Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Holy Moses - Redefined Mayhem (2014)

When I'm 50 years old, I'd love to be able to shout my thrash vocals at an audience, or even just a wall in private, and be proud of what I hear emitted from a tongue and throat that have held and/or beheld countless concerts, conversations, and cruelties. Sabina Classen, who is hands down the most consistent and veteran thrash frontwoman in our entire fucking Solar System, has unlocked this achievement with no sign whatsoever of slowing down. For all I know she'll be doing this when she's 100, and I will be listening from these headphones, or BEYOND. Redefined Mayhem is not exactly the sort of outing that returns her vehicle, Holy Moses to near masterpiece status like Finished with the Dogs, my past and present fave of her entire catalog, but it's vintage Teuton-meets-Bay Area thrash with a handful of modern flourishes that are far from annoying.

She continues to surround herself with people who just 'get it', and there's a particular atmosphere to the songwriting here which feels uniquely uplifting without sacrificing the full-on aggression. You can hear it in the slightly more melodic texture of the chords, which almost feel like a collision of late 80s Forbidden with the more urban-sounding melodic death metal acts out of Scandinavia. A lot of little lead sequences and fills seek to accent out the hammering rhythm guitars with some hints of technicality, and while these can sometimes become annoyingly methodic when they feel like they don't belong, the specific sequences of songs set out for such playing definitely work wonders. Riffs are really concise feeling, but almost always pure 'thrash', with only a modicum of influence from pesky 90s groove metal or other trends that once infiltrated Holy Moses when they suffered a bit of that identity crisis that so many of their peers did post-80s. In spots, a bit of that mundane modernity which occupies recent efforts from bands like Exodus and Onslaught does drag the experience down a little, and in others there seems to be this 'master-becomes-the-student' vibe redolent of Cripper, but in general this was solid stuff that mirrors Kreator's latest in how it doesn't dwell too strongly on the past...

Of course, whether or not you will accept this sound coincides with whether or not you just want all thrash to sound like Darkness Descends, Reign in Blood and Ride the Lightning. Redefined Mayhem is true to its title in that it more closely resembles the great 30th Anniversary: In the Power of Now collection they put out a couple years back, than just the first handful of seminal full-lengths. One of the rare cases where a re-recording package takes a bunch of average material and kicked a little life into it, I really enjoyed that and am not at all disappointed in hearing this as the 'two' punch in that combination. The drums are quite clean, the guitars punchy but polished, the bass lines and Sabina's voice are the only anchors here that moor the music into the cracked concrete and violent Cold War diatribes of the band's first decade of dirty existence. Many of the riffing structures could also be traced back to the 80s, but they've got a more clinical sensibility, a marginally jazzed up resonance to them which creates thrash that might as well just be performed in a corporate boardroom or lounge party as a ratty, dingy basement or club. Even a bit of "YYZ" like Rush riffing ("Sacred Sorrows"). Think the last Heathen album, or the last few Paradox outings, and you're in the right ballpark, though musically I think this is somewhat less explosive.

The main attraction is always Sabina's voice, and as I hinted above, she is still packing a lot of that rage and genuine rasp which I couldn't mistake for anyone else. To an extent, she hangs on a lot to the death growl tone that dominated her later 90s/00s material, but she brings back the clenched anger of classics like Finished with the Dogs when it seems fit, and she even experiments with a slightly higher pitched scream which reminds me of  Schmier's varied abilities in the band Headhunter. It isn't quite so powerful, but it exhibits that Classen has never been opposed to taking risks, and when they stick, as they do here, it only enhances her performance in a tune like "Fading Realities". The only thing which really lacked for me is how the album lacks the total killer songwriting ability they showcased in their prime. This is a solid and steady 45 minutes of content which doesn't feature a lot of particular highlights, but also doesn't often come off weak or offensive. Though I'd define it as the most 'progressive' of Holy Moses' albums, in truth there were records by other bands 30 years ago which better deserved that descriptor.

Not my thrash album of the year by any stretch, not even my favorite German thrash album of this month (more on that soon)...I'm simply impressed that Sabina and crew are doing what they want and not just writing an album full of "Current of Deaths". Yeah, we'd all love that, but even if Redefined Mayhem is evolved from 2008's Agony of Death by a slim margin of gradation, it still seems like a band trying to make thrash 'now' and not 'now' into 'the 80s'. Many will have mixed feelings on this, since the subgenre suffers the biggest division between grumpy old men and youngsters (note that I am not excluding myself from the former category), but I can take it either way, as long as it seems genuine. Holy Moses are rarely 'incendiary' on this album; even the vocals seem measured and not always off their hinges, but I found it was just a consistent disc that took me somewhere I was not. Perhaps not a surprise, since I felt about as strongly about most of their 21st century output (Disorder of the Order, Agony of Death, etc), but I'm never dissatisfied that German thrash continues beyond the 'Big Four'. Redefined Mayhem might not suit the tastes of those who want their headbanging more wild in essence, or not released after 1987, but I have to hand it to this band: they try.

Verdict: Win [7.25/10]


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