Sometime back in the late ‘80s there existed a natural fusion of hardcore, metal and punk. Many called it “skate rock” for its appeal, or perhaps targeting, of skateboarders via magazines like Thrasher. Some simply preferred to call it thrash or hardcore. It included bands like Suicidal Tendencies, The FU’s, Misfits, Dayglo Abortions, Dead Kennedys and even the ever-adventurous Anthrax. One of the most memorable was D.R.I. As quickly as they came, those bands and their punk-isn’t-angry-enough aesthetic seemed to either disappear like D.R.I. did, fade into obscurity like the FUs or morph into mass-appeal metal bands like Anthrax. With Iron Reagan, boasting metal titans among its members from Cannabis Corpse and Municipal Waste, the sound of thrash has re-emerged in 2018. Of course they’ve been around since 2012, but nothing they’ve done has come quite so close to sounding so familiar until now.

Album opener “Warning” wastes no time between an epic and dramatic intro and slipping between multiple thrash groove patterns all of which are rich and beautifully produced. The entire album was mixed by Kurt Ballou, who should be noted for his apparently uncanny ability to keep the nuance of guitar solos and the clean sound of percussion from getting smashed together so harshly that the song is lost in a storm of noise. Here, every cymbal crash sounds like it just happened live beside your living room circle pit. Also back is the age-old tradition of the superblast less-than-a-minute track “Proudly Unaccountable.”

But that’s just one side of the coin.

On the other side, you’re going to find Arizona’s Gatecreeper pounding out grinding guitar riffs and relentless percussion en par with Nails. Of course, no death metal record would be complete without an appearance by the Cookie Monster on vocals, this time in the form of Chase Mason. Together, these two bands are symbolic of “extreme metal,” and this EP is a fine introduction to it.

Though the album is called Split, it’s fairly heavy on the Iron Reagan, who have five tracks compared to Gatecreeper’s three brief appearances, one of which is a brief instrumental intro. It’s an odd pairing. There is little in common between the two bands other than that they may appeal to an overlapping fanbase. Iron Reagan offers high energy, hyperspeeed thrash with the shrill wail of Tony Foresta, while Gatecreeper walk a dark path of deliciously meaty monster tracks.

The 2018 phenomenon of the split record is emerging out of a common occurrence in recent underground hardcore records. Similar to underground hip hop’s approach in the ‘90s, there’s much to be gained from sharing the cost, the marketing and the reach of a recording effort in establishing the presence and credibility of your band in the scene. In this case, Gatecreeper already has a more established presence than Iron Reagan, but their appearance is by no means diminished for it. “Dead Inside” growls and snarls over crystal clear, beautifully mastered guitar grind and furious double-bass. What they’ve done here musically is achieved what Nails failed to do: create a wall of distortion and grind that doesn’t crack apart at the seams or become lost in its own noise when played loud. “War Has Begun” takes an almost doom metal approach alternating between the same insanely fast bass and a more measured riff and guitar solo accompaniment.

The extreme metal moniker seems a little — well — extreme. Iron Reagan’s mild political fare is far safer in terms of content than the risks taken back in the ‘80s, and the anger here takes itself far more seriously than the acerbic good humour of the ‘80s (see M.O.D.’s “Don’t Feed the Bears”). A sign of the times, perhaps. And whatever is going on with Gatecreeper, we’ll leave it for someone else to glean, but there can be no doubt that the album begins strong and ends even stronger.

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