About a month ago, fellow thrasher and friend of the column Josh Bulleid asked me a question (In so many words). “Hey dude, should we do a quarterly wrap up? We got some good records we haven’t talked about yet and the people demand a list!” I pondered on it. I looked deep within my soul: do I want to be like every other genre column on Heavy Blog? I mean, I need to stand out in my own way. I have my integrity!
Then I looked at the views and likes for every other genre column’s list articles. It turns out I’m really slutty when it comes to views and likes, so we’re doing a list! There were some really solid records in the first quarter this year we need y’all to know about. The great thing about the quarterly review is you get to see which albums really have legs. Sure, you can listen to a record twice in a week and that seems great, but how many times in a month did you listen to it? What about in a few months? There’s a distinct difference between the flash in the pan records versus the staying power of another record. This way we get to collect a few different months’ worth of records and see which ones can stay alive. To the records!
Our Collective Pick: Violblast – Theater of Despair
With a few exceptions, 2018 was a fairly uneventful and uninspired year as far as thrash metal goes. However, 2019 has already more than begun to make up for it. Maybe it’s just because we’re paying closer attention but, within the last few months, it seems there’s been more quality thrash albums released than you’d usually get all year – even an especially good one. Having come out a mere eleven days into the new year, Violblast’s Theater of Despair was one of 2019’s earliest thrash offerings and also one of the earliest indicators that it was going to be a good year for thrash metal and – three months and some seriously stiff competition later – it remains the cream of the crop.
As Pete observed in his review of the album, there doesn’t seem to be a single aspect of thrash metal that Violblast haven’t mastered on this album. Theater of Pain seamlessly transitions between all the faster, groovier and more technical aspects of the genre’s sound, while also occasionally dipping its toes into more extreme territories as well. “New Orphan’s Elegy”, for instance, does a far better (and more subtle) job of ripping-off Strapping Young Lad than Machine Head managed, while “Broken Scepter” brings to mind the best of Max Cavalera’s recent returns to form, in both Soulfly and Cavalera Conspiracy. Yet, Theater of Despair is more than simply than the sum of its parts. From the moment the opening riff of “Trivialisation of Murder” kicks in, you know you’re in good hands and the album never once dips in quality over the course of its forty-one minutes. It’s early days yet, but Violblast have set the bar incredibly high for thrash in 2019.
What to say when you already praised the record in your review…hmm…anyway, this record is great. Thrash gets knocked pretty frequently for being tongue in cheek and not being too serious. Sure, you can point to a number of records that go against that, but then there are the bands that are so on the nose that it’s hard to think about those others. Violblast is definitely the former. Their brand of dark and heavy thrash gives you something to really sink your teeth into. It’s a big and undeniable dark metal sound that is as academic as it is entertaining.
After writing this review, I kept thinking back on this record. I call it academic for the same reasons as Josh and I have both described. There is a lot of thrash history in this record. It has those classic sounds from days gone by and combines it with some newer infusions to modernize it. The entire record has a blackened aura to it though it’s just shy of being a blackened thrash record. It has a sound that’s also just shy of death, calling back to the days where the difference between thrash and death was extremely subtle. These guys are also masters of the groove and have no problem with letting the breakdowns happen on their own. Because of this, it’s gotta be the thrash record of the quarter.
Carnal Forge – Gun to Mouth Salvation
Like many others, I’m sure, I hardly batted an eyelid when Carnal Forge announced that they’d be making a comeback in 2019. The band have their fans, but they’d always seemed firmly mored within the lesser tiers of the Swedish melodeath-thrash scene. Gun to Mouth Salvation changes all that. This album absolutely steamrolls anything released by their peers, since Carnal Forge last reared their head with 2007’s Testify for My Victims. Although it wouldn’t take much to best (sub)genre-kings The Haunted’s dismal output over the past decade (and I say this as someone who quite likes Unseen (2011)), even against more formidable underground offerings, such as The Crown’s Doomsday King (2010) or Hatesphere’s To the Nines (2009), it’s a no contest.
