Review by David Clendenen
As the World Dies is the third studio album by San Francisco Bay Area-based Trauma, and features a mostly new lineup of musicians. Since their first album Scratch and Scream was released in 1984 the band went dark until Shrapnel Records asked them in 2013 to tour in support of that album’s reissue. So Trauma re-formed with a new lineup and in 2015 released Rapture and Wrath, a better-developed album than their first in terms of both production and songwriting, but one that was generally slower-paced and with somewhat more power metal aspirations than the thrashier, early-80’s-metal sounding Scratch and Scream. Nevertheless, Trauma did not stray from their roots as both albums featured well-written songs with absolutely shredding guitar solos and soaring vocals.
Aha, but now, three years later, Trauma adds to their discography with As The World Dies, an album which easily surpasses both of their previous efforts on every level… while still remaining true to form. This album is by far Trauma’s best record to date and one which will ultimately prove important to their legacy. Other 80’s metal bands have released some of their best material within just the past couple of years: Megadeth’s Dystopia in 2016, Iced Earth’s Incorruptible in 2017, and Judas Priest’s Firepower in 2018, for example. As the World Dies will surely prove to be an even more important achievement for Trauma as it establishes their ascendant career trajectory and artistic maturity in a manner that remains true to their roots and is even more listenable. Downright exciting, in fact!
Since their first album’s release, there have been some lineup changes along the way. Donny Hiller is still on vocals, though it must be said that his voice has somehow only improved with age in both strength and control, and Kris Gustofson is still on drums and aside from Hiller the only other band member who has played on all three studio albums. Founding member Cliff Burton split to go join Metallica before the first album was even released, but Testament’s former bassist Greg Christian has remained on the job since the 2015 album Rapture and Wrath. Guitarists Joe Fraulob, formerly of Danzig, and Steve Robello from Dublin Death Patrol are introduced to capably wield guitars for this new album; all of which certainly factors into the quality of the album since the guitar expertise on display with this disc exceeds even the previous performances in terms of virtuosity, musicianship, tone, and range of style. Presumably, Fraulob and Robello played a key role in the songwriting arrangements which so beautifully distinguish this album from its predecessors in terms of overall production value. Trauma has always featured expert guitarists and this album is certainly no exception. The guitar riffs are ever more punchy and deft, yet the playing is now quite on another level, exhibiting the more stylistic variety of influences that have informed our veteran musicians. The guitar tones are now richer. Songs on the new album may pause for a quiet interlude or acoustical guitar piece only to be followed by fast, hard-hitting riffs and syncopated rhythms that don’t compromise the power metal genre, but rather add dynamic range and make all of it even more interesting.
In general, the song arrangements are similar to Trauma’s previous efforts, but the song intros are even more compelling, the rhythms and riffs hookier, more dramatic, the choruses more powerful and natural. The entire album is good.
Very briefly, here are my first impressions, track by track.
“The Rage” is one of my two favorite tracks on the album. A thrashy riff leads into hard rock verses, and features a headbanging chorus with killer vocal delay effects. The hook is in the riff. You’ll see what I mean when you hear it. This song is so good it’s obvious why it’s Track Number One, and will probably open their live shows. “From Here to Hell” features another thrashy riff with a catchy chorus. What’s not to like? “As the World Dies” is slower-paced and starts with a discordant dual guitar intro leading into an Ozzy-like vocal prelude before launching into Hiller’s standard high-ranging form. “Gun to Your Head” returns to fast-paced riffs interspersed with an even faster chorus. “Last Rites” is slower-paced again, in classic power metal style reminiscent of Iron Maiden, Crimson Glory, Axel Rudi Pell and the like. “Run for Cover” is very similar in this respect and includes an acoustic intro followed by the interesting verse, pre-chorus, and chorus, and incorporates fast rhythms interspersed with a slow interlude with a truly beautiful ballad guitar solo. “Asylum” is more modern sounding, has a bouncing riff with syncopated rhythms and a cool guitar solo. “Entrophy” is another great song with a moderate rhythm and a killer solo that would have worked well in “Egypt” on their second disc Rapture and Wrath. “Cool Aid” is the only track I’m not super crazy about. It’s modern and well-made, just not my style. “Savage”, my other favorite track, starts out fast, heavy and aggressive, then shifts naturally into a slow, catchy, moody chorus. The solo features very cool harmonizing twin leads. The final solo is simply classic. It’s a great way to close out the album.
While it’s tempting to compare Trauma with others artists it’s also important to recognize their catalog for the completely original work it is and realize that this band helped to define a unique and popular genre of metal from its inception. Trauma has no doubt influenced many within the power metal, speed metal, thrash and other adjacent genres, and if this album As the World Dies is any indication, will continue to do so now as never before. Be sure to check it out. I, for one, am looking forward to seeing them perform the next time they swing back around here.