Saturday, June 27, 2015

Injury - Dominhate (2015)

Sometimes it's clever to conjoin a few words and create your own, and other times it's pretty dumb. Dominhate, the title of Injury's second full-length record, is a case of the latter, and for some reason this practice is more common in thrash metal than the other niches of the genre. I get it; it's a slight means by which the thrash bands of the now can attempt to escape the constraints set up before them by their looming, incalculably superior influences from the 80s, but it's the music which should really be attempting that prison break, and once you've nailed that, I think you can worry more about lyrics and titles and so forth. Now, beyond that, these Italians' sophomore is not exactly a 'brain dead' record, but rather a functional and somewhat forgettable fusion of Teutonic and West Coast influences into a cohesive whole that is greater than your average pizza-thrash throwback, but lacking in the distinctiveness it would take to really stand out among a swarm of such bands hailing from Western Civilization, who celebrate the past by reliving it rather than reinventing it.

All that said, Dominhate is not a bad record. These guys play with a little conviction, generally dwelling in that mid-paced headbanging range which might reflect a mixture of modern Exodus and Tankard, with the real roots of those bands' 80s legacies showing through like fading hair dye. The vocalist has a heavily accented inflection which to me seems like an Italian alternative to the mighty Gerre, some genuine vicious qualities that give it an immediate character along with that accent, and just the right amount of gang shouting or reverb to help keep it interesting as it howls across the rhythm guitars. Speaking of which, they're punchy and meaty and varied enough to maintain an interesting flow through the album, though they often break out into these pretty bland progressions that are only made interesting by the more surgical harmonies the duo applies at the end. This is yet another band where the rhythm section seems to do little more than its own job, and as such I really felt like the bass-lines and peppy drums rarely broke out beyond the riffs, which take center stage throughout the majority of the record whenever the front man isn't exuding his wildest lines. But that's alright, because the leads and rhythm structures keep it fairly rounded and interesting.

Lot of chuggy thrash here, but it's slightly more nimble and dextrous in the post-80s-Slayer vein rather than devolving into a more brute metalcore style. I've had mixed reactions to a lot of the modern thrash output from bands like Exodus and Onslaught, but I think this disc fits squarely into that sort of company, with modern analogs in an Evile or Warbringer, maybe a little less Metallica beyond just that beefy precision which was obviously influenced by Master of Puppets in most cases. But you certainly get a German flair here too...whether it be Tankard, or Vendetta's second album Brain Damage, or Destruction, or the latest Accuser disc which was surprisingly good; these guys fit in rather well with their European precursors and counterparts who are ultimately going to be the biggest audience for this particular release. I think the material is solid throughout, if not exceptional, and they might be most memorable when they're doing tunes with more effects in them like "Fashion Swine" or "Ride the Riot". Not an album I'm in love with, but it very clearly shows a level of effort well beyond the lazy pale of trend-jumping nostalgiacs, and those listeners invested heavily into the second tier thrash of the 80s and beyond will find themselves comfortable here; if that bill fits you, then at least give it a spin through.

Verdict: Indifference [6.75/10]

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Fadom - Pantophobia (2014)

First, a moment of silence for the fact that Pantophobia is not, in fact, the fear of wearing pants, but rather the fear of just about everything under the Sun. Fadom reflect this with their choice of rather cheesy photo rendered cover artwork, a man crushed by all the world around him, though I'd imagine we might not fare much better off ourselves if the city was alight after a bloc party with a bunch of arsonist phantoms. This is a Greek thrash act that we might consider among the second or third tiers of that prolific but unsung scene; not as known as Suicidal Angels or Exarsis, but managing to score a deal through the recently defunct Athens Thrash Attack imprint. The title of the band's earlier EP, Thrash Bandicoot did not hold out much hope that this would turn into a high tier modern thrash act with anything on its mind beyond being 'in' on that oh-so-funny joke, thrash metal!!! But in their defense, Pantophobia hardly comes across as any sort of self-aware mockery of the medium, more a solid if ultimately unremarkable paean to a lot of the lesser known American acts of the later 80s.

There's a little bit of clinical, cutting melody to the guitars which recalls records like Kreator's Terrible Certainty or Destruction's Cracked Brain, but I actually got a strong whiff of Arizona's criminally underrated Atrophy, what with the biting, snarled vocals (also a little Schmier there), the gang shouts, and some of that appropriately saturated rhythm guitar...especially in the title track, which is not bad at all. Another influence I picked out was the Megadeth of the 1990-92 era, specifically the little groovy rocking guitar fills executed at the end of progressions like those in the unfortunately titled "Thrasholution (Thrash is Solution)". The tracks offer a pretty fair variety of breakout speed/heavy metal licks, mid-paced neck strainers, safe but well structured leads and melodies that capture a lot of their inspirations without ever threatening to surpass or innovate upon them. I think the mild reverb and other vocal effects used here due a lot to apply just the right quota of once-future nastiness to the delivery, but at the same time the rhythm section on the album seems to do little more than click with the construction of the guitar, in other words...this is a record driven purely by the guitarists (one of whom does vocals), and everything else just sort of falls in line.

