Into the Pit – Thrashin’ Through 2018

Look, I know my column is filled with super subjective opinions. I write for a music blog, I get to do this. I can troll the comment threads as good as any of them! I just choose to use my skills for the power of good. And we’re talking internet good, so being snarky and borderline mean-spirited for the sake of a really cheap laugh I don’t deserve.

While I mostly write opinion pieces to make you people get some thrash learnin’, I keep up with what’s going on out there. I do the Bandcamp deep dives for the good stuff, and try to see what’s going on in the world of thrash metal. I may not get to do what other writers do with their monthly columns, but that doesn’t mean there’s not a steady stream of thrash metal coming out everyday. The releases are just slightly rarer.

So in that vein, let’s talk about trends of the year and records. I think there are some notes to be made about thrash in 2018. Is it making a comeback? By the Flying Spaghetti Monster, I hope so. We’ve had sometime since the last boom for a solid regrouping of the groups. Keep your fingers crossed for 2019!

However, on a personal note, I’m so super stoked I’ve gotten to write about this stuff. Ever since I got into Metallica oh those many years ago, my love for this genre has only strengthened. As a result of writing for Heavy Blog, I’ve gotten to pop the hood of the metal scene and see what’s going on where most folks aren’t looking. Thrash might not be the center of attention yet but it’s definitely coming back. One of these years, death metal has to be second place to somebody! Keep your fingers crossed we can make it feel the 80s sting once again.

Finally, let me thank all of you for reading my words this year. It has been such a blast to rewind the metal years and look back on some classic bands and tracks. It’s been equally great to go off script a bit and pontificate a little. I’ve got some good stuff planned for next year, so I hope y’all can put up with my jerky attitude for a little bit longer.

Let’s recap:

Euro Thrash Never Dies!

Newer thrash metal comes in several varieties, but the strongest vein seems to be the more melodic sounding Euro thrash. Many of them play with familiar themes you hear over thrash metal like melodic riffs over more chaotic drums creating a unique duality of rhythms. The death fans love it since they can hum the riffs better than a lot of thrash riffs. Thrash fans love it more since it falls into a kind of uncanny valley where it all sounds very thrashy but something is just a little different. Vocals seem to come in both the singing variety and the shout style, but it’s all a lot of fun.

2 particular bands come to mind. First is Defiatory. Easily one of the best thrash releases of the year, the band frequently discusses war and all manner of human indecency, and they wrap it all up in music designed to elicit a response of pure anger. In other words, it’s a damn fine thrash record. And while they do tend to write the longer style of thrash songs, Defiatory isn’t opposed to the super fast-paced hardcore-punk style song. Hades Rising is a great record from a band taking on the darker side of thrash metal.

The other band is Traitor. The great part about thrash metal is that it often really owns up to its own image, and Traitor does it better than anyone. Their latest record title, Knee Deep in the Dead, is a reference to the original greatest first person shooter DOOM, and the rest of the record reflects that theme. Duke Nukem, Predator, Aliens and the like are the most classic references on here, and the music shows off those influences. It’s so on the nose that it just works. Sometimes you can have those kinds of bands who don’t recognize how they’re playing to type, but that’s not a problem here. Traitor owns it and it’s great.

The prognosis: it’s definitely the melodic thrash of 80s Britain and Germany, but recent musicians have updated the sound. The future looks bright for melodic thrash, and therefore thrash in general looks good going forward. Let’s get on it, 2019. Bring us the good stuff.

Much Like Chicken, Thrash Tastes Great Blackened

I love the wave of blackened thrash we’re getting now. If two subgenres belonged together, it would be black and thrash. In some ways, black metal is the progeny of thrash. It definitely influenced the raucous sound black metal bands create albeit without the menacing atmosphere many black bands create. It was the biggest thing around when black metal really exploded. Does one necessarily make the other? Maybe, maybe not, but there’s no denying that there is a lot of co-mingling. And it scratches that itch for a lot of metal fans looking for thrash but more so.

One of those on the front is Black Fast. St. Louis’s own are on the American frontlines, making thrash sound evil and menacing to scare off the non-believers. Spectre of Ruin is an excellent example of the overall sound these bands try to create. You could certainly describe their sound as aggressive but there’s a very subtle twinge to their aggression. It’s almost like they’re sounding off a warning. Imagine watching a slasher movie with someone exclaiming, “Don’t open the closet door!” But instead of sounding alarmed, they’re angry. That’s Black Fast and a lot of blackened thrash. Black Fast puts that fun bombast of punk music into black metal and creates a wonderful sound that’s on the rise.

