Ulysses Siren was part of the Bay Area thrash genesis of the early 80s, and for a while seemed primed to explode alongside many of their brethren. They played with all the right bands at all the right clubs, and released the cult classic demo Terrorist Attack in 1985. For whatever reason, though, major label glory never beckoned; the band faded away, but the mark they left on their scene would remain, as would the spirt of metal in the hearts of those involved.
They resurfaced in 2002 when Relentless Records decided to take their ’85 and ’87 demos and package them for the first time on CD as Above the Ashes. Live hometown performances followed, and their legend would add another chapter with appearances on the coveted European festival circuit. Still, it would be a number of years before any new material would see the light of day; a decade’s-worth, to be precise. This 2012 demo found the band encountering the same obstacles they did back then, despite the resurgence of Bay Area thrash and the new wave of old school thrash metal as a whole. But they didn’t seem particularly concerned. There comes a point where metal is played by musicians who do it simply for the love of metal.
Sadly, a year later, guitarist/vocalist/leader Jon Torres would pass away due to heart failure. It is in his memory that the surviving members have partnered with Bay Area-based Malevolence Records to release Justifiable Homicide, a six song EP that combines three of the four tracks from the aforementioned 2012 demo with three live tracks recorded in 2006. It is said that you should always go out on a high note, and since it is hard to imagine the band carrying on without Torres, it’s a good thing that these notes are pretty damn high.
Despite the passing of 30 years of time, and the musical and personal growth that accompanied it, the Ulysses Siren of today sounds almost exactly like that of yesterday. This is unmistakably Bay Area thrash played the way it was meant to be played by guys who helped originate it. The title track is a thundering barrage of precision riffs that aim to do exactly what the title suggests. Likewise, the spastic rhythmic changes of “Bludgeoned Mass” will leave you as such. If you’re noticing a pattern, then you won’t be surprised that “Lethal Inception” is the most lethal of the new tracks, combining more of those thrashable riffs with a chorus that couldn’t be better suited for fist-raising crowd participation.
As for the live tracks, the recording quality is pretty poor by today’s standards, but the overall sound gives off a vibe that not only harkens back to what their live performances were like back in the day, but also reinforces the fact that the band wasn’t deviating from the formula during their mid-aughts resurgence; still raw, yet razor sharp. The standout among these is their shredding cover of Destruction’s “The Ritual,” if for no other reason than this may be the only way you’ll ever hear them do this song again. Of course, the same could be said for “Leviathan/Above the Ashes” and “The Reich,” but we’ll always have the studio versions from Above the Ashes.
Ultimately, Justifiable Homicide serves as a fitting tribute to frontman Jon Torres, a man whose passion for music was eclipsed only by his passion of life, family, and friends. The legend of Ulysses Siren may be lost amidst those of their peers in the minds of the metal mainstream, but for those who were there, and the worldwide underground that embraced them, their legend will live on forever as one of the last true Bay Area thrash bands.