Hey there Headbangers!
Has it been a stacked few months for thrash metal, or what! The thrash train kept right on rolling through Christmas and into the new year, with absolutely no sign of slowing down. On top of all the great thrash releases highlighted in this month’s column, there’s already a plethora of records slated for release in April. I’ll keep an eye on how May and June are shaping up but, if it keeps churning along at this rate, then the quarterly model—which was originally designed to allow for the relatively sparse amount of thrash releases, compared to other genres—simply won’t be tenable any longer, meaning I’ll probably end up switching to a monthly, or at least bi-monthly model over the coming months. How do all you pit-stains feel about that? Do any of you care? Is anyone even reading this?
For those that are, you’ll notice that, despite the continuing level of quality carried over from 2020, there’s a distinct change in trend from the bigger, veteran bands that dominated last year’s proceedings to smaller, upcoming artists. It was the same for 2019, to whose thrash highlights we’ve seen a few follow-ups to this year already (see Enforced, Violblast). Looking ahead, there don’t seem to be too many big-name thrash releases slated fro 2021, outside of the forthcoming Megadeth album, which still doesn’t have a proper title or release-date. Nevertheless, as good as the veterans’ performances were las year, as the below offerings prove, they aren’t really needed at the moment anyway. The newer bands have more than got this covered and, if they can keep this amount of pace and quality up, we’re in for another bumper year for thrash metal in 2021. Hell, we’re having one already!
The Big Four
Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm
In case you needed any more proof that 2021 was set to be dominated by newer bands, This quarter’s top pick is a debut record by a brand new band. They’re called Cryptosis, the come from The Netherlands and they absolutely slay. Bionic Swarm is one of the best and most accomplished debut records I’ve ever heard, and one which puts the rest of the thrash scene (along with a few others) firmly on notice.
The band blend the best of European thrash metal with a undercurrent of technical death metal, like many of those before them. Except, rather than pulling from the likes of Cynic, Athiest, or Obscura, Cryptosis borrow their particular brand of blackened technical brutality straight from Demigod–Evangelion-era Behemoth, while the beginning of “Prospect of Brutality” even leans in the direction of The Satanist (2014) or Septic Flesh, albeit sans-symphonics. There’s also more of a focus on bass-heavy riffs and grooves, so that the end result comes off sounding far more akin to modern Kreator, or even the last couple of Sepultura records, than the toppy shred-fests of Voivod or Vektor.
Cryptosis haven’t reinvented the wheel, by any means. Nevertheless, they’ve managed to stumble upon a particular niche within the thrash soundscape that hasn’t really ever been occupied before, or at least not to this level. The only other band I feel comfortable comprehensively comparing them to is early-mid-period revocation. You can definitely hear their influence on tracks like “Transcendance”, but even then there’s a gulf in aesthetics–with the Boston bruisers lean more in the direction of traditional tech-death, while this new Netherland trio embrace a far harder-hitting modern metal sound.
Sure, the main riff to “Transcendance” is a straight lift of Morbid Angel‘s “Immortal Rites” with the guitar hook from Behemoth’s “Slaves Shall Serve” shoved down its throat. But if everyone else is going to be losing their mind over Genghis Tron recycling a bunch of old Mogwai riffs, then I’m happy to let them have it. Did I mention this is their debut? That they formed last year? That there’s only three of them? With no really notable priors? Absolutely astonishing.
Enforced – Kill Grid
The word I keep coming back to with Kill Grid is “sharp”. Not the sharpness of a precision tool or weapon, but a serrated sharpness, that grinds you down as it tears through your ears – in the most pleasant way, obviously! If Enforced‘s fantastic debut, At the Walls (2019), left listeners broken and bludgeoned, then this second outing rips right through them, showcasing superb control over the genre without sacrificing any of its inherent aggression.
The aural assault of Kill Grid succeeds primarily due to its sheer show of thrash force, but there’s an ambition and authority to tracks like the seven-minute title-track and outstanding, five-minute closer “Trespasser” that wasn’t found on Enforced’s debut, nor shared by any of the other band’s that came along in Power Trip‘s wake, to try their hand at gritty, anthemic, early ’90s throwback thrash.
This album has been getting a lot of praise and attention, both within and beyond thrash circle( pit)s, and rightfully so. Enforced may have not yet reached the peak of their powers but, with Kill Grid, their sound itself has been perfectly refined laying the foundations for further thrash masterpieces to come. If this is their Ride the Lightning (1984) or Hell Awaits (1985), then I can’t wait to hear their Master of Puppets or Reign in Blood (both 1986).
Violblast – Lazarus Abandoned
Lazarus Abandoned was one of my most anticipated records of 2021, being the follow-up to one of the best thrash metal records of recent years in 2019 Theatre of Despair. Although not quite as immediate as their previous record, Violblast‘s third full-length outing yet again shows a mastery over their craft and a penchant for punishing riffs that few modern thrash bands have managed to match.
One of the reasons Lazarus Abandoned isn’t as easily digestable as Violblast’s previous offering is that there’s simply more of it. More riffs; more punishment; more brutality; more more! This album sees these Spaniards upping the death metal quotient of their sound considerably, but its the kinetic energy of thrash metal that remains at their core. Tracks like the awesome opener “Miserere” and “Last Adam’s Son” and the anthemic “That Which You Kill” are deceptively complex, packing more aggression and riffitude™ into their respective four-to-five-minutes than many lesser thrash acts manage over the span of their entire records.
It can be a bit overwhelming to begin with, but once these riffs worm their way in inside your skull, they dig in deep, defending their territory with vigour. It might take a bit to sink in, but I suspect that, with time, my – and hopefully many others’ – appreciation for this record will only increase with time.
Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida
Looking at the other offerings that populate this round’s Bg Four, the secret to thrash success in 2021 seems to be either being Spanish or signed to Century Media. Angelus Apatrida‘s seventh, self-titled, record brings us the best of both worlds, delivering one of the band’s best and most ferocious records in the process.
I said in our Release Day Roundup that album opener “Indoctrinate” the “best new thrash song I’ve heard all year. Realising that the main riff is essentially lifted from Pantera‘s “Fucking Hostile” – a feat they largely repeat on “Rise and Fall” – and its vocal pattern largely taken from “A New Level” hasn’t done much to quell that assessment. What’s so impressive about “Indoctrinate”,along with the rest of Angelus Apatrida, is not so much its pieces, but how they are so expertly put together. Likewise, it’s video-clip’s celebration of cultural and sexual diversity, while hardly revolutionary in and of itself, is genuinely refreshing within a modern thrash context, especially given the song’s clandestine source material.
Admittedly, there is something uncomfortable about the gun-heavy, “anarchistic” imagery of the album’s artwork and some of its subject matter. Despite a regular anti-war stance, thrash metal has also always had a fascination with firearms and a distinctly a libertarian bent. These have traditionally been dismissed as escapist, self-empowering fantasies. Nevertheless, these sorts of images sit a lot less comfortably in the wake of the right wing attempt on the Washing D. C. Capitol Building earlier this year – a feat in which not one, but two prominent thrash-adjacent figures have now been incriminated.
Angelus Apatrida’s Spanish origin perhaps lends them a different context, although the imagery of the recently released video for “The Age of Disinformation” is largely America-centric. Moreover, while the video also appears to be anti-Trump in nature, its anti-authoritarian brush is broad enough that it likely struck as much of a cause with those who attempted Insurrection on his implicit command as those who oppose it. Couple that with a video for lead-single “Bleed the Crown”, which sees the band waving firearms directly into the camera, along with a moniker that translates to “stateless angels”, and it all just feels rather uncomfortable in the current context, even if the music remains outstanding.
I’m not saying all thrash bands should instantly do away with these ideas and images, nor that Angelus Apatrida are a lesser band for employing them. But it’s worth wondering just how much longer we want to hold onto them. And why.
