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Return To Ruin

United States Country of Origin: United States

Return To Ruin
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Type: Full-Length
Release Date: September 8th, 2023
Genre: Thrash
1. Carbon Shadows
2. Soul Substance
3. Prison Planet
4. Mind At Large
5. Time Portals
6. Nightmare Hall
7. Dark The Sun
8. Return To Ruin
9. Solitary Hypnosis

Review by Greg on December 2, 2023.

More and more obscure bands benefit from metal's renaissance, and North Carolina's own Gross Reality awesomely manage to come back with three whole full-lengths, after not having left anything for posterity during their short original stint in the '90s. Since the band is still composed of the same core of members, plus one new guitarist, it's a great feeling to be able to witness what was probably their vision behind the project finally taking shape, not hampered by short budgets or decaying interest in the good ol' thrash metal... keep in mind that many bands weren't that lucky to have this precious second chance. Well, I'm diving headfirst into their discography with their latest Return To Ruin, but surely it will be sufficient to check if they're taking the maximum advantage from this newfound verve, right?

Well, if the average tempo kept by Jason Wheeler's drums is any indication, they sure do – they're probably even trying to make up for all these years of absence, such is the intensity on display. Amusingly enough, Daniel Powell's half-clean vocals were the most peculiar feature, in a way. I've never heard any other singer sounding so similar to Stone's Janne Joutsenniemi before, not merely in his timbre (where a pinch of later Tom Araya is thrown in for good measure), but even in his coarse, caveman-esque (meant in a good way) inflection. It goes without saying that my mind automatically drew links between the two bands sound-wise as well, surely without any of the brainiac tendencies of the Finns' last two instalments, but I'd be tempted to just compare Return To Ruin to an abridged, more serious and less classy, version of No Anaesthesia!. Sure, Roland Arthur and Dylan Glotzer are no Latvala-Jalkanen/Niiranen, but display a certain melodic gusto in the sometimes extended instrumental solutions, like the awesome solos in 'Time Portals' or all-around best track 'Prison Planet', or even the oneiric bridge in 'Dark The Sun', showcase.

Most of the times, Return To Ruin is still at full throttle, and it's an almost constant onslaught, starting from the unstoppable opening one-two punch of 'Carbon Shadows'-'Soul Substance' and arguably reaching a physical limit in 'Nightmare Hall', which is almost crossover-ish with its Terrordome-like intensity stretched out to a full song, simply lethal stuff (its second solo still catches me off guard after several listens). The aforementioned 'Time Portals' is the only instance where Gross Reality show a slower, more restrained face, and I'm convinced it could have used a couple more minutes to come full circle at the end, maybe even at the expense of the preceding 'Mind At Large' which stumbles upon an awkward vocal line and never really recovers from it. The remaining tracks don't sound terribly different from one another, until the closer 'Solitary Hypnosis' arrives and it's... weird. Well, I can definitely see what they were aiming for, as it's a sort of suite introduced by a long intro with almost ethereal vocals, a middle part making up the bulk of the composition, and an ambient outro with spoken vocals. Problem is, the first and last combined last for 7 (seven) minutes out of the whole 9 – and if the former ain't half bad, the latter really drags on for a grand total of three empty minutes. Interesting to hear at least once, but I can't stop being frustrated by how soon the 'proper' song ends. Such a shame.

Ultimately, I am of two minds about Return To Ruin, as on one hand I longed for more variation between songs, yet almost every time the band tried to change the recipe it didn't really work either, with 'Time Portals' being the only truly successful deviation from the norm. Still, the unpleasant aftertaste left by its incredibly anticlimactic tail might have hampered what was otherwise a rather positive review – and keep in mind that a Stone comparison isn't handed out carelessly by this writer. Time to rediscover their older stuff...

Rating: 8 out of 10