Monday, January 3, 2011

Destruction - Sentence of Death EP (1984)

The 'other' major release in the budding Teutonic thrash movement of 1984, the Sentence of Death EP marked Destruction's first foray into the theater of war, and a rather stunning piece that would help define the future sounds of myriad thrash artists. Similar to Sodom, they were a three piece, with Schmier on vocals/bass, Mike on the guitar and Tommy Sandmann performing drums, and the EP is about the same length, with five songs and an intro. However, where Tom Angelripper and crew derived most heavily from some of the dirtier NWOBHM acts and a clear forceful punk influences, Schmier and company were far more comparable to the early sounds of bands like Metallica and Megadeth.

In other words, they seemed immensely competent right as they blasted out the opening gates, and despite its rather crude atmosphere, Sentence of Death is already tense with the band's trademark riffing. Spry, dynamic guitars dance across steady, driving beats, and the tone is just incredibly meaty throughout, with great lead skills cutting through the writhing rhythms. Easily one of the more inventive bands to come along at this period, they put most of their peers to shame with their ability, and Schmier's vocals were some of the most insipid and violent out there, a nasty rasp that focused his accent into a cutting knife. Not to mention, the iconic cover photo pretty much helped to define the entire 'look' of extreme metal (thrash, black, and death), with the solid leather and bullet belt get-ups, don't give a fuck attitude and between the three, more hair than the devil's genital region.

It doesn't hurt that two of the band's most famous tracks, and arguably two of the best thrash/speed tunes in all of metal history, are present here. "Total Desaster" bursts in straight after the intro, with its ripping saw guitars, vocal and counter vocals in which Schmier initiates us with his mid range serpent spits into disheveled carnivorous shrieking, but "Mad Butcher" easily takes the cake for its stupendously memorable guitar lines that were easily the equal of anything a Hetfield, King or Mustaine could write during this same period. In fact, after hearing "Mad Butcher", I'm sure many other emerging thrash acts were scared for their very existence, because it's pretty much intimidation 101. Playful, aggressive and razor sharp, it is the very definition of the classic, and one can only imagine how many guitarists through the years have sat mesmerized as they learned the riffs.

The remainder of the EP is also quite good, though perhaps not so ultimately memorable. The 'intro' features walls of guitar shred, while "Black Mass" seems like a faster speed answer to Metallica's "Seek and Destroy". "Satan's Vengeance" is anointed with Schmier's schizoid laughter, fun and frenzied guitar patterns and a bridge blitz not unlike "Mad Butcher", though the chorus here is more like a breakdown that reminds me of their later "Eternal Ban". The final track, "Devil's Soldiers", is the worst of the EP, but it's constant cymbal crashing and sporadic, cystic guitars at least remain consistent to the rest of the content, and there's a nice outbreak in the middle over which a quality solo is slathered. The knife might be a little duller than "Mad Butcher" or "Total Desaster", but force it hard enough to the skin and blood shall still be drawn.

Sentence of Death is a superb opening chapter for one of thrash's eldest statesmen, and it's all too easy to forgive their fucking off from about 1991-1999 with just a spin of its contents. All said, this is perhaps one of the best EPs ever released in all metal, instantly addictive and consuming, the sort of game changer that instantly must have had many new European bands of the 80s rethinking and reworking their own strategies. It's impact is clearly felt in a lot of German thrash and speed metal to follow, and as the band even considered themselves 'black speed metal' at the time, you can imagine it had an even wider appeal. Dark, invigorating, and proficient, it remains one of the best Destruction releases to date, surpassed only by their staggering 2001 surprise The Antichrist.

Verdict: Epic Win [9.25/10] (come taste blood, our living grease)

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