At War's opening volley of mortar fire went noisily into the night, but went it did, and was very quickly dismissed by the majority of the 80s thrash fanbase, if they ever even had the chance to hear it. The sounds were raw and the hearts were in the right place, but the music was severely lacking. So the three generals met in closed tents and rehearsal spaces, regrouped and returned two years later, still with the promising New Renaissance Records, for their Retaliatory Strike, a more significant effort in all departments. In fact, though the band has recently reformed and put out a new album (Infidel), it is this sophomore which remains the peak of their career, waiting to be toppled like some obscure South American dictator beneath the fire of commandos and mercenaries.
The band still maintains that aura of a dumbed down Slayer ala 1983-1985, but the riffs are fucking lethal here, and the vocal reverb reminds me a great deal of early Voivod, though he's got a much deeper voice. After a brief intro, "Conscientious Object" arrives like a mix of Sacred Reich, Slayer and D.R.I. riffing with a powerful lead segment and bridge. This track alone is better than anything the band offered on the debut, and instantly one gets the impression the band will be playing for keeps with the listener's memory here. This is enforced with the choppy, more technical riffing of "Creed of the Sniper", which seems to excel to the point at which it becomes comparable with Bay Area and German thrash velocity of its day. "Covert Sins" is pretty vile thrash/speed metal with a great use of dual thrash and demonic pitched vocals, riffs splashing across the battlefield like the afterbirth of bullet wounds.
"Crush Your Life" highlights an excellent verse riff akin to something Vio-lence or Exodus might have written, but laden in At War's meaty, raw tone which feels almost live, and "Gutless Sympathizer" continues to exude barbaric force, with a great little chorus shift where the bass goes up an octave and the vocals follow: You're the gutless sympathizer! Stand on both sides even wiser! I really liked this one. "Church and State" thrives off a dirty, spatter rock rhythm like a war metal Motley Crue before the chugging of the verse erupts. Not the greatest track here, but the chorus is cool. The vocals in "Felon's Guilt" are extremely entertaining, even if he just repeats the same bustling pattern in each verse, and the guitar riff at the breakdown is also quite kickass. The brief "Thinkin' " develops into some of the faster picking on the album, but it's under a minute in length, and lastly "The Example" is a blur of competent riffing with some Megadeth like speed grooves wound through it, but the vocals suck and it's not one of the better tracks.
I've always gotten the nagging impression that had At War survived to release a third album in around 1989-1990, they might have had a minor cult hit on their hands, but Retaliatory Strike, despite its general quality, would go almost as unnoticed as its elder sibling. The band's no horseshit, dirty production might have turned off some where by 1988 were expecting every album to sound like State of Euphoria or ...And Justice for All, but really it was more of a lack in marketing, which would put the entire label under. People worked on a rather limited budget for music in those days, and even though some diehards like myself might have bought up every thrash album they could afford on paper route money or leftover beer funds, there was no easy means like the interwebz for the majority to even become aware of the Virginians.
Thus, like about 90% of the thrash bands to arrive at the mid to end of that decade, At War would sink rather than swim through the trenches. It's a shame, because this is a good, if not essential album which oozed bullets and promise. One complaint I must register is that the CD cover on the re-release is fucking horrible. Camouflage and a band logo? Boring as all shit when compared to the original with the helicopters. Regardless, Retaliatory Strike might be well worth checking out if you like the more aggressive, brute thrash bands from Arizona or Texas like Sacred Reich, Exhorder, Rigor Mortis and Gammacide, or old Slayer and Hallows Eve.
Verdict: Win [7.75/10] (One shot! One kill! One way!)