If you ever doubted that heavy metal music is a force to reckon with (I pity the fool!) just consider how it’s doing against one of the worst global pandemics in human history. It is THRIVING in it, despite bands unable to tour. Metal artists have had little to do but to write music, really focus on it so as to write really good music. Bands like Asphyx, This Ending or Helloween have released some of the best albums in their career while others are working on it. In the environment capable of breaking human spirit, with death coming any moment, to borrow from Paradise Lost’s "True Belief", bands are getting stronger and better, bands like Flotsam And Jetsam and their new fantastic album "Blood In The Water", released earlier this month. It’s not even a silver lining to the human enemy which has taken close to 600,000 lives in the United States alone but, again, to the power of heavy metal music. What other kind of music thrives in adversity?

The Arizonian thrash/speed metal juggernaut Flotsam And Jetsam (FAJ) is a band which needs no introduction, a band with a curious history (starting as far back as 1984) because, like Testament or Death Angel they have never been given proper recognition as compared with the Big Four (Anthrax, Megadeth, Metallica, Slayer) despite making great, comperatively equally engaging music, but also having a period of mistaken identity around the experimental "Drift" (1997) album. I may not be too intimately familiar with their past but I did listen to every album before composing the review for the 2019 "End Of Chaos" (5/6). While I expected them to continue on that quality, the quality they have already shown on the self-titled (2016) I neither expected this follow-up to be this good nor for it to come out this soon, considering the global situation. Although the minute I heard the first notes of the opening title track, which reminded me of Katatonia’s "Leaders" opening "The Great Cold Distance" (2006) I knew instinctively I was in for a treat. As perfect and catchy the opener is as that other subject of this review, I gleefully acknowledged the double-chorused video single "Burn The Sky" with its poignant "who are you to decide who lives, who burns, and who dies/You’re not the one to be so bold/making decisions only God should hold" to be even better, structually similar to Megadeth’s "Addicted To Chaos" but a lot faster and more ferocious. The awesomeness continues with the Iron Maidenic and Judas Priestly "A Place To Die" and "The Walls" which, again, brings Megadeth to mind, while that middle riff in the latter is pure "Washington Is Next!".

FAJ are masters at nuancing the hook, sometimes making it less obvious and revealed with subsequent listens, such as in "Wicked Hour" where huge chorus reminds me of Anthrax’s "Inside Out", or also Anthraxian "Volume 8: The Threat Is Real!" chorus in "Reaggression", other times more pronounced as in the closer "Seven Seconds ’til The End Of the World" or "Undone" with the technical chorus reminiscent of Cannae. As if that was not enough and with clear nods to well-structured and varied 90s albums like Megadeth’s "Countdown To Extinction" or Anthrax’s "Sound Of A White Noise", there’s even a ballad, "Cry For The Dead" Flotsam taking this from Pantera that from Nevermore, a Queensryche chorus here an excellent solo a’la Alexander Nathan Skolnick there to round it all up. Through it all, vocalist Eric "A.K." Knutson, guitarists Michael Gilbert and Steve Conley, drummer Ken Mary and the new bassist William Bodily scream, shout, tear, slice and dice like it’s 1991 and "Blood In The Water" something recorded between Megadeth’s "Rust In Piece" and "Countdown To Extinction".

There are precisely two flaws on this album, namely two songs which could have been better and, even then, this is going to be the shortest paragraph of this review. "Brace For Impact" is an excellent thrasher with a surprising melodic twist but the main riff is too earily similar to War Of Ages’ "Scars Of Tomorrow" while the almost certainly Covid-19 aftermath-themed (what with "151 thousand people die everyday
350k is born everyday" lyrics) "Too Many Lives" is shockingly non-melodic and easily the least engaging track on the album for me. However, those are just 2 out of 12 tracks which cost 0.3 points, making it a 5.7 score easily, which is necessarily adjusted for our rating system to be just 5.5/6.

I started with this ode to heavy metal because "Blood In The Water" (while still almost perfect) simply blows out of the water (no pun intended) everything else released so far this year. When I’m looking forward to new Megadeth, Anthrax or Testament records this is what I expect, this is what I’m hoping for, an album with almost nothing but heavy metal "hits", songs with extremely memorable choruses, riffs and fantastic solos. If anyone asked me why I love metal I’d simply point them to "Blood In The Water". It has dethroned the new Fear Factory for the album of the year and I sincerely doubt anyone will be able to top this until Carcass in September.