Gun to Mouth Salvation is the best album of its kind since The Haunted’s Dead Eye (2006), or maybe even rEVOLVEr (2004), and brings to mind that band’s earlier, more rabid efforts, such as their self-titled debut (1998) and One Kill Wonder (2003). In terms of sheer riffage, this album puts any other on this list to absolute shame. While The Haunted will always remain the main point of comparison for Carnal Forge, the band have set themselves somewhat apart by introducing in a hefty dose of Lamb of God-style staccato riffing into their sound, which is particularly apparent on early standout tracks like “Parasites” and “Aftermath”. The added punch gives Carnal Forge the edge over their competition, and sees them stepping out from their competitors’ shadow for the first time in what has been a largely overlooked career. The melodeath/thrash crossover genre has largely stagnated in their absence and, with Gun to Mouth Salvation, Carnal Forge have truly established a new standard.
Critical Defiance – Misconception
There is a kind of crossroads at death and thrash that’s an interesting little spot to live in. The two genres sort of grew up together, though thrash had a great flash at first while death was a slow growth to prominence. But bands that live in the sweet spot between the two are a ton of fun, and Critical Defiance is one of those. They have this awesome frenetic pace to their music that have big death style riffs. For fans of both these kinds, you’ll simply love what they do.
This whole record is a maddening combination of fun stuff. It’s got a great hard edge sound to it that’s pretty reminiscent to mid-80s styles. The riffs are nuts and they are fast. It’s just good quality thrash given voice. The band is also signed to Unspeakable Axe Records, an incredible label for these kinds of thrash bands. Looking through their catalog shows a lot of bands making this kind of thrash along with many others. So they’re also quality by association. Just listen to it already.
Destroyers of All – The Vile Manifesto
The Vile Manifesto is another album that pushes the limits of what can be considered thrash metal. The album walks a razor thin line right on the border of thrash and the more extreme death metal realms. Yet, unlike similarly potent, genre-bending offerings from the likes of Acid Death and Truth Corroded, which often leave the genre behind entirely, there remains a consistent thrash underpinning to Destroyers of All’s music that leaves them sounding more like a thrash band playing death metal, than a death metal band playing thrash metal. If that makes sense? Just listen to the first half of “Destination: Unknown”, if you need proof of the band’s thrash credentials, or the “Kill the Preacher” bonus track, which comes across like a cover of a classic thrash anthem (but isn’t, as far as I can tell?).
Genre disclaimers out of the way: this album absolutely slays! Whatever kind of metal fan you are, there’s probably something for you on The Vile Manifesto. The record is fast, slow, groovy, technical, melodic and punishing – all in equal and exceptional measure. Aesthetically, The Vile Manifesto recalls Sepultura’s earlier, rougher era, but with a degree of musicianship and songcraft that that band wouldn’t hit upon until later in their career. “Break the Chains” brings to mind classic Megadeth with a melodic death metal twist, while “False Idols” is reminiscent of early Warbringer. Chimaira also become a predominant reference point for the album as it goes on, but Destroyers of All alway makes sure to mix in some unexpected elements with their distinctive template as well. “The Elephant’s Foot” comes across like Resurrection-era Chimaira trying their hand at power metal, “The Dead Valley” revels in their trademark later-day stomp, and “Sheol” mixes in the kind of harmonic leads you’d expect of Death or Revocation.
As The Vile Manifesto proceeds, its extreme elements become more and more prevalent, but there’s always a hardy thrash metal core to its proceedings. Bleak Fragments (2016), Destroyer’s of All’s debut full-length, was an impressive and promising effort, but I don’t know if anyone could have quite predicted the prodigious leap in quality the band have brought with their second outing. Regardless of how you want to categorise it, The Vile Manifesto is easily one of the best metal albums released in 2019 so far.
