Considering that No Return have had a career spanning over 20 years and 8 full length albums, I figured that the fact that I had not heard of them up until the point that this landed on my desk would speak volumes. From their inauspicious beginnings as Evil Power in the late 80’s, a swift name change and a couple of (critically) well received albums later, and the future looked very bright for No Return. From here on however, things clearly stalled as the last decade saw their material viewed with increasing apathy. After having a bit of a listen through some of the back catalogue, it’s clear to me where things went a bit wrong, and indeed how we have ended up here with their latest release ‘Inner Madness’.
From their humble beginnings, No Return were all about aggression, and they had a very good handle on the death/thrash sound, however as time progressed and styles and tastes evolve, so they gravitated towards the Gothenburg sound; a style with many practitioners but very few masters. So aligning themselves with a style in which it is very difficult to stand out from the crowd, No Return have found themselves gamely plugging away and absolutely fair play to them for their persistence. ‘Inner Madness’ continues the Gothenburg theme with admirably played if rather predictable riffing allied with a super-efficient and driving rhythm section; however there has been one significant change in the line-up on this occasion, and I’m afraid it’s not for the better. No Return have had more than their fair share of singers in the past, but latest vocalist L Chuck D clearly seems to be the worst of the bunch. Whilst he may cut an imposing figure, his voice resonates from the shoutier end of the scale and therefore lacks the power of previous vocalists, in particular Steve ‘Zuul’ Petit, who went on to form Zuul FX after leaving No Return.
Vocals aside, there are some really nice moments on here, with the lead guitar in particular cutting some really sweet solos, whist as a combined force the twin guitar attack provides some suitably forceful riffery that on occasion provides a welcome throwback to the thrash sound of the late 80’s and early 90s, and the instrumental ‘Morganne’s Song’ is a guitar virtuoso piece with a very Steve Vai feel about it, although it gets far heavier than Vai ever did. There are a few standout tracks, predominately the title track and ‘Inquisitive Hegemony’, however the rest of the album is very much by the numbers Gothenburg metal with little to separate one track from another.
‘Inner Madness’ is a very frustrating album on many levels. Firstly, the quality of the musicianship is unquestionably of a very high standard, yet it is only given the briefest of opportunities to really shine, so hearing clearly excellent musicians coast by without using the full talent at their disposal seems like a total waste. It’s also frustrating because having heard what No Return sounded like earlier in their career; it really soured the taste of this album. No Return circa 2001 on ‘Self Mutilation’ was the sound of a band firing on all cylinders. Since then, it’s clearly been fitted with a smaller, more economical, reconditioned engine that really is not big enough for the vehicle intended. Whilst ‘Inner Madness’ is by no means the worst example of the genre, it is very far short of the best. This is about as middle of the road as it gets. With the talent at their disposal, this could and should have been much better.
(6/10 – Lee Kimber)