Pantophobia is unlikely to turn heads enough to matter, but as derivative as it might seem in spots, it clearly shows the band's proclivity to do a little research into the bands they were giving tribute. Not all the riffs blaze, but there were enough of them to spark a little fire of nostalgia for back when nearly every thrash album I was buying felt like some pioneering force among my metal collection; when bands were taking the formulae of Slayer, Possessed, Metallica, Anthrax and the Germans and then running with them. I could do without the shitty "Thrash...." song titles (one of which is sadly the titular cut of their previous EP), but it seems like a crop of these bands feel like they have to wear that as a badge or all the fucking poseurs in the audience won't recognize them for what they are. The down side is that the practice ends up painting its users in quite the same strokes. Which is clearly not necessary for Fadom, because they are a solid group with a lot of the right sounds and influences that has no need whatsoever to devolve into pizza party territory. "I get it, I get that you are playing thrash metal, or else I would not have checked you out to begin with." So, apart from a few annoying choices like that, Pantophobia is not bad at all...I banged my head a few times, remembered why I liked this music in the first place, why I continue to enjoy and defend it decades later, and that's how these things go.

Verdict: Win [7/10]

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Running Death - Overdrive (2015)

Unlike similarly named label mates Raging Death, the Germans Running Death have actually developed a slightly unique, punchy and compartmentalized modern thrash style which took me a little by surprise due to not only the compelling structure and variation found in many of their riffs themselves, but the clean, contemporary production through which they are all delivered. That's not to say that Overdrive has no precedent, that it's the most original approach to the medium I've experienced in modern times, or that it's the most memorable example of its class, but clearly some thought and organization went into this recording beyond just the typical 'we want to sound like band x plus band y that we found in our older brother's bedroom closet gathering dust back in 2005' derivation and aimlessness that so many of their peers suffer in the endless recycling pattern that has partly stunted this genre beyond its still standing luminaries and the few other pioneers left in its waters. Running Death might hang out just at the edge of the harbor, without going on a long cruise, but at least they're not beached whales, fattened so much off nostalgia that they can no longer sail or swim.

Some of the frilly licks and clinical harmonies assembled on the disc might contain small traces of DNA from Teutonic precursors like Mekong Delta, Destruction or even Deathrow, but I also found that this record had a lot in common with West Coast second tier thrashers of the 80s like Defiance, in particular that band's similarly clean and impactful sophomore Void Terra Firma. This is a little more forceful in execution, and the riffing slightly more varied, but the grainier, gut-fed vocals and several of the guitar progressions are cast of a similar mode, or perhaps to that of British hopefuls Xentrix on their own sophomore For Whose Advantage?, or a few lesser known German bands like Erosion or Accuser. Maybe Midas Touch's Presage of Disaster, only less bitter in disposition. But Running Death are arguably even more bizarre, for their proclivity to bust out into weird dissonant rock grooves in the middle of tunes like "Psycho". From the onset of any particular track on this album, there seemed very little precognition as to what exactly was going to happen throughout, and they tend to experiment a little more in the bridge sequences where they'll fly off the handle and experiment more with spurious tempo shifts, melodic harmonies and whatever their imaginations conjure forth. Not to say that it's always as unique as where that might lead them, but they do try.

The rhythm guitars have just the right amount of crunch to keep them tidy but not neutered, and the bass is often saturated in slightly more distorted ooze for a great contrast. The drums are perky but simplistic, the strength coming through primarily in the fills of the grooves. Vocals are probably the weakest component of the album, a little lower in the mix than might suit them, but capable of a more vicious metamorphosis in places like the chorus of "Raging Nightmare" where they reminded me slightly of a less carnal Jonas Nilsson from Raise Hell's triumphant Not Dead Yet. Yet, although so many of the components here really work well together, it's those guitars that constantly steal the show, whether they're galloping along like later Crumbsuckers' weird prog-thrash pacing or bursting into a Megadeth-like excess with leads and melodies, they are always resonating in my ears and lending themselves to one of the most credible and replayable albums I've heard yet from the entire Punishment 18 Records roster. Between the deft skill level and that sleek, cubicle thrash appeal that they muster, Overdrive is a winner, but I wouldn't mind hearing how they develop their style into something even more insane or sinister or muscular sounding in the future. Either way, this is a band I will continue to follow, because they capture that precious novelty I felt as a teenager in the 80s, exploring hundreds of paper route-purchased thrash cassettes through the genre's prime.