Further Lessons in Violence
Stam1na – Novus Ordo Mundi
I always forget about Stam1na. in fact, I completely missed their last two records. Those unknowns notwithstanding, maybe the reason why these Fins always slip my mind is because they’ve never released a record as good as Novus Ordo Mundi? This album sounds like mid-career Devin Downsend trying his hand at thrash metal, and has as much business being here as it would being covered over at The Prog-nosis (it’s not “Prog-Gnosis” guys? Come on!). Yet, while Stam1na have always been weird, they’ve never been as coherent nor memorable as they are here.
Novus Ordo Mundi is an album defined by its oddball offshoots, but also underpinned by a solid tech-thrash foundation, so that its raw appeal never becomes lost among its various extravagances. I’ve definitely got some catching up to do, but for my money, this is easily the strongest Stam1na record to date and a surprise thrash highlight of 2021 so far.
Demoniac – So It Goes
Neoclassical, progressive, blackened death thrash? Sure, why not? I haven’t fallen as head over heels in love with So it Goes as some have. For me, the songwriting just sin’t there yet and, for all Demoniac‘s technical flash, it can often sound a bit sloppy. However, there’s no denying this record as a sheer show of prowess.
This sophomore effort sees the Chillaens lashing out in almost every conceivable extreme metal direction, often in the space of a single track. It can become a bit overwhelming at times, and it’s not always clear that all the instruments are playing the same tracks – especially on the saxophone-laden “Extraviado” or the Titanic, twenty-minute closing track – leaving what I’m sure are carefully crafted compositions sounding more like jam sessions than the obvious fruits of the band’s labour. Still, those that like their thrash more obscure and experimental will find a lot to love here and, with a bit of reigning in, I’m sure we’ll see a more controlled effort from these guys in future.
Nervosa – Perpetual Chaos
I was pretty skeptical. when Pete first brought Nervosa to my attention, claiming they were going to “get really big”. I still can’t see them getting too much bigger than they are now, but there’s certainly been an increase in the band’s public profile to go along with their new line-up the release of Perpetual Chaos. At first listen, it’s easy to understand why. The album’s first half, and especially it title-track is a tour de force of death-infused thrash metal, that sees the Brazilians quickly eclipsing their back catelogue in terms of sheer ferocity. Yet, while I love the overall sound of Perpetual Chaos, I’ve also found that it hasn’t really left a lasting impression on me either.
Nervosa specific, female take on the genre is certainly refreshing, especially amid the testosterone-charged world of thrash metal. However, there isn’t anything particularly distinct about the band’s sound itself. It’s possible to excel within a genre (and beyond) without the need for innovation, which Nervosa do on Perpetual Chaos right up until track six “Genocidal Command”, which features Destruction‘s distinctive frontman Marcel Schirmer trading off with new vocalist Rocío “Diva Satanica” Vázquez (Bloodhunter), and at times beyond, such as the anthemic “Rebel Soul”, which again features a prominent guest performance, this time from Flotsam and Jetsam‘s Eric Knutson.
When Perpetual Chaos pops, it really goes off. However, a lot of it also blends together, especially in its later half. Even at only forty-five minutes, Perpetual Chaos‘s otherwise excessive thirteen tracks also have a tendency to overstay their welcome somewhat, which is exacerbated by the lack of variation contained within. It’s a strong showing from Nervosa’s new line-up, but it still feels like the promise of more to come.
The Crown – Royal Destroyer
Despite having more or less single-handedly kept thrash afloat in 2002, cult thrashers The Crown have been in somewhat of a slump since the glory days of the early 2000s. While I have a personal soft spot for 2010’s Doomsday King, its follow-up Death is Not Dead (2015) is certainly the band’s weakest effort to date, and its successor, the solid-but-forgettable Cobra Speed Venom (2018), came and went without much ado.
I’m happy to report that Royal Destroyer is the best Crown record in over a decade in a half. Although it doesn’t quite reach the quality of Crowned in Terror (2002) or Possessed 13 (2003), the Swedish quintet’s eleventh full-length sees them as punishing and vital as ever. Royal Destroyer has one big advantage over the other Crown albums released this past decade, and that’s big fat hooks, which it delivers with aplomb, alongside a collection of the fiercest riffs the band have written in years. It might not be an all-timer, but it’s one hell of a ride.
