane" follows and picks up the pace again.
Warbirds is the first release since the band left Trustkill Records for the perceived greener pastures of Think Fast! Records. In a hilarious turn of events, Think Fast! has since inked a distribution deal with Trustkill, though unfortunately for comedy's sake, it's not set to take place until Outbreak's full-length drops. Either way, Warbirds is a tight collection of hardcore thrash fury that won't lose many fans while charting new territory.