While Black Fast may lean more into the thrash side of black thrash, other bands lean heavily onto the black side of the mini-genre. Deathhammer is one of those bands. Hailing from the totally not coincidental country of Norway, this duo makes incredibly blackened thrash. It has the raucous sound of thrash metal, but it also digs into their black metal roots. You hear it in the lo-fi nature of the recording, making it sound much like an early Bathory or Mayhem record. It also invokes a lot of the darkly violent nature of early black metal while combining it with an early thrash metal sound, too. Their latest record, October’s Chained to Hell, sounds like Quorthon was brought in to consult on making Kill ‘Em All. If you love black metal but wished it was more outrageous, Deathhammer is exactly what you’re looking for.

Let’s Wish for Some New Records

If there’s one thing I love about end of the year posts, it’s wild prognosis! There are a lot of bands I’m personally looking forward to seeing more of in 2019. We don’t know a ton but we can make some reasonable guesses as to what we could see in the next year.

First, Warbringer released a new single this year. According to the band’s vocalist, John Kevill, “We are putting out a single, ‘Power Unsurpassed,’ so we have some new material for you all this summer, as we gear up to write and record our 6th record. It’s designed as a total neck-breaker, with hammering riffs and a shredding solo. It is about people who want to take orders from no one, and to make their will reality — at any price.” Keep on the lookout for a new release next year.

Overkill, the longtime New Jersey thrashers, announced The Wings of War in February. It’s always a pleasure to see the old guard putting out new music though it’s usually not as hyped as should be. Not so with Overkill! No single to go with the release, unfortunately, but I think it’s safe to say we’re going to get another excellent album of good old fashioned East Coast thrash metal.

Now for the wild card guesses. Toxic Holocaust hasn’t put out a new record since 2013. They just ended a tour with Haunt and Municipal Waste, so there’s a sign of something in the future. Of course, frontman Joel Grind is a busy guy as he not only puts out his own solo records but also masters and mixes records for other bands. Let’s hope he’s got something up his sleeve.

Finally, current thrash darlings Power Trip. This might be the wildest guess, but we’re waiting on a response to Nightmare Logic which only released in Feb. 2017. Maybe that’s a little much to ask for what was one of the most widely praised metal albums of last year, but they did put out a new single this summer. There’s hope!

Best of Thrash 2018:

SkeletonwitchDevouring Radiant Light

Alright, maybe the Ohio boys belong on someone else’s list, but it’s kind of hard to categorize Skeletonwitch. They have a pretty extreme sound and style that puts them in a lot of camps. I personally think they’re in the camp of “too melodic for thrash, too dirty for melodeath.” Tough spot to be in but damn do they make some fine tunes.

Devouring Radiant Light marks the first record with new vocalist Adam Clemens of Wolvhammer, and he seamlessly merges with the band. His raspy shouts sound very similar to ex-vocalist Chance Garnette, so the pairing couldn’t have been more perfect. However, that is essentially where the comparisons between Skeletonwitch of old and the new end. As a result of the introduction of Clemens at a key moment, all of these songs feature him as a principal songwriter. The tracks feel similar but not the same to older tracks and are fully composed tracks that really work together and introduce a blacker quality than they previously had.

Even the art direction is new! Gone are the vibrant and violent images of dark fantasy from album art extraordinaire John Dyer Baizley. The art now features a lone hooded figure shrouded in mist and fog. In many ways, this reflects the sound of the album. Much of this sound features dark and foreboding thrash kinds of tones that still feel mysterious and slightly distant. It all feels like a true metal work of art. If you missed this record when it first came out, SHAME ON YOU! But relax, you can enjoy it now. I command it.

NervosaDownfall of Mankind

WHAT DO WE WANT? (Diversity in metal!) WHEN DO WE WANT IT?(THRASH!) Not the greatest protest call and response, but it’ll do for Nervosa. I reviewed this record back in May and simply couldn’t put it down. It is a dizzying array death-infused thrash from an all-female trio from Brazil. It harkens back to Sepultura and Pantera in equal parts hardcore thrash and rhythmically pleasant groove while talking about all manner of political ideas.

The best thing in this record is how uniform it is throughout the tracks. They don’t slow down or chill out. They’re constantly pummeling you with bass-infused thrash metal. The raspy quality of the vocals only makes you think of a venomous viper spitting all manner of piss and vinegar angrily at you.

But don’t let the uniformity make you think this is boring record. It’s anything but. It’s wonderfully abrasive in a beautiful way, making political statements with the anger required to make systemic changes. If the title “Raise Your Fist” didn’t indicate what the band is about, then I don’t know what else to tell you. Either way, this is a great record to take on authority figures to. Highly recommended.

Extinction A.D.Decimation Treaty

Well, this one certainly came out of nowhere. Several months ago, friend of the column and fellow thrash aficionado Joshua Bulleid wrote a great post about this band. I heard the opening track and was immediately hooked. There’s something about the punk-influenced thrash that just sinks itself into your brain. It can be very catchy and enjoyable with its simpler riffs and tremolo picking for faster sections.

