Iced Earth – Night of the Stormrider

nightofthestormrider

Year released: 1991
Duration:
46:05
Tracks:
9
Genre:
Thrash Metal, Speed Metal, Heavy Metal
Reviewed by: hells_unicorn on Encyclopeadia Metallum

Metal and the concept album format have shared a rather interesting history, delving into a wide variety of subjects from the supernatural, the political, and the science fictional. Probably the oldest and most utilized theme in the metal concept arsenal is the darkness versus light, good against evil, God against Satan story. This form of storytelling goes all the way back to the age old battle between Horace and Set (after the latter had been demonized by Lower Egypt into an evil deity due to political turmoil) and further still likely into pre-history as tribal man took note of the seeming conflict between the night and day in the heavens.

Iced Earth’s magnum opus “Night of the Stormrider” brings about such scholarly thought of various historical myths on a lyrical level because it avoids the cliché of merely focusing on Christianity against Paganism and instead provides a general struggle between 2 forces that are both natural and mystical. You could insert a struggle between Zoroastrian polytheists and Muhammad’s armies or an unknown alliance of nomadic Mexican Indian tribes against the Aztec Empire and the lyrics would still fit perfectly. The story’s principle character tells of his encounters with the dark forces through a unique hybrid of a 1st person and omniscient perspective, further perpetuating the mystical side of the tale.

The style of the music that accompanies this epic tale is a very unique blend of riff driven thrash metal, classic Iron Maiden melodies, orchestral textures, and acoustic passages loosely resembling Blind Guardian’s handiwork circa 1986. Jon Schaeffer showcases a barrage of mad-paced gallop riffs that makes Metallica’s “Motorbreath” sound like classic rock and occasionally shows the same ingenuity and intricacy of MegaDeth’s mid-80s material. Randall Shawver is an apt lead player, equally as capable as most thrash soloists, yet knowing the value of playing a melody once in a while rather than shredding up the pentatonic scale for the entire duration like Kirk Hammet often did when he actually played.

The vocal work put forth by John Greely is undeniably 80s power metal in its approach, conjuring up similarities to Rob Halford, James Rivera, and occasionally Eric Adams. His versatility as a singer is notable as most thrash singers are prone to bark a near monotone melody during the verses with the occasional high wail while not being able to really pull off an actual sung melody very well. Notable sections where Greely accomplishes some really catchy melodic hooks include the chorus of “Desert Rain” and at several points in the album’s lengthy closer “Travel to Stygian”.

There really isn’t any way to pick a favorite out of these songs as they all serve the perfect flow of the whole album while shinning in their own unique way. “Angels Holocaust” and “Desert Rain” are probably the easiest to recall after first listen due to heavy emphasis on a chief melodic idea. “Stormrider”, “The Path I Choose” and “Pure Evil” are loaded with rapid fire thrash riffs and aggression, which will sit well with traditional thrash fans that unfortunately had to see their favorite metal genre systematically raped by many of its own champions the same year this came out.

This is a work that genuinely defies conventional labels and successfully walks a line between being stylistically eclectic and musically consistent. Any fan of any sub-genre of metal should be able to appreciate the quality of the music on here. This is a different Iced Earth than the one that most came to know when their star rose in the later 1990s. It carries all the greatness of the old guard in the US power/thrash scene and, unlike what many people say about the band’s material of toady, is an album that makes you think.

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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Overkill – White Devil Armory

WhiteDevilArmory.jpg

Year released: 2014
Duration:
50:41
Tracks:
11
Genre:
Thrash Metal
Reviewed by: hells_unicorn on Encyclopeadia Metallum

There’s a sinister character skulking about in the shadows, packing an entire arsenal of pure destruction and ready to lay down a world of hurt on the anyone getting in his way. Conspiracy theories run rampant about his hidden intentions, the word is out on the street that he’s responsible for all the pain in the world, and even the likes of Louis Farrakhan can’t go for 5 minutes without mentioning him by name in relation to some pinnacle of suffering and evil. But all kidding aside, this thing which bares a rather ironic title is the latest handiwork of the original New York wrecking crew themselves, and comes complete with all the goodies that one can hope for out of the post-Horrorscope era. As with the past few offerings, White Devil Armory is an album that is rooted in the old school of neck destroying thrash metal that has become big again in the past 8 years, but comes in a somewhat more well-rounded package than before that takes note of the goodness that came with the early 90s and even some of the slower, grooving material that Overkill had dabbled in while the rest of thrash metal had retreated from the scene.

