As much as I enjoyed HAVOCHATE's "This Violent Earth" for its old-school OVERKILL/TESTAMENT crunch grooves and hardass heavy metal attitude, I still thought it was a good, not great album. About half the album crushed convincingly (especially the excellent title track) and half I found to be just average, maybe missing that little something. Having played "Cycle of Pain" to death, I've decided that little something is new vocalist Tim Bouchee. Coupled with a level jump in songwriting, "Cycle of Pain" is one of the better thrash-based classic metal albums I've heard so far this year.
Former vocalist Jon Mallek is no slouch by any means and his gritty performance is well suited to the material on "This Violent Earth". It's simply a case of range and dynamics: Bouchee surpasses Mallek in both areas. I'll admit that I was a little taken aback by the cleaner, high-register singing that jumped out at me on several tracks, but only because it's such a stark contrast to what I heard on "This Violent Earth". I wasn't expecting it. Even though Bouchee probably does more of the growly lower-end vocals than the high stuff, the juxtaposition is powerful. His transitions from low to high on several tracks and an all around knack for nailing the melodies and vocal patterns give the album an extra kick in the ass.
Comparatively speaking, where "This Violent Earth" was built mainly around the dirty thrash of TESTAMENT and OVERKILL, "Cycle of Pain" adds classic metal flourishes that at times recall bands like JUDAS PRIEST and early METAL CHURCH. (Incidentally, former TESTAMENT bassist Greg Christian is in the band). The standout tracks combine the heavy crunch with tasteful melodies, "Alone", "Tentacle", and "Fiction" the best examples. Writing a song with big enough balls to satisfy the pickiest metal head and effectively blending in amazing melodies is not an easy task, but HAVOCHATE pulls it off on this album. "Cold Embrace" features a slammin' thrash verse and a rather proggy melodic chorus that takes a time or two to get used to before it too sucks you in. Tunes like the flesh ripping album closer, "Rotting Hour", as well as straight-up rockers "Still Alive" and "Wicked" are more along the lines of what is heard on "This Violent Earth", although certainly don't sound like leftover tracks from the recording session. The real treat is how the tunes work so well together in forming a complete album.
I can't imagine any true-blue heavy metal fan not finding at least something to like about "Cycle of Pain". If you can handle the band's new emphasis on melody, you can't go wrong with "Cycle of Pain".