Howdy headbangers! Josh here, I’m officially taking over Into the Pit while Pete’s off trying to make the world a better place and whatnot. This means two things: a) it’s gonna get a whole lot groovier around here, and b) subheadings!
The best quarterly releases from the world of thrash and thrash-adjacent metal will now be coming at you in the tried and true tradition of a “Big Four”. I don’t know why we never thought of this before; is it because, between the two of us, there were always too many picks to whittle down, or because there happened to be precisely four absolute standout record’s this quarter? You decide! Although, you’ll see I’ve also come up with ingenious methods of talking about however many notable thrash metal releases I feel like, so don’t feel like you’ll be missing out on the Testaments and the Exodusses of the world either.
2019 was a phenomenal year for thrash metal, but already 2020 looks like it’s going to be even better. There’s been an absolute glut of quality thrash releases these past three months and plenty more on the horizon. So let’s get on with then it shall we?
The Big Four:
Sepultura – Quadra
Even with the continuing quality of Sepultura‘s previous handful of efforts, I don’t think anyone really saw this coming. Quadra not only matches much of the band’s output during the Max Cavalera era, it actively surpasses some of it (yeah, I’d probably take this over Arise (1991)). Based on pure musicianship, Quadra is easily the most accomplished album of Sepultura’s entire career and the song writing is far tighter and more impactful than it has been in nearly two-and-a-half decades. If Josh Middleton wasn’t pulling double-duty in Sylosis (discussed below), I might even go so far as to say that Andreass Kisser’s guitar playing on this record is the single best musical performance of the year so far.
All those who’d written Sepultura off during the Derrick Green era have already been missing out for some time, but Quadra is the band’s first post-Roots (1996) release that demands to be heard. As good as the last Cavalera Conspiracy and Soulfly albums have been, I’d comfortably take Quadra over either of them. You can get a more detailed dive into the record in my original review, but Quadra continues to impress each and every time I put it on. Sepultura have delivered one of the standout albums of their career and set an early standard for thrash metal in 2020 (and arguably more extreme metal as well) that’s going to be tough to beat.
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
In all honesty, Cycle of Suffering is probably the weakest Sylosis record (of the Middleton-era anyway), which just goes to show how much of a phenomenal (and phenomenally underrated) act they truly are. If it’s pure, mountainous riffage your after, then Cycle of Suffering is unlikely to be beat – in this year or any other. Each and every moment of the UK outfit’s latest is absolutely crushing, somehow oppressive and cathartic all at once. Like I said in my original review, Cycle of Suffering takes all the heaviest parts of Sylosis’s previous record, Dormant Heart (2015), and doubles down on them, culminating in what is easily the heaviest and angriest album of their career.
That Middleton and the rest of Sylosis still only play in standard tuning never ceases to boggle the mind, as they constantly achieve more colossal and menacing tones than any sub-sub-downtuned act you care to name. The tightness and snappiness of classic thrash metal is simply part of an arsenal they employ to its utmost effect, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a tighter or more destructive act in any genre. As its cover’s subdued colour pallet suggests, Cycle of Suffering is a much darker record than any Sylosis have put out prior; listening to it feels like being a bystander to a world being torn apart, with the album perfectly capturing the frustration and anger of powerlessness, while also constantly pouring fuel on the fire.
Even with My Chemical Romance and Rage Against the Machine (re-)reunions in progress, Sylosis have firmly staked their claim to “comeback of the year”. As Zac de la Rocha said: “your anger is a gift”; and, although you might not like Bruce Banner when he’s angry, vexation fits Middleton to a tee.
Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic
The comebacks keep on coming! I didn’t think we were ever going to get even a consistently “good” Annihilator record again, let alone one as outstanding and energised as Ballistic, Sadistic. Although ostensibly featuring completely new line-up, like all Annihilator records, the band’s seventeenth full-length outing is essentially all the work of lead-guitarist-turned-frontman Jeff Waters, who here sounds both joyous and utterly revitalised. Not only that but, like I said in my contribution to January’s Editor’s Picks, Ballistic, Sadistic is also maybe the band’s best album since their first two, classic releases, Alice in Hell (1989) and Never, Neverland (1990), and certainly their strongest since the turbo-charged one-two of All for You (2004) and Schizo Deluxe (2005) (which maybe only I actually like, who knows?).
Ballistic, Sadisitic is, above all, a fun record to listen to – especially when compared with the thundering social commentary of Sepultura and the seething anger of Sylosis (discussed above). The album is goofy, in all the best ways. Lead-single “Psycho Ward” contains the band’s cheesiest lyrics since All For You‘s “Dr. Psycho” and is rendered all the more memorable and captivating for it. As cartoonish as (thrash) metal can get at times, Ballistic, Sadistic revels in its excess and, by dialing everything up to (ahem) eleven, they’ve managed to recapture what has made them one of the most revered names in thrash metal, despite maintaining a track record which is patchy at best for the better part of thirty years. Let’s hope they can keep this momentum going.
Midnight – Rebirth by Blasphemy
Rebirth by Blasphemy is the best Venom album since Black Metal (1982), maybe ever. Midnight have made a name for themselves as a cult act for years now, but they’ve never quite justified their existence like they do here. The world definitely needs another Venom clone if they’re going to be this great at it, and what sets Rebirth by Blasphemy apart from its predecessors is its accentuated thrash elements.
The Ohio outfit’s fourth full-length combines the already established Venom template with the sleaze and urgency of early Motorhead. Last time that happened we got Metallica out of it and, while Rebirth by Blasphemy is no Master of Puppets (1986) or even Kill ’em All (1983), it’s a hell of a throwback record that excels at a sound many long ago left behind. Although there’s plenty of other bands out there trying their hand at a similar sort of thing, Rebirth by Blasphemy leaves no doubt as to why Midnight are king of the pack, and serves as a great reminder of thrash metal’s primal origins.
Rebirth by Blasphemy by MIDNIGHT
Further Lessons in Violence:
Schizophrenia – Voices
Voices is good enough to be included among the Big Four, but because it’s only an EP (and because of the arbitrary restrictions I’ve placed on myself) I’m going to talk about it as part of the second tier instead; consider it in the Testament position. As the Belgian band’s moniker suggests, Schizophrenia take considerable influence from early Sepultura. However, as with all great thrash metal bands, there’s also a hefty dose of Slayer to their sound (check out the “Piece by Piece” riffing that opens “Schizophrenia”, for example), which leaves them sounding a lot like my beloved In Malice’s Wake. In fact, if the Melbourne outfit’s forthcoming album’s any bit as good as Voices, I’ll be beyond pleased. The EP strikes that perfect balance between rawness and clarity that’s key to the success of so many outstanding thrash acts and the riffs just keep coming. It’s astounding that this is only Schizophrenia’s debut and I can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Surgical Strike – Part of a Sick World
German thrashers Surgical Strike‘s debut lacks that special something to elevate it into The Big Four. Nevertheless, it remains a rock-solid thrash release, which is absolutely brimming with energy and sure to please fans of spikier thrash acts such as Exodus and Overkill. Again, this is only a debut, so there’s plenty of room for growth and time for the band to start forging their own identity. If you’re just looking for something to windmill to, however, Part of a Sick World is hard to beat.
Nylithia – Goddamn Type 1
This one actually came out in late December. However, since we didn’t end up doing a post for the fourth quarter of 2019, and because I only just discovered it myself, I’m including it here. From what I can tell, Nylithia‘s Hyperthrash album form 2015 has a bit of a cult following and I definitely like what I’m hearing. There’s a considerably less of the electronic elements that defined that record displayed on Goddamn Type 1. Nevertheless, the EP remains an eclectic collection of thrash metal that’s tinged by various other genres, including industrial metal, black metal and even some jazzy/math passages. Apparently the Canadian band are currently “on hold”, which is a shame. The band are already a confronting prospect, however, and, if you’re coming to them late, like I am, then there’s more than enough here already to delve back into.
Well, there you have it. See you all again next quarter to talk about this new Testament album yeah?