Ecstatic fans who ate up everything on their plate when Ironbound and The Electric Age were served up on a stainless metallic platter need not fear, for the usual treats are evenly littered throughout the entire listen. The first three appetizing dishes of speeding mayhem to hit the ears definitely point to an obligatory consistency that most would insist upon, but also go well beyond the call of duty. After a massive sub-minute intro track that listens almost like a Manowar meets Viking metal war call, the album’s lead off single “Armorist” pummels at full speed with about the same level of intensity and number of hooks as “Bring Me The Night”. It’s a testament to that age old truth of sticking to what works, but it also comes in a slightly chunkier package, particularly the guitars which sound remarkably similar to Metallica at their absolute heaviest. “Down To The Bone” repeats the same mode of speed and brevity, though it takes a few mid-tempo breaks to allow for a slightly more early 90s character during the vocal sections. “Pig” is also quite fast and percussive, but veers a bit more in a hardcore direction in terms of riff work, despite clocking in a bit longer than the two previous songs.

The center part of the album is where things get a bit more varied, although in stark contrast to some of this band’s more experimental moments (think “The Years Of Decay” and “Promises”), nothing really veers off into ballad territory. “Bitter Pill” shifts gears into a more mid-tempo, groovy character with a lot of emphasis on melody and detailing, reminding heavily of the stronger material heard on Necroshine. “It’s All Yours” also takes a slower, groovier road, but relies a good bit more on crunch and definitely points to the punchier work on Bloodletting and Killbox 13, as well as mixing in some occasional clean singing out of Blitz to contrast with his sleazy snarls and shrieks. But when all is said and done, the ultimate colossus of a masterpiece that just destroys the competition is the epic riff extravaganza “Freedom Rings”, cycling through one insane thrash fest to the next like the deranged cousin of Metallica’s “Battery” mixed with this band’s own high speed work on The Years Of Decay, to speak nothing for the brilliant bass work out of D.D., which is a bit reminiscent of Cliff Burton at a few points.

While it’s a pretty safe assumption that this is the weakest of the three latest Overkill albums, the company that it keeps allows for a lesser work to still be comfortably nestled in classic territory. There are a few points on this album where their less well-regarded handiwork from 1994 through 2007 makes an appearance, albeit in a very limited and tasteful manner, which results in an album that sounds a bit less 1986 and a little more 1991. This may cause a slight degree of disappointment in people who prefer their thrash to be along the lines of Reign In Blood and Pleasure To Kill, but it’s not really a negative otherwise. It’s still possessed of that same signature New York attitude of a slightly less complex format and a slightly greater degree of punk attitude, But above all else, despite the pale, grayish look exterior, this old warhorse shows no signs whatsoever of slowing down. No matter what the year, Overkill has another corpse.

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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Overkill – Immortalis

immortalis

Year released: 2007
Duration: 49:16
Tracks: 10
Genre:
Thrash Metal
Reviewed by: Agonymph on Encyclopeadia Metallum

Before some of you start complaining, I know I’ll never be able to write an unbiased review on OverKill. The band has been my favorite since the very second I heard them. Some people abandoned them when they had taken a slightly more groovy route halfway the nineties, but most people seemed to like the route the band was taking. Experimenting with more groovy parts, but never betraying their Thrash-roots. With the last couple of releases, OverKill seemed to create a pattern, releasing a more laid back album first (‘Necroshine’, ‘Killbox 13’) and a more furious album after that (‘Bloodletting’, ‘ReliXIV’). ‘Immortalis’ fits within that pattern perfectly, being a slightly more relaxed album, but DD Verni’s compositions have a certain inventiveness that makes this album a surprising listen nonetheless.

Verni is showing his love for Black Sabbath more and more on each album. That doesn’t mean that ‘Immortalis’ has become a Doom Metal-album though. But the typical Sabbath-thing of changing the song into something different right in the middle of it, is more present than ever here. When the songs start out, they usually have a trusted feeling, almost makes you feel like coming home after a long time of being away, only to be surprised by the new wallpaper a room has once you see it, that would be the change within the song.