Extinction A.D.formed out of hardcore band This Is Hell to make a wildly fast-paced crossover thrash sound. It’s on this record in spades. Personally, I always judge a good crossover album by how effectively it’s the soundtrack for either skating videos or riots. Extinction A.D. effectively does both. It’s outrageously aggressive and abrasive but in a fun way that provides a great soundtrack to extreme activities.

It also avoids the traps of most crossover albums. Crossover bands are the first to own the silliness of their sound. Often it’s part of their band’s identity to just be outrageous for the sake of it. Extinction A.D. doesn’t fall into that trap. Not that there’s anything wrong with owning your nonsense, but if you can make this kind of over the top sound without being over the top, it’s a sign of a great band dynamic and songwriting mastery.

Aura NoirAura Noire

Aura Noir really is the original blackened thrash band. They’ve been churning out hardcore punk-infused evil since 1993 and still going strong. If you were to talk about the blackened thrash aesthetic, you’d have to look at Aura Noir’s records. Aura Noire is just the latest in a long line of solid black thrash records, and it’s definitely one of the best thrash records of the year.

The trio (plus a touring drummer) really master all aspects of their sound. They have the black metal atmosphere required for any black record. There’s an air of oppression to what they do. Yes, they’re attacking you with their sound and their lyrics, but it’s really about how they deliver everything at once. The combination of it all harkens back to what Celtic Frost and Venom were doing originally but also expanding on the sound and taking it into new areas. Even their less-black riffs have a roughness to them that make them harsh.

What I think makes this a premiere blackened thrash record is their work with dissonance amongst their harsh fast-paced thrash riffs. There are number of spots where there is a flash of key signature grating that gives everything a sense of foreboding danger. These combine well with the lyric topics like the deepest darkest corners of hell. When thrash combines with other things, we all win.

Primal RiteDirge of Escapism

Oh, crossover thrash. How rarely do we get to talk about landmark crossover records. Something about the hyper aggressive hardcore punk-metal sound usually lends itself to an over the top sound that never gets taken seriously. That has all changed with Primal Rite in 2018. Dirge of Escapism really represents that title well. All the songs on the album lend themselves well to political thrash metal while also grounding them in a more fictional realm.

It’s very interesting what the San Francisco six piece creates. They have a wonderful lo-fi sound that is irresistible for the kind of record they’ve made here. Almost reminds you of the days of trading tapes made in parents’ basements, but it helps inform their sound as a hardcore punk and thrash metal band. And while “dirge” doesn’t describe anything they do, “escapism” does here. While many of the lyrics seem like they’re based on some occult thought, they definitely have a real world interpretation. “Interference” sounds like a techno-horror story about the dangers of transferring data across a network but it couldn’t be more subtle to hear, “I see the violence on the screens, I see faces just like me… Afraid to be the next headline that they read.” Really hits close to home for most Americans, unfortunately, but that’s why this is clearly an incredible record.

And the music? Where does one even begin? You’ve got the crashing and banging of solid thrash drums, a rhythmic cacophony that directs the entire album. There’s also a clear low-end level that helps build up everything else. The guitars are rough and aggressive with super fast-paced riffs and solos with all the harmonics and dive-bombing a listener could ask for. And it’s all wrapped up in a wonderful low production quality that serves the songs very well. It’s truly a brilliant record done well by master practitioners of the genre.

RevocationThe Outer Ones

Yes, we can all bemoan the fact that thrash metal isn’t in its 80s heyday now. We don’t get the glut of releases now that we used to. But the good part about that is when a good thrash record comes out, it is REALLY damn good. Revocation, along with a few other notable bands, are the current torchbearers of the genre and put out a modern technical thrash masterpiece with The Outer Ones.

The guitar acrobatics that have to happen on this record are absolutely mind boggling. It is difficult to understand just how they were devised in the first place, let alone executed at such a high rate night after night. It goes from the most technical of metal riffs to some very soothing sounding jazz sections (see “Blood Atonement”). Guitar virtuosity is on display all over this record. Usually that sort of thing is only reserved for guitar solos, but even the riffs on this record display a mastery not often shown.

The most impressive thing is just how well the guitar work combines with the rhythm section. This kind of guitar work usually takes front and center and the bass and drums take a complete backseat. Revocation didn’t go that route. It shows they care about how the entire song and album sounds. It seems like it’s more important to them to have a conducive sound that makes sense, and the proof is in the pudding here.

It is genuinely incredible how technical and artistic this record sounds at the same time. Words don’t do justice to the massive undertaking this record was. If you were holding out for a top 10 record from a thrash band this year, I’d say you got it in spades. This record is truly awe-inspiring, and I was damn glad to have it this year.

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