Album Review: Torture Squad - Devilish
Reviewed by Gareth Pugh
Brazil’s Torture Squad may, or may not be a familiar name to some, but personally I became acquainted with them some years ago when I stumbled across their album “Hellbound” in 2008, at the time the band had just won the prestigious Wacken Metal Battle the year previously, which consequentially won them a record deal with German label Armageddon Records, and “Hellbound” was the more than impressive result. Delving into the band’s history, it turned out this was the bands 5th album, having self-released their primitive debut “Shivering” in 1998, with the then line-up of Cristiano Fusco on guitar (who founded the band as early as 1990), Amilcar Christofaro on drums, Wagner "Castor" on bass (this duo who both joined in 1993, has been the foundation stone ever since), and Victor Rodrigues on vocals. Fusco left after the impressive “The Unholy Spell”, and replacement Mauricio Nogueira joined for the remarkable, and critically acclaimed (well in the underground) “Pandemonium” in 2004. Nogueira left after the recording of “Hellbound”, and Augusto Lopes joined as the guitarist for the following tour and 6th album “Æquilibrium”, which, I have to be honest, was a bit lacking after its two spectacular predecessors.
Then, for a few years, line-up instability rocked the band, guitarist Lopes left, to be replaced by André Evaristo, who then also took up the vocals when Rodrigues left in 2012, and the band continued as a trio, although female bassist Fernanda Lira contributed guest vocals for the surprisingly excellent, and rifftastic “Esquadrão de Tortura” (effectively a self-titled album in their native Portuguese) in 2013, and lyrically was a scathingly truthful look at Brazilian politics from 1964 to 1985, when the country was under military rule, as hinted at by the newspaper headline on the cover art. 2017 and album number eight saw further changes in personal, with Evaristo leaving and the introduction of two new members, six stringer Rene Simionato and Mayara "Undead" Puertas on vocals, the band took their old sound and built on it, but also embraced and incorporated new elements to broaden the scope, and released a very strong release in “Far Beyond Existence”.
Now 6 years later, the band return with a new album, the first with the same line-up since 2008. “Devilish” is a very worthy follow-up to “Far Beyond Existence”, building on the same ground work, yet pushing the envelope even further, beyond hitherto unknown boundaries. Take opening track ‘Hell is Coming’, which incidentally, lyrically is inspired by the Diablo series of computer/console games, starts with odd progressive guitar strumming and an eastern theme, with polyrhythmic percussion, before getting into the song proper, which itself is a heavy, yet melodic brute for the majority, but later in the song Mayara lets loose with some impressive clean vocals, which lift the song to another level. Now let me tell straight away, this album has one of the best guitar sounds I have heard for quite some time, viscous, dense, and gnarly. ‘Flukeman’ utilizes the productions heaviness, and uses it in spades, swapping between fast chunky riffs and huge fat chords, this album should definitely come with a health warning, because if you get hit by one of these riffs, you’re going to need treatment for concussion at the very least!
‘Buried Alive’ is all twisting serpentine riffs and aggression and features a guest slot from none other than Andreas Kisser (Sepultura). Talking about throwing different influences into the mix ‘Warrior’ is something entirely new. I had to check to see if it was a cover song, but as far as I can tell it’s an original, and definitely adds a new dynamic. A tribute to Rickson Gracie the Jiu Jitsu legend, and one of the greatest in this sport, it comes across as more hard rock in places starting off with a chord progression AC/DC would be proud of, Mayara proves she’s got plenty of variation, with a phenomenal vocal performance, at first, I thought it was a bit cheesy, but on repeated listens it’s become one of my favourites from the whole album. ‘Sanctuary’ is a lumbering brute of a song, seriously heavy, but again the band throw some experimentation into the mix with some eerie children’s choir effects, which adds an unnerving atmosphere into the proceedings. Simionato is a real find on the 6 strings, and like many of his predecessors, he has a knack for writing riffs that are both heavy, but have an original twist, take ‘Mabus’ for instance, what could have been a more generic song, is given an extra boost by the invention of the riff work, and not only is his riff work impressive, his leads and solos are even better.
Elsewhere, the band pull another curveball with the remarkable ‘Find my Way’, an acoustic and orchestral piece, and for the three minutes Mayara uses her cleans and takes the song to another level, full of emotion and passion, it’s a very brave song and one that works extremely well, and closes out with the instrumental ‘Gaia’, this is something that the band just wouldn’t have been able to conceive, let alone execute 10 years ago. Absolutely fantastic.
The album closes out on with the epic ‘A Farewell to Mankind/The Last Journey’ combo, that mixes brutality and beauty in equal measure. Building from a powerful melodic intro, it explodes into blistering heaviness before morphing into a crushing middle section with massive chords and grandiose leads and solos, before a colossal crescendo that segues into the magnificent outro, a truly beautiful piano piece that honestly brought tears to my eyes.
Easily their strongest album since “Hellbound”, and quite possibly their best ever, this is a stunningly impressive piece of work, and for existing fans this is a real treat, and if you’ve not heard of these Brazilian thrash/death metal veterans before, or if you have any interest in extreme metal, I urge you to seek this album out, as it’s an album of the year contender for sure. Magnificent.