02. Time to Rage
03. A Place of Solace
04. Weather the Storm
06. The American Way
07. Fear for Failure
08. No End to this Nightmare
09. Talk is Cheap
10. Said and Done
2008 Century Media Records
Having weathered numerous lineup changes and record label woes over the course of their career, New York's Sworn Enemy has slowly evolved from tough guy hardcore stalwarts into a full-on thrash band. With their third album Maniacal, the quintet's development continues in a manner that is a decidedly mixed bag, often trying to evoke the best of both worlds but generally falling just short of the mark.
The songwriting approach on Maniacal is compact and concise, making Sworn Enemy's take on thrash catchy and appealing upon initial listens, but the album lacks the raw violence necessary to leave any sort of lasting impression. While tracks like "Destroyer" and "Talk is Cheap" are tightly wound and pack a solid punch, they simply lack the palpable fury and menace that define the two genres Sworn Enemy hold so dear. The hardcore elements of Sworn Enemy's sound, while still present, have fallen even further by the wayside, often working to the band's disadvantage.
Possibly the most glaring problem with Maniacal is the quality of the guitar-work. The riffing as a whole seems completely uninspired, lacking any of the memorability so vital to great thrash. It seems like Sworn Enemy were satisfied to simply borrow from the Slayer playbook and throw in a recycled breakdown rather than attempting to come up with anything remotely original. Once again, the band lacks the unhinged qualities that made thrash metal and hardcore such revelations during their respective heydays.The rhythm section handles things ably and vocalist Sal LoCoco reigns in his high-pitched screeching, but the band as a whole sounds like they're on autopilot and the guitars, which should be leading the musical charge, are instead rather dull and unconvincing.
As I Lay Dying's Tim Lambesis once again handles the production duties and the squeaky clean sound he lends to Maniacal doesn't do Sworn Enemy any favors. Sure, all the instruments are discernable and the tone is razor-sharp, but this type of music begs for a little grit and grime, which just isn't present anywhere on the album. Lambesis' knob-twiddling skills might work for his own band, but they make Maniacal sound far too clinical for its own good.
Bottom Line: For better or worse, Sworn Enemy continues its metamorphosis on Maniacal, but one can't help but wish they'd retained a bit more of the scrappy NYHC sound that helped push them into the spotlight. Although they've somewhat improved upon the thrashy tendencies of The Beginning of the End, Lambesis' slick production continues to take much of the necessary bite out of the quintet's assault.