Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deathrow - Deception Ignored (1989)

Deception Ignored is one of the most anomalous recordings in all of European thrash, because it's both one of the most brilliant and under-appreciated efforts of its nature, a feat of technical thrashing wizardry which takes a massive influence of classical composition, and incessant complexity and unending stream of killer, structured riffs that have rarely if ever been rivaled since. Surely they were not the only band of their type in this period: Watchtower, Coroner and Mekong Delta all exhibited a similar level of competence and originality (the latter, fellow German band being the closest in style). But of all of these titans, counting among my favorite bands, it is Deathrow who stood out the most for their frightening, clinical approach to the material which places the listener into a labyrinthine vortex of riffs, sounds and least on this album.

Yes, Deception Ignored is a major step-up from the bands previous work, Satan's Gift and Raging Steel, which were fun, aggressive excursions of a more rugged speed/thrash nature. It was as if an alien, advanced culture landed among a tribe of primitives and spread the seeds of technical renaissance, because this album is heads above anything else the band have released in quality and songwriting. I've heard some complaints about the production, and sure, for the 21st century it might not be the top tier of studio sound, but the guitar tones still some brilliant and the vocals shrill, exciting and unique as they scream and cavort through clinical topics of drug use, society, and politics. It's amazing just how much the cover art to this record stands out as an icon of schizoid, demented thrash aerobics, because you can easily close your eyes when listening and imagine a room full of pale, laughing faces, almost alien as they surgically separate each emotion and tactile response from your brain and nervous system, a dissection of every fabric of your being. This album is a true trip to the psyche ward, or the asylum, a harrowing journey which will stun you repeatedly. I've been listening to it for over 20 years, and I still discover new bits of wondrous, paranoid melodic riffing and atmosphere all the time.

Part of the reason this record stands separate from the previous work is the addition of guitarist Uwe Osterlehner in the second guitar slot, replacing Thomas Priebe. Together with the veteran Sven Flügge, they create an impressive wealth of textural, woven riffs that catapult the album into any tech thrasher's dreamwork. The riffs occasionally remind me of Metallica's opus Master of Puppets, but drawn into a more frenetic cyclone of inspiration. I quickly lose myself here without fail, on every spin, because of their twisted psychosis, like trying to escape a straight jacket while studying a piece by Escher simultaneously. Combined with Milo's adaptation to a more nasal, whined vocal tone that he used on the band's prior records, his popping bass narrative and the solid, rigorous storm of Markus Hahn's drumming, this is one team of cosmonauts that should have been hailed the Ludwig Mozart of thrash. It's really that good, believe me.

I could write a textbook on almost any track on the album, but I'll try and spare you from the torture and myself from the inevitable fallout. "Events in Concealment" swells to the fore with a complex introduction to the band's lattice of unsound mental exercise, thick banks of twisted chords that erupt into an epic thrash gallop around :35 into the song. Any Metallica fan would be banging his head by this point, but there is so much more to come, including little whirs of melodic gloss amidst the thundering bottom end, grooving drums and Milo's slicing tone. Even the title of this song is fucking excellent, and when the band explodes into the playful little melodies around 1:30 your shorts will be wet with the thick, viscous discharge of conception. The storm alleviates only to be rejoined by the epic, glistening melodies that arise to announce "The Deathwish", with some of the most beautiful, complex riffing I've ever heard in all of this genre and beyond. Bursts of mesmerizing rhythm collapse into scaling, descending patterns of chaos that feel like a surgery gone wrong.

"Triocton" shows another face to this band, that is the ability to compose amazing piano segments. The intro is but a moment long, but incorporates several seasonal shifts in key striking that morphs beautifully into an organ tone before the gallivanting, schizophrenic thrash begins, a barrage of exciting, jump out of your skin guitar riffs that fully fills out the 8+ minute bodice. It's like a virtual, instrumental ballet of aggression, with more quality guitar elements than appear on most entire metal albums! Not once do you feel a lack of vocals, despite the length of the composition, and that's a top honor. Not many bands could pull such a vision off. "N.L.Y.H.", which is short for "Never Lose Your Humor" (a motto I have lived by ever since losing my nuts over this record when it came out in early '98), grounds the record back to the earthly parameters, a shorter, 3 minute assault of thick, choppy thrash, but just as busy in its writing as most of the more ambitious sequences. It flows wonderfully into the tearing, frightening melodies that rip "Watching the World" open wide, a cautionary work of machine-like precision thrash with all the sentimentality of a satellite eye, focused and ready to kill. For fuck's sake, the riffing behind the vocal verse is just unbelievable. Too few bands put this work into their actual guitars, and it provides an eerie immortality to the record as a whole. The chorus is one of the more memorable of the band:

We are so clever and arrogant
It's in our hands to change everything
Who's watching the world?