Insanity Alert – 666-Pack
Who says we shouldn’t take crossover seriously? Sure, the punk side of crossover can be hard to take seriously sometimes, but bands with that sound can still make really high quality metal. So let’s all thank Insanity Alert for their recent work, 666-Pack. The album is an absolutely chaotic work of punk-infused thrash metal that feels right at home at the skate park as well as the mosh pit.
I think what separates this from other kinds of this style of crossover is the guitar work. Normally, these kinds of bands are pretty wild and imprecise with any kind of technical music ability. Not the case with Insanity Alert. The Dave of Death, as he’s apparently known, is a very technically adept player. Playing a good rhythm part is highly underrated. His extremely fast chugging style requires close study for any thrasher guitarists out there. That is exactly how you hold their kind of music together. Any open spaces in the track and it would lose its attitude and belligerence. The solos are equally impressive with the unhinged acrobatics Dave performs. While the whole band is uniquely talented to produce this kind of music, the guitars really steal the show.
Though the track is light on the solo craziness, “All Mosh/No Brain” is such a great example of who this band is. The hardcore punk feel of the track sets the pace for the song and careens headfirst with reckless abandon. It’s the kind of song you’re hoping for when you pop on an album like this. The verse feels like a great song breakdown after the breakneck pace of the introductory bars. And who can deny a great group shout chorus? No one, that’s who. Then the song picks back up to the original pace to head you out to the next track. And it all happens in 90 seconds. Just how we like our crossover.
Judiciary – Surface Noise
On the flipside of the crossover coin, Texas’ own Judiciary creates a far more brutal brand of hardcore crossover with January’s Surface Noise. This is the angry kind of crossover that feels like it’s punishing you with the brutality of their political philosophy. It’s very heavy on the darker side of hardcore that borders on thrash metal, and you really can sink your teeth into this bad boy of a record.
Everything on this record shouts pure aggression. The guitars have really dirty and powerful riffs that are strengthened by the razor crunch of the distortion. The vocals are gruffly shouted at you, spouting all manner of hate and anger at the woes and inequities of society. The bass and drums lay down powerful rhythms that add that little extra oomph and give the record some very serious depth. This record reminds me of Power Trip’s Nightmare Logic as it has a very similar vibe of anger and frustration that’s laser focused on specific issues in people. The difference being that Surface Noise has a lot more depth to the production qualities of the record. You just feel it all so much more.
Judiciary is also particularly adept at creating rhythms and undeniable grooves. They know how to break a song down into necessary parts and enable them to breathe. The intro on “Social Crusade” is a great example. The riff lends itself to a good groove. It’s a pretty mobile riff that really needs a slower pace to consume wholly. Don’t think that slowing things down is the same thing as calming down, because that is simply never the case on this record. There aren’t even moments on the record where clean guitars shine through. It’s rage or nothing on this one, so let the hate consume you.
Omicida – Defrauded Reign
Like I said in my original review, “Maybe more than any modern thrash album, Omicida’s Defrauded Reign sounds like a lost ‘80s underground classic.” While other acts like Destroyers of All and Carnal Forge succeed in applying thrash aesthetics to other styles, Omicida are content to sit right in the right in the genre’s pocket. The band’s full-length debut is a celebration of everything that is great about old-school thrash metal and a reminder of why the genre is so compelling to begin with. Seriously, if this album had been released in the ‘80s, it would be spoken of in the same terms as your Bonded by Bloods (1985), Ultra-Violences (1987) and Darkness Descendsesess (1986) – if not you Reign in Bloods (1986) or Ride the Lightnings (1985).
Of course, Defrauded Reign wouldn’t exist at all without all of those those albums, and the album wears its heart firmly on the back of its sleeveless, denim battle jacket. There are plenty of times when the band cross the line from inspiration into imitation (see “Protect and Serve” and “Violent Resolution” in particular, for some fairly overt Slayer-isms), and it would be nice to see the band lean more into the melodiscism and progressive tendencies displayed on “Divine Uncertainty” for future releases. For now, however, Omicida seem intent on simply inspiring windmills and giving you an excuse to bang your head against the stage, and sometimes that’s all you need – especially when it feels this damn good.