In addition, OverKill explores the “Thrash ‘n’ Roll” area they laid the fundaments for with a song like ‘Damned’ a couple of years ago a little further. ‘Walk Through Fire’ has without any doubt been inspired by AC/DC and is probably meant to be played before ‘Elimination’ in the live set, judging from the fact that the song ends exactly the way the first verse to the latter opens. When ‘Head On’ really starts (after a bass intro highly remniscent of ‘Bastard Nation’ from the 1994 ‘W.F.O.’-album), there’s this awesome down ‘n’ dirty riff and the highly surprising ‘Hell Is’ starts out almost bluesy, only to cover every aspect OverKill has ever tried out later on. ‘Hell Is’ is probably the most pleasant surprise on the album because of that too, after the bluesy beginning, there is a groovy stomp, a fast Thrash-riff with Punk-ish energy and some slight Doom references as well.

For those who want to hear OverKill Thrash their heads off, there is plenty to enjoy here as well. Opening track ‘Devils In The Mist’ is an irresistable Thrasher with the entire band in top shape. In the end, it has Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth screaming from the top of his lungs like we haven’t heard him do in many years. And then there’s the closing track. A delight for everyone who has followed the New Jersey Wrecking Crew from the beginning. There is finally a fifth part to the ‘Overkill’-saga! For those who don’t know: ‘E.vil N.ever D.ies’ from ‘The Years Of Decay’ (1989) was the fourth, but wasn’t named that way. And now there’s ‘Overkill V: The Brand’, probably the highlight of this album. It starts out slowly with a guitar part slightly similar to Slayer’s ‘Dead Skin Mask’, in atmosphere at least, then there’s a midtempo stomping part, followed by THE riff! As long as I’m still single, I’ll just use that riff to have an orgasm! This is easily the most “old school” sounding song DD has written in many years. And one of the best ones!

New kid on the block Ron Lipnicki is versatile enough to handle every direction OverKill takes on ‘Immortalis’. His drumming on the Thrash-parts is just as strong as on the more groovy tracks, like ‘What It Takes’ and ‘Head On’. His style seems a little “looser” than that of his predecessor Tim Mallare. I just hope that on the next album, the production will answer to that a little more. The way his triggers are set makes the perfect rhythms sound a little stiff at some points. Great drumming nevertheless.

Another person who really stands out on ‘Immortalis’ is lead guitarist Dave Linsk, who has equallled Bobby Gustafson’s impressive record of playing guitar on four consecutive OverKill-studio albums with this album. Linsk is easily the best and most complete guitarist the band has ever had and just when you think you know how good he really is, he surprises you with some sick soloing. ‘Immortalis’ is no exception. It’s unbelievable how awesome some of his lead guitar work is here. Somehow it sounds like a little more feeling crept inside of his solos on this album. And that is an enormous pro.

The brightest shining star on ‘Immortalis’, however, is Bobby ‘Blitz’ Ellsworth. I have yet to remember an album on which he shows as many sides of his voice as he does on ‘Immortalis’ (maybe the criminally underrated ‘I Hear Black’). As mentioned before, he shows his full conviction again in ‘Devils In The Mist’, but he does some parts completely clean beautifully, check out ‘Hellish Pride’ for the best example on that. His abstract sense of poetry (which I consider his very best quality) is present again and is it me or has his range increased?

‘Immortalis’ has, for the first time in OverKill-history, a guest musician. And even though I think he’s a terrible singer, Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe surprisingly really adds something to the impressive stomper ‘Skull And Bones’. I still think Bobby should have done the verses he sings lead vocals to, but the parts Bobby and Randy do together came out really great. The studio footage Bodog Music released as a teaser for the album shows Blythe really tried to make something good out of it too. And although I never thought I would say something like this, he succeeded.

OverKill’s winged skull mascot has finally got his own theme song as well. And he should be proud of it too. ‘Chalie Get Your Gun’ is an awesome track with sort of a slight swing feel (that is Ron Lipnicki’s looser playing I’m talking about), but some kick-ass thrashing as well. It’s one of those surprising tracks, because every time you think you know where the band is heading, they take a different route. ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’ is a great example in that matter too, especially its exciting middle part.

Productionally, DD Verni seems to get the hang of it more and more. Apart from the minor criticism on the drum sound, the production is improving greatly. Dave Linsk did the engineering with DD and that means we get all the trusted elements: the huge guitar sound of Linsk and rhythm guitarist Derek Tailer, the fat and dirty bass sound of Verni himself and the strong, choral backing shouts. The latter are better than ever actually. DD either turned his own backing vocals down or Tailer’s up a little, giving the backing vocals an extra choral feel. Where in the past, there was a lot of DD, you can actually hear it’s two persons on this record. Just check the both of them shouting in ‘What It Takes’.