That is all that needs to be said, my friends. The solo in this one is like a charging German war symphony over a surge of artillery fire, and after this, one of the most ambitious and fine tuned performances in the entire genre of music: "Narcotic". The flange over the intro riffing, after which a sequence of thundering muted melody bridges us to a bass sequence, and then the mockery of the verse rhythms, which play with your mind like a cadre of demented clowns with syringes full of every drug and ill humour in all of existence. Have you ever had a bad trip? This is the thrash version of that. The vocals are off the hook here, Milo opting for a mix of his mid range and higher, phantasmal tones that are brilliant alongside the punch of the strings. Of all the songs on the album, this is the most considerable at over 9 minutes, and the most involved. Fans of modern tech thrash like Vektor should absolutely start here, because Deathrow was doing it decades ago. Other points of light include the guitar rupture around 3:00, and the elevating desperation around 6:40. It's as if Deathrow plotted out an entire substance abuse nightmare with which to string along the listener.

Encircled and trapped by ourselves
We're enslaved to mass productions
Self-deception from a better life
Our behaviour brings corruption
We buy a pig in a poke
And we drown ourselves in the garbage

"Machinery" manifests through some lite, jazzy guitars that exhibit even more of these players' strengths, and then a jackhammering bass line explodes into an industrial-strength flower of mind fucking fervor, another testament to 100% riffing dominance, and some superb vocal melodies, woven in and out of the track's bleak, futurist lyric landscape. The chorus where Milo screams 'We're just wheels, in a great machinery' will NEVER cease to reverberate up and down this listener's spine, and the haunting array of mathematical, punchy rhythms deep in the track are just as thoughtful as anything else on this album. The CD and cassette include an added, worthy beast in "Bureaucrazy", with yet another blitz of solid, turbine guitar work that waltzes through playful solos as if they were playing violins from the devil's symphony pit. I am glad the label popped this one on there, because it truly rounds out the experience with a shorter length and some serious, serious fun.

Deception Ignored is a testament to human achievement in extreme music, but unfortunately the multitudes were so uninspired and uninterested in anything with this level of ambition. What truly stuns me is that I've read the band themselves consider this their worst album, preferring the more honest and pedestrian pounding of the first two. Guess what, Deathrow: you are wrong. Wrong I say! It's a pity you never realized exactly what you had with this! Now, I can see how this would fly are over the layman listener's head, but to those out there that can appreciate its captivating maze of rhythm and fruitful, important lyricisms that all stand just as relevant today as decades past: you are goddamn lucky men and women. This is brain-thrash, mesmerizing and easily could be used to replace mind altering drugs of any stripe or flavor. The production is not so dry and clinical if you listen with good headphones or stereo, for the bassy chugging of the mutes helps give it a broad spectrum of fingers to reach into your body cavities and extract vitality.

It's quite clear that autothrall is a fanboy of this particular album, and in fact it is my favorite single German thrash album in all history, exceeding my favorite works by Tankard, Kreator, Sodom or Destruction with ease. But then, this is the very sort of media for which a diehard worshiper should exist! Surely, those bands have all got some perfect records that I will forever hold dear, but this just goes high and above the top for its day and age. Mekong Delta was crude by comparison, and even Watchtower's Control and Resistance, as much as I love it, is just not as consistently perfect. It was a sad day for me when these Germans released the follow-up, Life Beyond, which only exhibited a fraction of the brilliance on parade here, and thus I was quick to rationalize this as an anomaly, a cosmic event, a singularity in demented execution that I was just never going to hear again in my life. This is as 'desert island' as they get, and I hope I never have to live without it.

Verdict: Epic Win-jection [10/10]
(the aim we should all reach for)

No comments: