Thrash Rapidfire: Testament, Warbringer, and Havok

This year has already been awesome year for thrash, and this last month or so has again seen some fairly significant—and often outstanding—releases within the reams of thrash metal. I’m definitely going to be talking about at least a couple of these albums again, during the next installment of Into the Pit, so I’ll keep these short(ish) and (mostly) sweet.

Testament – Titans of Creation

Testament‘s legacy as one of—if not the—best thrash metal bands to ever try their hand at the genre is so far beyond being assured at this point that it barely warrants repeating. The band are never shy of reminding us though and Titans of Creation offers only further evidence that there are few out there, if any, who do it better. The album is easily their strongest since cementing their comeback with 2008’s The Formation of Damnation, and one which still manages to bring a few new elements to the table while still playing, for the most part, into the band’s ample strengths.

Lead single “Night of the Witch”, for example blends a hard-hitting grove riff, which is highly reminiscent of Pantera‘s “A New Level” with some rhaspy, blackened vocals, which I’m told come courtesy of bassist extraordinaire Steve Di Giorgio (Death, Sadus). The vocals are a welcome touch to Testament’s tried and true pallete, and it’s somewhat of a shame that they don’t show up again until album closer “Curse of Horus”, which is another solid stand-out. Elsewhere the band play it more straight. Yet they also sounds consistently more refreshed and energetic than they have across either of their two previous and still wholly formidable records, Dark Roots of Earth (2012) and Brotherhood of the Snake (2016).

Titans of Creation is packed with some of the best riffs and solos Eric Peterson and Alex Skolnick have written (respectively) throughout their entire careers. Chuck Billy—arguably the greatest thrash metal frontman to ever do it—is in equally fine form. Though never short of outstanding, his performance feels more varied here than it has throughout the band’s modern output. “City of Angels” for example, throws back to “3 Days in Darkness”, from 1999’s landmark release The Gathering, while “Dreamer Deciever” even recalls the phenomenally underrated Ritual record from 1992, with its sincere and spectacular co option of hair metal melodrama, and the thundering “Symptoms” delivers on the promise of the band’s flirtations with death metal during the Demonic (1997) era. Tracks like “WW III” and “Children of the Next Level”, with all their talk of apocalyptic warfare and alien conspiracy, which may have felt trite in anyone else hands (see below), are as good straight-down-the-line thrash metal numbers as your likely to come across in 2020 and the same can be said for the album as a whole.

Perhaps the album’s only flaw is the odd inclusion of the intro music the band have been using on their recent tours, “Catacombs” as an outro track. It’s easily ignored. Yet it remains baffling when it could have simply been used as an intro to the album, rather than oddly disrupting ts conclusion. Even so, Titans of Creation remains a pure tour de force, and—as both Billy and Di Gorgio recover from COVID-19—comes as a welcome and hopeful reminder of just how formidable Testament truly are.

Titans of Creation is out now through Nuclear Blast.

 

Warbringer – Weapons of Tomorrow

Warbringer are, by far, my favourite band of the “re-thrash” crowd. Having said that, Weapons of Tomorrow isn’t doing much for me at all. The Californians’ fifth full-length outing is a decent throwback affair, but it lacks all the extra elements the band have accrued across the course of their career that set them apart from—and above—their contemporaries. Gone is the compelling heaviness of previous offering Woe to the Vanquished (2017) and Worlds Torn Asunder (2011); the blackened, almost progressive leanings of IV: Empires Collapse (2013) is M.I.A.; and the furious technicality of Waking Into Nightmares (20009) is nowhere to be heard. That last omission is particularly perplexing, given the addition of Oni and ex-Pomegranate Tiger bassist Chase Bryant to the band’s line-up. Nevertheless, while Weapons of Tomorrow would have perhaps served as a fine follow-up to the band’s debut, War Without End (2008), it hardly feels like the culmination of one of modern thrash metal’s most accomplished outfits.

Adding to the sense of regression are the album’s lyrical themes. Warbringer’s dedication to war imagery is implied by their name, and the themes of ongoing conflict were particularly prominent on Woe to the Vanquished, to largely solid effect. For their fifth outing, however, the whole “War Without End” shtick is starting to wear thin, along with the music itself. Tracks like “Firepower Kills” and “Power Unsurpassed” feel like something the Warbringer of yore could have written in their sleep, and a lot of the record feels similarly first-drafty. “Deliverance of Fate” is a decent if rather forced thrash ballad, but even at its best, Weapons of Tomorrow simply sounds like an album we’ve heard a thousand times before. “Notre Dame (King of Fools)” stands out, if only because it bucks the trend. However, it’s clunky combination of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and The Phantom of the Opera ultimately comes off more Disney and Andrew Lloyd Webber than Gaston Leroux and Victor Hugo, and by the time the ambitious “Glorious End” comes around with it’s tale of “noble sacrifice,” it’s hard to tell whether its intended ironically, and even harder to truly care.

Ironically, as with Toxic Holocaust before them, by looking to the future, Warbringer have delivered arguably their most regressive album to date, and one which runs out of charge, long before achieving maximum output.

Weapons of Tomorrow is out now on Napalm Records.

 

Havok – V

Conversely, Havok are a band I could never get into previously, but V is absolutely blowing me away. The Colorado act have always had a reputation for being one of the more wirey and technical minded re-thrash acts—the Megadeth of the re-thrash “Big 4” if you will. The band’s aptly-titled fifth record, however, sees them taking on more of a Metallica-esque tone. From the “Blackened”-esque intro to “Post-Truth Era”, through the chunky riffs and groovy bridges of “Fear Campaign” and “Interface With the Infinite” to Reece Scruggs wailing on his guitar Kirk Hammet-style all over “Merchants of Eath”. Standout “Ritual of the Mind”, especially, bears particular resemblance to …And Justice For All—beginning with a “Harvester of Sorrow”-style riff, before dropping into a pummeling double-bass-drive bridge, reminiscent of “One”, and the album closes out with some more Hammet-style shenanigans and some serious Black Album stomp in the form of “Don’t Do It”. The Metallica influence is front and centre throught V, and Havok are all the better and more well-rounded for it.

Like Warbringer, Havok might be looking to the past for their inspiration. The elements they’ve taken from what came before, however, have helped further their own sound. Along with the Metallica-isms, there’s a nod toward early-Death-style progressive metal on tracks like “Betrayed by Technology” and “Panpsychism”. Yet, while these tracks lean into it somewhat, the band’s trademark twangy bass tone has also been reigned in considerably. Although still present, Brandon Bruce’s toppy tones are more evenly balanced amid the album’s bolstered bottom end, so that when they do come to the fore they have far more noticeable impact, rather than being a constant distraction. The limp rallies against “Big Brother” and “P. C. warriors” that plagued 2017’s Conformicide, has been replaced by a more developed critique of institutionalised paranoia and government conspiracy that—even as it delves into encounters parallel worlds—feels far more pointed than their usual libertarian lampooning, or at least more relevant.

Havok are already regarded as one of modern thrash metal’s premier outfits, and V only cements their position at the top of the pack.

V comes out this May 1 through Century Media Records.

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