By the time Australia’s Mortal Sin released their sophomore album in 1989 there’d been big changes in the camp. In came new guitarist Mick Burke, and they scored a major deal with Vertigo Records. The band’s debut effort, Mayhemic Destruction, set the bar extremely high but it was a one Mortal Sin leapfrogged with ease on Face Of Despair. Enlisting renowned producer Randy Burns (Megadeth, Kreator, Dark Angel) gave the band a crisper sound that was augmented by mature songwriting and the result was a neck-snapper that seemed destined to elevate Mortal Sin into metal’s top tier.
Part of Mayhemic Destruction’s charm was its rudimentary production, so it is always a risk when a band is afforded a bigger budget as often the life spark can be extracted, leaving a flabby beast. Thankfully, Mortal Sin’s soul has been left intact and Face Of Despair gets off to the best possible start with ‘I Am Immortal’. Randy Burns’ production has brought the band’s technical prowess to the fore, and those nifty time changes that pepper the band’s songs are now clearly defined, and they’re all the more cutting for it. The mad thrashings of the debut have largely been replaced with something more measured, and much of Face Of Despair swings with an inherent groove. While their debut had a Teutonic influence, this album finds the band’s sound Americanised and the first four cuts have a definite Testament vibe and could easily slip into their Practice What You Preach album. That, of course, is a good thing and ‘Voyage Of The Disturbed’ tempers the thrashier moments with a Bay Area crunch that makes it very mosh pit inducing; this is music to which you can floorpunch, axehandle and windmill, as opposed to just swinging your arms wildly.
It’s the second half of Face Of Despair where Mortal Sin pick up the pace, and ‘Innocent Torture’ fairly races out the blocks. It’s here where the new tag team of guitarists Mick Burke and Paul Carwana really come into their own and ‘Innocent Torture’ features plenty of gnarly solos and is heavy on the whammy bar (always a good move). ‘Suspended Animation’ could easily pass for Exodus in their prime and features guitars that explode like phosphorous flares and the gang vocals are a welcome addition and prove themselves sorely missed before. If you’re a fan of classic thrash, then you’ll find a spiritual home in fretboard-melter ‘Terminal Reward’ as it contains all the essential ingredients from the neo-classical guitar lines to the double bass drumming via Mat Maurer’s vocal gymnastics. Humour and irony were an essential part of the thrash DNA, so it’s perhaps no surprise that Mortal Sin went down that route for closer ‘Robbie Soles’. On an album that generally spits fire, it sounds a tad trivial, and on a record so important in Mortal Sin’s career, it was a misstep that could easily have derailed the band. Thankfully, it didn’t (that happened for other reasons) but it does end on a sour note which should have been triumphant.
On the very cusp of greatness, internal strife started to tear Mortal Sin apart, and while they limped on for the lacklustre (and grammatically challenged) Every Dog Has It’s Day, the band’s time had gone. A reformation was to repair their reputation, but if anyone was to ask you what was so great about ‘80s thrash, I suggest you play them Face Of Despair.
- Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
- Face Of Despair is released via Cherry Red Records/Dissonance Productions on 24th June 2022.
- I Am Immortal
- Voyage Of The Disturbed
- The Infantry Corps
- For Richer For Poorer
- Martyrs Of Eternity
- Innocent Torture
- Suspended Animation
- Terminal Reward
- Robbie Soles