Whenever the time-honoured, if ultimately pointless “if it had been a Big Five…” question raises its ugly head, Bay Area bruisers Testament always find themselves at the forefront of the conversation. Even alongside names such as Exodus, Overkill, and Kreator, such is their… ahem, legacy (sorry), it’s not uncommon to find them as one of the top two preferred choices. Continue reading
Although formed in 1984, Heathen didn’t arrive on most people’s radars until the release of their debut album, Breaking the Silence (Combat Records) in 1987. Part of the legendary Bay Area Thrash scene, Heathen followed established acts such as Exodus and some bunch of relocated no-hopers called Metallica out of the region, joining the likes of fast-moving up-and-comers Testament, Vio-Lence, Death Angel, and Forbidden, among many others. Continue reading
Formed in 2009 by guitarist/vocalist Matt Knox, his elder brother, drummer Jamie Knox, and guitarist/co-vocalist Damian Herring, the trio of university students decided to reinvigorate the Death Metal scene by taking elements of the differing US and European styles and fusing them together. Writing and recording the Sweet Blasphemies demo the same year, the band took their time, got themselves a record deal, and in 2012 released their full-length debut The Chills (Dark Descent). Continue reading
Hailing from Los Angeles, Tormenter (with an e, not an o) had an album and two EP’s under their belt ahead of Static Tension picking up sophomore album Prophetic Deceiver, which was originally self-released at the tail end of last year. And, fair play to them, they’ve picked up an album laden with quality non-cliché thrash, and while the band had previously flown under the radar, this is definitely a release that deserves to be promoted and pushed.
While Biotoxic Warfare may have already stolen the prize of this year’s surprise thrash package, Tormenter nevertheless have a very worthwhile product on their hands. Steeped in the aggressive tropes of Kreator, with the throaty barks of Carlos Rodelo adding the sharpest of teeth to the whirl of riffs and taut precision of Thomas Bonilla’s percussion, a further ace in the hole is Kory Alvarez and his Steve di Giorgio styled bass walks augmenting the sound with class.
The spirit of Schuldiner presides throughout, ingrained in the violence, an intrinsic and regular marker, but it is in the ball park of German thrashery and less staccato, more progressive music that Tormenter play, with Beneath The Remains (Roadrunner) a ready comparator. In amongst some lock-jaw, rhythmic right-wrist pace songs loop off with 80’s Megadeth melodic fish-hooks before lurching into the crunch, and there are several welcome moments of diversity. Other tracks are spiky, technical numbers with more than an off-beat nod to the Scandinavian grind of the early 90’s.
That said, considering the seriousness and attack of the music, it’s a shame Tormenter have such a stock name and album cover, as the barrage of constricted riffage is serious, caustic and full of intent. Yet, ignoring such peripherals leaves a release that has served not just to, rightly, get Tormenter noticed, but put them firmly on the map. Should they bring something different to the image and visuals, and with further progression and development of their song-writing by working on incorporating more of the …And Justice For All (Vertigo) dark, progressive elements of their sound, Tormenter could make an even bigger impression next time around.
Separating a cynical copy-cat retro band from one who are reproducing the sounds and styles they deeply and passionately love can be a difficult task – the former approach smacks of creative redundancy, whereas the latter shows a celebration of a style and a desire to add to the legacy. Biotoxic Warfare, you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear, fall resoundingly into the second of those categories, with their joyous revisit of dark thrash on their debut full length, Lobotomized (Static Tension).
There are no prizes for guessing the Greek thrashers main influence (from ‘Chemical…’ to Biotoxic Warfare in, oh, 0.666 moves), but when they deliver the big riffs, with intricate attention to detail, such as the cuts to one guitar to bridge a section, or when to hit the Dave Lombardo double-bass drum groove, it’s easy to think they have sat down and thought to themselves “Slayer have been disappointing for twenty years, let’s write the album we wish they’d made after Seasons In The Abyss” (DefJam).
Indeed, speaking the Slaytanic ones, the album kicks off with the ‘Criminially Insane’ drum beat, though, boo, sadly we don’t get ‘Criminally Insane’. What we do get is a 3 minute intro that lets us know the band aren’t as silly as their throwback name implies, touching on some grade A Chuck Schuldiner riffing and Chris Poland lead phrasing.
