Sunday, July 25, 2010

Deathrow - Satan's Gift a.k.a. Riders of Doom (1986)

Satan's Gift is the debut of Germans Deathrow, and quite a far cry from the direction the band would later develop into. This is rough, rugged speed/thrash metal with heavily accented vocals of a mid range. None of the complexities of the band's magnum opus are present, although the band could still write a pretty mean riff that helps propel the material forward. You can definitely hear a US influence from early Metallica, Slayer, or Possessed, combined with the first few works of Destruction or Sodom, but despite all this, the band didn't really get a heap of attention. Fortunately, they were on Noise Records, benefiting from the best roster ever in 80s metal, so they developed a peripheral audience among fans of other acts like Tankard, Vendetta, Coroner, Voivod and the like.

Though the album was originally called Satan's Gift, it is also known as Riders of Doom, after being banned and re-released with a new title/cover artwork. Considering the times, this is not such a surprise for a few random metal albums to be targeted, especially when one has an image of the devil holding some bloody organ of the savior, the crucifixion in the background. Actually, this guy looks a little like Kreator's mascot in the 80s (another Noise Records band), and the cover kind of sucks, so I actually prefer Riders of Doom. This was not the first Deathrow record I was exposed to, that would be Raging Steel, but listening back I feel like the two are at the same level of composition and viral, raw power German energy. If you fancy one, chances are you should also dig the other, and ultimately I prefer this debut slightly.

"Winds of Death" is a 2:30 minute instrumental which sets up a moshing battery of slower rhythms, while chords stretch across their taut surface. This is just a tease, because the title track "Satan's Gift" then explodes at a far greater speed, and we hear Milo's dark, early vocals, which sound pretty sloppy but endearing, almost like a crossover/thrash voice. The riffs are dirty and frenzied, but they're not entirely hooky, nor is the chorus. Instead you've got a comparable style to a Vendetta, Tankard, Exodus or Razor of the times. Just good, friendly, violent fun. "Riders of Doom" continues this hyperactive blitz of manic speed/thrash, reminding me quite a lot of Hell Awaits-era Slayer, especially the way the chords change and the vocal patterns squirm, you feel like you're about to hear the words 'Homicidal Maniac' at any second. "Hell's Ascent" is a little more melodic at first, almost Running Wild style but then yet again transforms to burst attack mode. I love the solo sequences after 2:00.

Speaking of 'attacks', the next piece is titled "Spider Attack". That's one of the best song titles I've ever seen, and totally fit to the 80s innocence of this record. It also kicks ass, but by this point, the band playing at the same speed in every song (at least chunks of the songs) has become a little redundant. At least here the riffs are slightly cooler. "Slaughtered" sounds like a great hybrid of early Slayer and Destruction, but with increased levels of shredding madness, and "Violent Omen" has great guitar work also, though the slower, plodding thrash rhythms are less than desirable. "Dark Tales" opens with an elegant, clean brooding guitar passage and then once again, a blitz of welcome but predictable speed, interlaced with some intricate guitar spasms. The band really went all out here, probably one of the fastest records of its type, at least from Germany. The closer "Samhain" was the band's former namesake (they recorded several demos under that name), and no surprise its another fast as fuck volley of black arrows targeting the listeners' eardrums.

If you're a big fan of crazy ass, hyper 80s thrash like Dark Angel, Slayer, Razor, and so on, I think Satan's Gift would truly appeal to you. The composition is quite straightforward, though the band do contribute some killer hooks at times. I'll be honest, this is like crude oil that has yet to pass a refinery, but if you love that insane edge like Evil Invaders, Darkness Descends, Hell Awaits or Bonded by Blood, this is a grim, blood-dripping paradise. On one hand, it's the heaviest and fastest Deathrow record, but this is a band capable of so much more, especially in the vocal area (wait until you hear what Milo would sound like in but a few years). I don't love it or live it as often as many other records of its type, but a minor cult classic here if you are in dire need of speed.

Verdict: Win [7.75/10]
(they know that they have to die)

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