Verdict: Win [8.25/10]

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Raging Death - Raging Death (2015)

The cover of this album had me doing a double-take, not because of the obvious necrophilia laws being broken on it, or these guys are striving really hard to return to the 'source' of their style with one of the most generic monikers I've seen in years, but because within a small span of days, Punishment 18 has ALSO released the debut of a German band called Running Death. I bet those Italians over there are getting a real chuckle at this, but I fear the joke might be forever lost on us all if both albums turn out quite so mediocre as this one in particular. Reaping Death, Racing Death, Raping Death, Ripping Death Ricocheting Death, Rollerskating Death, I'm sure all of these must be in the pipeline somewhere. But surely I jest...right?

I'd hesitate to outright accuse this debut of being the sort of sidewalk-bound pizza thrash we hear so often, young bands recycling a handful of riffs from the 80s and then attempting to resurrect the old aural cues like flies from amber...and yet, that's kind of what this is. Raging Death is about velocity, pure and simple, a slightly more melodic brand of thrash than most of the harder West Coast stuff of the Golden Age, threaded with triplets and riffs that sound like a sort of heavily NWOBHM-soaked Destruction or Necronomicon. Progressions arrive at a fairly fast clip but are almost unanimously predictable in structure, often with harmonies that leave me with an aftertaste that seems like what Running Wild might have sounded like if they were more of a thrash act in the vein of Master of Puppets. The Polish band does not necessarily lack for energy like they do for compelling ideas, but the biggest issue I had was that the rhythm guitars seem to have this volume and bluster which outstrips or outpaces the snappier, thin drums, almost like meat so excessively steamed that it surely peels off the bone, and a number of tunes feel indistinguishable for others, which is obnoxious.

The accent of the vocals definitely recalls a lot of East European and Teutonic thrash of the 80s, somewhere between Destruction and Wolf Spider, with lots of elevated screams and at the end of phrasings, and this is perhaps one of the strengths, because though they could easily be written off as a sort of 'this is how thrash SOUNDED' caricature, they are at least pretty fun, whereas the picking parts, as hard as they might try, seem at best like mediocre plays on Mortal Sin's sophomore album or some other forgotten record that arrived humbly at the point that thrash had already reached its saturation point when it actually mattered the first time. The bass guitars don't pop out on this disc at all, and the riffs and tunes, while not always incompetent or uninspired, simply don't blend in with strong vocal lines or chorus hooks to produce anything more than a samey rush. If you are into any of the other bands that I listed here, or perhaps some of the first two Artillery records, or the debut by Vendetta, then this might satisfy a niche craving, but the mix, presentation and songwriting are just not at a level yet beyond the raw reproduction of an era and aesthetic. I've heard worse, surely, but also a lot better. And speaking of Shirley, traipsing around the graveyard buck naked might not be such a great idea after all.

Verdict: Indifference [5.5/10]

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Ancient Dome - Cosmic Gateway to Infinity (2014)

The danger in combining science fiction concepts with thrash metal is that it so rarely feels like the proposed amalgamation, but a little too weighted on the one or the other. A few modern bands like Vektor have managed to avoid that issue by writing technical and frenetic material which recounts many of the greats of the 80s, but the era of hearing a novel band like Voivod or D.B.C. seems buried forever more. It's not that I'm expecting a Killing Technology or anything when I come across one of these shots in the vacuum, but at least something unique that conveys the atmosphere of the future, or the unknown, experimenting with chords and song structures that mirror either the alien or technological implications of the subject matter. Cosmic Gateway to Infinity, the third full-length from Italian power/thrashers Ancient Dome, falls well shy of this goal, but at the very least this seems like an attempt at melodic, majestic riffing that isn't just pretending to be Exodus or Slayer from their prime, instead picking up tiny traces of slightly more obscure bands like the great Heathen, who played with a similar mix of styles.