‘Immortalis’ is neither a radical change from OverKill’s past work or a very predictable album. And that’s where the true power of the album lies. That and the fact that the level of the album is consistently high. OverKill has the tendency to cluster their best songs somewhere in the beginning (i.e. ‘Within Your Eyes’, ‘Loaded Rack’ and ‘Bats In The Belfry’ on the predecessor ‘ReliXIV’), but there are no standout tracks on this one. And that is only because they all rock.

It takes a little longer to get into ‘Immortalis’ than into most of the other OverKill-albums (coincidentally, ‘Necroshine’ and ‘Killbox 13’ had the exact same effect for me), but once you give it that time, what you have is an album that easily matches OverKill’s best work. Thrash elitists expecting another ‘Horrorscope’ or ‘The Years Of Decay’ will probably be disappointed, but those with an open mind towards good music will most likely enjoy this awesome offering from New Jersey’s finest band.

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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Testament – The Legacy

thelegacy

Year released: 1987
Duration: 38:55
Tracks: 9
Genre: Thrash Metal
Reviewed by: stainedclass2112 on Encyclopeadia Metallum

Holy freaking fudge this is a crazy album. There is a very fine line between what is actually metal and what is noise, and this album pushes that line to it’s absolute limit without being just noise. This record will DESTROY you listen after listen. No two Testament albums are the same, they have always been a band that has had a few different takes on metal, but their debut, The Legacy, is by far their fastest and heaviest album. Their 90’s stuff would try to get this close, but they would end up falling way short of this. The Legacy fuses absolutely wicked raw power with insane riffing and ferocious vocals in a very surprisingly masterful fashion. Sure, there are bands who played way faster than this, and other bands who played as heavy as this, but usually not both of these aspects combined in such a way. It’s rare that you hear an album with this much aggression and energy. I cannot get enough of this album, it is insanely good; and there is not very much out there that can match this in terms of power and aggression. At first I felt that this album was a bit too, well, insane. But once I got used to it, I really started to dig it, and now it is definitely one of my favorite thrash albums.

The songs on The Legacy are all very heavy and most are fast as hell. I’m serious here, I cannot stress how much this album is so wickedly ridiculously INSANE. I don’t mean those as in synonyms for “good”, but it is literally freaking out of control. Even the really extreme thrash albums out there can’t match this level of holy shit-ness. There are some all out thrashers like “Over the Wall”, “Curse of the Legions of Death” (Which can be abbreviated to ‘C.O.T.L.O.D’)”, “First Strike is Deadly” and my personal favorite: “Raging Waters”. But there is no lack of melody either, the best example of this is “Alone in the Dark”, with it’s unique eastern sounding leads at parts. “Burnt Offerings” and a little bit of “Apocalyptic City” have these elements as well, but the majority of this album is a torrent of facepeelery. None of the songs are very long, with the longest (“Apocalyptic City”) clocking in at just under the 6 minute mark. The lyrics are the most brutal and badass Testament has ever written, ranging from breaking out of Alcatraz to human sacrifice, to torture by demons and being attacked by satan while sailing through the Bermuda effing Triangle (“THE TRIANGLE! THE DEVIL’S TRIANGLE!!”). Yeah, I know, BADASS. The production here is not very good, but unlike The New Order, I think the production adds to the charm of the album. On the second album it robbed from the clarity and made some parts muddy, and it hurt what was a great album, but here it adds to the heaviness and the classic metal feel this one has. Don’t get me wrong, it is not at all great production, but in my opinion it is not a problem here. All of these elements come together to make one of the most brutal and aggressive albums ever while still maintaining a strong sense of musicianship and class. My favorite song is definitely “Raging Waters” which has the most epic riffing and Chuck spits out the lyrics with such speed and aggression it’s awesome. The chorus is actually very catchy, and the ending is wicked. Some of my other favorites are “Over the Wall”, “First Strike Is Deadly”, “Do or Die” and “Alone in the Dark”.

