Shrapnel – Palace for the Insane (Album Review)

Shrapnel are set to return with Palace for the Insane, a fresh collection of Thrash Metal wreckage set for release on Friday, May 15th via Candlelight/Spinefarm.

Looking back, the British stalwarts broke onto the scene in 2014 with The Virus Conspires before 2017’s sophomore effort, Raised on Decay. Palace for the Insane, their third overall full-length, marks two major lineup changes for the band: founding Drummer Chris Williams has returned from the hinterlands, joining Nathan Sadd and Chris Martin on guitars, as well as the brand-new Aarran, who assumes both vocal responsibilities (in place of founder Jae Hadley) and bass duties (replacing Cai Beschorner). Additionally, they called on Samuel Turbitt to mix and master the new LP at Ritual Sound Studios, while Romanian Artist Costin Chioreanu, known for his work with legendary acts such as At The Gates, Opeth, Arch Enemy, and Grave, handles the artwork/presentation.

At just under an hour of music, a few songs in, “Vultures Circle” creates an early nostalgia for the best purveyors of ’80s Thrash. This is while “Salt the Earth” builds on aggressive blast beats to create melodic, even progressive guitar themes, almost veering into a more obvious technical vein than straight Thrash is often known for. The twin guitars of Martin and Sadd steer the ship here; they both solidify the rhythm portions, but the winding wails of Sadd punctuate at just the right openings. 

This all in mind, a track like “Violent Now, Forever” is a perfect example of the band’s capabilities, even if they do use the choral vocal style of Crossover Thrash a bit too much; both on the specific track and the album in general. A track earlier, “The Mace,” leaves deep grooves in a Slayer vein, and again shows what the band could do if they focused their sound into a handful of directions, rather than a dozen.

However, the promise of early tracks hits a dry spell, particularly in the lyrical department. The text of “Turn Off the Lights” sounds as bad as it reads on paper. This ruins the otherwise raucous and the words uttered within “Cannibal” are somewhat formulaic. Then there is “Begin Again,” a dense smörgåsbord of genres, mixing cold atmospheric interludes with strong vocal, guitar, and bass work that all pull deeply from Crossover Thrash acts of the ’90s. “Future Sight” is the penultimate track, but its winding outro would be a perfect way to punctuate the album… except the title-track has other ideas, and it closes the set instead.

Overall, by integrating a few too many styles, Shrapnel has sacrificed clarity for virtuosity. The foursome prove they can play nearly any style in the Heavy Metal quiver, but without a clear path, at times Palace for the Insane appears as if the band is unsure where to pinpoint their energy. Furthermore, Aarran adds some bright, punch bass work throughout the album, but his work on the microphone is a bit derailing. The “choral” vocal style is everywhere on Palace for the Insane, and it baffles as much as it invigorates.

Full of nascent ideas and promising leads, Palace for the Insane, as a final product, could be viewed as unfocused and raw. Perhaps a few rigorous tours will solidify the new lineup, and the style will have a bit more clarity on future releases. In the meantime, Cryptic Rock gives Palace for the Insane 3 out of 5 stars. 

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