Transitions are often a little abrupt and lack power here, but they've got a nice crunch on the rhythm guitars that serves as a concrete foundation for the melodic avenues they trend towards. I definitely felt a little Victims of Deception here, with a few nods towards the first, excellent Mordred album Fools Game, and a healthy heaping of late 80s Paradox (the German band), which is in itself a rarity. There's a power metal thrust to it all, which ideally might manifest in something like Artillery's brilliant By Inheritance, only the way the Italians build their rhythmic pairings is nowhere near as layered, complex and unforgettable. These guys seem to just dip their toes in the water of what a potent melodic power/thrash album might be, without committing fully, and the little lead fills and other transition bits often feel a little loose and jarring, unable to accumulate into the raw, inspirational power needed. That's not to say they suck, or put in little thought to what they're playing...this is head and shoulders above a lot of the mediocre pizza party thrash that for some reason seems to have carved out a new 21st niche of trendy plasticity, but where I would go into a tune like "Empire of Lies" or the semi-flashy instrumental "Nebuloid" with some degree of excitement, I always came away thinking that were was just a lot of wasted potential, inconsistent riffing...and, well, the vocals...

There are two styles of singing here, one of them a cleaner, accented voice which is is a little limp, if not unpracticed, and the other a more psychotic, meaty barking which sounds like Belgium's After All jacked up on steroids. One of them simply does not equal the other, and while the former does at least offer a little versatility and the ability for Ancient Dome to traipse further into Euro-anthemic territory, the latter feels just so much more appropriate when the riffing gets some punch. Neither is all that distinct though, and I can't help but feel that a more vicious approach would have done the music better, even at its more warm and friendly. Other factors, like acoustics and at least one lower pitched narrative voice seem forced and awkward, attempts to insert a little more variety and perhaps a science fiction narrative that simply do not impress. Drums sound good, and the bass lines are smooth if not adventurous, but what I'm listening to here is about 60% of an excellent album that badly needs some further development to succeed on a world stage. Frankly, there a ton of us closet freaks for Paradox, Scanner, Toxik, Realm, Mordred, and Heathen who would love for a band like this to take off, but despite an earnest attempt, colorful artwork, and a degree of imagination, Cosmic Gateway to Infinity is not going to be that diamond in the void; but it's not exactly space debris either. I don't hear a record like this every day, so there's at least that amount of appreciation.

Verdict: Indifference [6.25/10]

Monday, June 1, 2015

Nuclear Assault - Pounder EP (2015)

Had Pounder been released somewhere between 1985-87 as a filler EP between Nuclear Assault full-lengths, it might have made a little splash as eager thrash fans snapped it up off the shelves when this New York legend's iron was still pretty hot. As it stands, the material contained here, being produced so long after the band's prime, with intervening decades of nothing worthwhile happening whatsoever, no good records, seems insipid at best. That's not to knock it completely, because the four tunes here sound intrinsically like the Nukes you remember as a teen (or I remember as a teen), but it feels like too little too late and I were to randomly cast an audio dart at any track off the full-lengths, excluding the itty bitty goofy ones, I would wind up stabbing something much more memorable. Ten years after the most horrific and boring album of their thrashing careers, Third World Genocide, it just doesn't seem like enough.

The band has not moved forward in any meaningful way in terms of progressing its ideas to a modern context, nor is it writing nostalgia that eclipses or even matches the best songs of Survive, Handle With Care, and Game Over... I might say that they at least 'try', but the majority of riffs here just seem like they might have been scraped up off the cutting room floor 20-odd years ago. "Pounder" itself is your typical mid-to-fast paced rager like what the band would often kick off a record with in the past, and "Lies" is your analog for a classic headbanger like "Brainwashed". If I had to pick the best of the cuts, though, it would be the closer "Died in Your Arms", which is this swaggering, burly tune in which the buzz of Lilker's distorted bass lines owns up to the rhythm guitar chords, the leads seem bluesy, sporadic and atmospheric, and it really doesn't feel like much of what they've put out in the past. The mix of the entirely EP is appropriately dirty, definitely straddling the line between the first and second albums, and I kind of dig that...but by the same token, I wouldn't have minded a massive sounding modern Nuclear Assault that just wrote killer hooks that twisted my head off.

Connelly might seem a little aged in his inflection, but I think for the most part he continues to create  that frustrated, constipated anger that made him unique in the 80s. Otherwise, the band sounds pretty much business as usual, had that business been conducted back when it mattered. Again, I can't be too hard on the thing, because at least the tracks here aren't as miserable as the 2005 album, and they do feature a nice balance of tempos sort of like The Plague EP. But this is a band that used to make me want to arm myself with a spiked baseball bat and storm the streets, burning vehicles and beating up Cold War mutants, and there's just nothing kinetic or memorable enough here to invoke that same delinquency from my inner thrasher. The best this is, is 'non-bad', and I guess that's a start, but one that they'll have to capitalize on by reaching into themselves and pulling out that rage, those nights of dirty clubs and cigarettes, the political unrest their music used to address. Pounder tells me that it is a possibility, but doesn't justify its existence to me beyond that simple tease.

Verdict: Indifference [5.75/10]