Abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Scrawled above the entrance to hell, it could also be the motto of Shrapnel’s latest undertaking Palace for the Insane.
The appeal of metal to its most diehard fans is the vast universe of genres, cross-genres, and the loyalty to brutality throughout all of that. Fans expect bands to push their sonic limits. Shrapnel did just that with Palace. It was only a year after their punishing tribute to their legacy Decade of Decimation and already swift changes were made. Implementing new singer/bassist Aaran Tucker (ex-Terebos) gave way to Shrapnel wanting to explore the further reaches of thrash.
With a hunger to claw out of the mass of other English metal and make a name, Palace for the Insane explodes with a massive drum fill into the power gallop of “Might of Cygnus,” a title of which Rush would be proud. It is one of their strongest tracks on the album. Aaran Tucker’s witchy shouts and bloodcurdling renditions of doom power the band through “Salt the Earth”, the Corpsegrinder storytelling of “Cannibal” and “Infernal Choir,” but overall falls short. His vocals fail to add much dynamic and can be campy at times. Even the riffs wax pedestrian mostly. “Bury Me Alive”, “The Mace”, and “Violent Now, Forever” are forgettable. A strike against them is to ignore the opportunity to truly venture into apocalypse on their title track. Sure, it does its duty but “Palace for the Insane” stays hunkered down in safe barraging riffs. It felt like you were more in the waiting room then the straitjacket.
What cannot be ignored is their flashy interpretations of prog. They truly spread their wings on the gang roar of “Turn Off the Lights,” which is whimsically practical at one point with the lyric “And the last one out/Turn off the lights”. No problem. It is an adrenaline rush of fury that comes shortly after the vista of instrumental prowess in what is possibly their best song on the album “Begin Again”. “Begin Again” is haunting, somber, and twists with passages similar to “La Villa Strangiato” of old.
What Shrapnel did well is not only staying true to their roots but expanding and finding where they could reach. They keep to what they know and come up for air with melodic flourish and fiery bridges. They are on the right track and they will continue into another decade of decimation. Enter the palace…if you dare.