The album ladles dark thrash in big servings, and Biotoxic Warfare provide aggressive choppy riffing, spiralling from Dark Angel to Kreator to (pre-Roots, natch) Sepultura (‘Baptised In Blood & Greed’ in particular showing some well-crafted Beneath The Remains (both Roadrunner) worship, before adding some cold Dissection bite in the form of ‘Dysphoric Reality’, which also possesses some big chugs, a big bridging groove, and some di Giorgio esque bass plunking cutting through.
When thrash made its throwback comeback with a plethora of idiots in radioactive shorts, it was easy to overlook the valid and vital contribution of the good hard, chunky, aggressive and serious mid-to-late 80’s thrash that Biotoxic Warfare have lovingly and fervently recreated, and rather than apeing a bygone genre, have added to in a most febrile and welcome fashion.
To celebrate the upcoming release of dark, progressive thrash opus Dormant Heart (Nuclear Blast) Josh Middleton of Sylosis spoke of his love of Thrash, including his Top 5 (non-Big 4) Thrash albums…
In no particular order (except the first one, apparently):
SEPULTURA ‘Arise’ (Roadrunner)
After upping the ante in a serious way with the seminal Beneath The Remains Max Cavalera and crew cemented their place in the annals with one of the heaviest and one of the best slabs of thrash known to man, beast or beyond. Produced by the legendary Scott Burns at Morrisound, Brazil’s greatest musical export refined their delivery while maintaining the aggression, with an album chock full of anthems from ‘Dead Embryonic Cells’ and its neck-snapping groove, to the epic ‘Desperate Cry’ and the crunching pace of closer ‘Infected Voice’, while the opening title track boasts one of the greatest heavy riffs of the last forty years and is a bone-fide extreme anthem. A genuine Death/Thrash classic.
VIO-LENCE ‘Oppressing The Masses’ (Megaforce)
There’s a certain writing team currently topping the metal charts (and coming in third in Ghost Cult‘s Albums of the Year 2014), a writing team that includes Messrs Philip Demmell and Robert Flynn. Back in 1990, Machine Head‘s creative force were cutting not just their teeth, but an album of jagged thrash intent with no lack of cerebral content, from stomping tour-de-force ‘I, Profit’ to closing title-track, more of a traditional thrasher operating in the Overkill ball park, replete with Sean Killian‘s Blitz-deranged vocals.
FORBIDDEN ‘Twisted Into Form’ (Combat/Relativity)
Another band that operated as a stepping stone for some of its’ members, with drummer Paul Bostaph to move on to Slayer and Testament and highly-regarded guitar-wizard Tim Calvert to later join Nevermore for their defining album Dreaming Neon Black (Century Media). Twisted Into Form was the San Franciscan’s second opus, and with Calvert joining (at the expense of Glen Alvelias, who himself was later to also join Testament), saw a more melodic, technical and progressive approach to the debut.
HEATHEN ‘Victim of Deception’ (Roadrunner)
Another early 90’s great, “This is pretty much …And Justice For All Part 2!” states Middleton. Along with the Vio-lence and Forbidden selections, this is another sophomore album that saw a band at the top of its game really define their sound second time around. Widely regarded as one of the most technical thrash albums, Victim… is renowned for its many complex structures, time changes and guitar work, retaining little of the NWOBHM influence exhibited on their debut. Coming in at over an hour, with the majority of its tracks over six minutes in length, Heathen made a statement that thrash could be complicated and could be progressive.
TESTAMENT ‘First Strike Still Deadly’ (Spitfire)
“I haven’t had any Testament yet… and, you know what, I know it’s a cop out, but I really enjoy First Strike Still Deadly. I know it’s effectively a best of, but I like it.”
Featuring guest appearances from original vocalist/Exodus screamer Steve “Zetro” Sousa and Joey Tempesta, who had sat on the drum stool at various points in Testament’s career, as well as Alex Skolnick returning for the first time since 1992’s The Ritual, this compilation of re-recordings was Steve Di Giorgio‘s last with the band. Comprising of tracks from their classic first two albums, The Legacy and The New Order (Atlantic/Megaforce) and old demo track ‘Reign of Terror’, this was the start of the re-recording trend and has been widely panned by critics, which seems harsh as the tracks are, still, incredible. Besides, at least one person (Mr Middleton) likes it… Here at Ghost Cult we support First Strike… but would recommend getting hold of the first two Testament albums, if you don’t already own them. You can pick up pretty much every Testament release while you’re at it, too…
Words by STEVE TOVEY