Poseurs and come-latelies always seem to be fawn over the latest Bay Area doppelgangers who shit themselves down the thrash pipe, but in truth there are a number of bands who have been absorbed in the retro-death/thrash or black/thrash movement for a decade or more, receiving little to no fanfare despite their chronological edge to the spurting cysts of younglings to take on the genre. Michigan's Nocturnal Fear is one such 21st centurion, predating the 'cool' kids by several years, with a punishing array of brutal thrash and death influences not the least of which include Destruction, Kreator, Sodom, and other German heavy weights, with a fare share of Slayer's methodical, intricate evil.
Clinical and angered riffing erupts without warning, and you can immediately discern the dichotomy between these bastards and their trendy teenage competition. Clearly there has been effort cast into the fiery molds of "Absolution Annihilation", "Murder for Hire" or "Excessive Cruelty" itself. I never got the impression that Nocturnal Fear were just re-arranging the riffs they heard on Bonded by Blood or Pleasure to Kill, but actually trying to forge destruction at a higher level of artistry, even if they're not entirely absolved of derivation. These are warlike and incessant compositions, never relenting unless they have a damned opportunity to shuffle in a bit of ominous atmosphere, like the tolling out of the bells deep in "Frozen Stone", or the winding and tearing lead nestled into "Rolling Thunder". The vocals remind me quite a lot of Toxiene from Witchery, at least on the Swedish band's first two, great records, only 'Devastator' is more pronounced and bloodied in the nose of the mix.
Now, I'm not going to claim that Nocturnal Fear are the next big thing, or that they've deigned to set foot outside the box, but Excessive Cruelty feels like an honest stab at bringing the genre back where it belongs, to the tense riffing at its core. We're not dealing with writing on the level of the band's distinct, 80s influences, but an admirable enough, repeated beating to the face. I could compare them to Ohio's Soulless, since the two bands share the same focus for meaty riffing structures, but these guys are obviously a lot more adapted to the battleground theme. Of the several albums I've heard (this being the 5th), I found this to be the most appealing. The mix is clear and muscled without excess polish, the musicians determined and competent. This is an album that will bruise you, perhaps break a few minor bones, even if it isn't likely to resonate for more permanent damage.
Verdict: Win [7/10]