Hidden Intent – Dead End Destiny
Hidden Intent‘s third full-length sees the Adelaide thrahsers at somewhat of a crossroads. After the huge compositional strides shown on 2018’s Fear, Prey, Demise, this new longplayer feels a bit undercooked and scattershot by comparison. Lead single “Breaking point,” which draws upon frontman Chris McEwen’s work in child protection services, is by far the best song the trio have come up with to date. The record’s first half largely follows suit, featuring another career highlight in the form of the record’s title tracks, which features guest spots from Artillery guitarists Michael Stützer Hansen & Kræn Meier.
From there, however, it kind of feels like the band run out of ideas. The back-half of the thirty-minute-long record is filled out with two “novelty” tracks, in the form of “Get a Dog Up Ya” and a cover of Queensland parody-punks The Chats‘ “Pub Feed”, which is barely a year old itself, along with two lesser originals, give or take a cover of Slayer‘s “Altar of Sacrifice”. The emphasis on covers and less serious material during the record’s later half suggests Dead End Destiny may have been better served by being chopped in half and packaged as an EP (keep the covers if you like, which would be better justified in the shorter format).
The record’s cover—which features a pack of drop-bears and Crocodile Dundee drinking a beer while riding an alligator (and yes, that’s an alligator, not a crocodile)—shows that Hidden Intent are still very much a “humour forward” thrash act. Yet as tracks like “Breaking Point” and “Dead End Destiny” also prove, they’re a much stronger act when they decide to take themselves more seriously.
Paranorm – Empyrean
I’ve seen this album getting a lot of hype amid other thrash circles. While it’s very good, and there’s certainly a thrash basis there, I do think it’s got a lot more to do with old-school progressive/tech death than thrash metal. For all its rollicking riffery, Empyrean reminds me a lot more of latter Death, early Athiest or even Arsis, than it does Exodus or Testament. It also suffers, somewhat, form the same problems as Demoniac, in that, for all its transfixing musicianship, the album as a whole lacks the kind of hooks and melodies needed for longevity. That’s not to say thrash fans shouldn’t check this out immediately, if they haven’t already. Just justifying why it’s sitting down here toward the bottom of the post, rather than up top, among the big four.
Bloodkill – Throne of Control
One of the year’s most promising debut thrash records comes straight out of Mumbai, India. Although some of the vocals by the gloriously monikered Bloodkill are a bit rough, the sheer amount and quality of the riffs contained on their debut record, along with the way each and every one is masterfully deployed, proves Throne of Control is suitably named, if nothing else. Bands like Cryptosis and Paranorm might have shown them up in terms of ambition and musical dexterity, but if it’s more traditional thrash fare you’re after, then Bloodkill are certainly one of the most exiting new bands of 2021.
Trapped in Purgatory – Damned Nation
Trapped in Purgatory‘s Damned Nation might not be setting the world afire the way some of this quarter’s other releases are. Still, it’s a surprisingly solid showing that promises a bright future for the Swedish quintet and those with a penchant for more traditional thrash offerings. The most immediate touchstone is definitely Overkill, but there’s a surprising sense of European melodiscism that sets it apart, and lays the foundation for an even stronger showing in future.
Necronomicon – The Final Chapter
At the other end of the longevity spectrum, we have Germany’s Necronomicon, whose name I recognise somewhat, but have never really listened to. Judging by the quality of their newly released tenth record, The Final Chapter, a dive into their back catalogue could well be in order. This is a very German sounding thrash record, sounding more or less like the precise intersection of Destruction and Sodom—trading on the hefty aggression of the former and the Teutonic grit of the latter.
Then again, the album is also an international affair, the band having recruited North Americans Rik Charron (drums) and Glen Reed (guitar)—both of the short-lived Mind Assassin and the former having served as a long-time member of cult Canadian thrashers Exciter. It’s a livelier record than those of many newer thrash outfits, let alone ones that have been in the game for almost as long as the genre itself has been around.
That’s all for now. Whether we’re back next month or next quarter, we’ll definitely be talking about the outstanding new album from Steel Bearing Hand. Happy headbanging!