In the thirty-two years since the savage double gut-punch of Reign In Blood (DefJam) and Darkness Descends (Combat), the popularity and aesthetic of Thrash Metal has gone on an undulating journey, from the progressive convolutions of …And Justice For All (Vertigo), through the refining and streamlining of a Persistence of Time (Island), to a decade in the wasteland where ideas and delivery effectively choked in the dust of a seemingly redundant style. Resurrection was found in the party Thrash rebirth headed by the likes of Municipal Waste, and then the more fundamental stylings of Evile and the like. But throughout it all, the Metal underground never lost sight of the devastation that 1986 brutality – the extreme edge of Thrash espoused by Dark Angel, Kreator and Sodom – and the effectiveness of vicious riffing, feral vocals and a relentless battery brings, it’s just that nowadays it’s possible to bring the noise to a wider audience.
Coming from the melodic end of thrash, and with eight high-topped feet planted in speed metal, Helsinki’s Ranger impress with their (rising) force, and don’t mistake the proliferation of melody for any indication that there is to be any let up in intensity or intent. With nods to pre-pirate Running Wild, and ploughing a similar furrow to Enforcer, albeit with a less rocky overtone and more of a heads-down-see-you-at-the-end vibe, Where Evil Dwells (Spinefarm) may be the band’s debut full-length, but this is an album forged in furnaces that have been burning for 35 years.
Using Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends (Combat) as a template (7 songs, sub 40 minutes, track 6 being a lengthy 8 minute plus thrashepic, track one being a lesson in extended thrash and the second longest track) is not the worst prototype any band could use, and musically the band pull from the melting pot some nice Di’anno era Maiden twin leads, especially in ‘Defcon1’, amongst the thrashing Sodom-y. Elsewhere there are enough variance of thrash and speed metal and melodic refrains to maintain the interest; ‘Phantom Soldier’ along with a nice Eastern-tinged solo and good movement between solid chugging, and riffing and all out thrashing, borrows very heavily from Kill ‘em All (Megaforce) and in particular ‘Seek & Destroy’ (as well as lifting more than a lyric from ‘Disposable Heroes’), while closer ‘Storm of Power’ is a relentless 3 minute thrash battery to bring things home. Dimi Pontiac provides yelps and squawks as if possessed at random intervals by John Connolly – a “thing” that bands do that personally grates a touch, but are a staple trope of the speed metal oeuvre – but otherwise delivers with confidence, reminiscent of So Far, So Good… So What (Capitol) era Dave Mustaine, sneer and all.
All in, though, a very solid first outing for Ranger that will do more than satisfy those whose tastes are this way inclined. It is nothing new, but here’s where I have to leave my retro-hang ups at the door and buckle my bullet belt on instead, cos it doesn’t just do what it says on the tin. Ranger, with their melodic breaks and mid-tempo deviations, do go some way to standing out and honing their own identity.
And who can argue with a hand-drawn logo and an album cover with big fucking skulls on it!