The instrumentation is absolutely savage at times, with a lot of the riffs having that classic Eric Peterson style of riffing, in which he quickly alt picks a palm muted note and throws a triplet in the middle of the sequence then playing a chord etc. Testament fans know what I mean. He does this extremely fast and throws in lots of epic runs and licks in between. Above all of the chaos is Alex’s masterful lead playing, he is definitely one of the best thrash lead guitarists out there and his debut here is ridiculously good. Some of his solos and leads are just fantastic, namely “Do or Die”, “Apocalyptic City” and “First Strike Is Deadly”. The solo to “First Strike Is Deadly” is one of my favorites of all time, it has this awesome classical scaling to it that is extremely clever and works very well. Then we get to the vocals which are insane. Chuck Billy is an animal on this album, he roars and bellows with unstoppable force that is unmatched by any other vocalist. Greg Christian plays great bass here too, and you can actually hear it. He has a unique and gritty bass tone that does a great job of adding to the riffs. The music on here sounds like it was played by a bunch of pissed off kids who armed themselves with the ability to thrash, and they do a wicked job.

Overall, this album is an absolute beast. It is not at all polished or clean. It is a monster that will assault you. I love this album and I listen to it regularly, it never ceases to put a smile on my face with its raw energy and power. I wouldn’t exactly recommend this to everybody, while I believe it is one of the very best of the genre, it is not everyone’s cup of tea. It is seriously intense, and those who prefer their metal more polished might not enjoy this, however I just so happen to be one of those who prefer their metal that way, but this is still one of my favorites. If you are a Testament fan or a hardcore thrash fan buy this right freaking now, you will love this if you haven’t already heard it. If you want something to seriously get you headbanging or if you want some seriously intense metal, check this beast out. “Restart my life or self destruction! To climb this wall of dark construction! Holding the quest for freedom That BECKONS ME!!”

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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Living Death – Protected From Reality

protected

Year released: 1987
Duration: 38:18
Tracks: 9
Genre: Thrash Metal
Reviewed by: Acrobat on Encyclopeadia Metallum

For starters this album has one of my favourite album covers of all time. While it might seem a little hackneyed to some – I think it’s wonderful. Two children play with their Living Death mascot (every German home had one in the 1980s!) whilst they are unaware of the looming spectre who has come to heed their call and reap some unknown horror on their sleepy little German town (he’s probably out to get people who think Thorsten Bergmann’s vocals suck). It’s a marvellous little piece and the best part is that the band are pictured on the back sleeve at the very same haunted house. I wonder if they ventured up there every week for practice? I love it because despite being somewhat silly – or maybe because it’s somewhat silly – it’s just so unrelentingly macabre. And that really sums up the whole Living Death experience for me; they’re somewhat unusual in their approach and while you couldn’t argue that Protected from Reality beats Reign in Blood when it comes to teaching fear, it gives its own special brand of terror that probably came from a quaint little German town (well-connected to nearby municipalities and with both a LIDL and an ALDI).

Despite their status as German B-leaguers, Living Death are far from a generic band to me… their music’s just too unorthodox. Even at their most ‘normal-sounding’ moments on the albums that bookend this album they’ve still got a really bizarre edge to them. Sure, sometimes Metal Revolution sounds like Accept but it’s Accept if Udo were locked up in an dungeon and rattling his chains. And yeah, maybe ‘Tuesday’ on World Neuroses sounds like a bit like Skid Row but it’s a gangly, grossly undersexed version of Skid Row. For these reasons and more, I could never, ever confuse Living Death with the legions of normal-sounding Germans whose names generally aren’t so well known outside of their motherland (that means you, Gravestone!). Similarly, while Protected from Reality sees the band switching from speed to thrash it’s not exactly a step into a more ho-hum world but rather the band going further down their own sordid little rabbit hole. Musically, this might not shake any foundations in terms of originality but it’s so mercilessly grim that it just couldn’t be the work of any band but Living Death. After all, they don’t just sing about infanticide they sing about an infanticide – in two parts, obviously it must have been a drawn-out grizzly affair – that is so vile that it’s a horrible infanticide.

Of course, the sticking point with most folks with Living Death is Thorsten Bergmann. Even in an age when people are quite used to the idea of a vocalist who sounds like he is hell-bent on shredding his own vocal chords it seems that Thorsten’s shrill, moustachioed approach is off-putting. For me, however, he’s one of the biggest selling points for this band. I guess he’s roughly somewhere between Udo and King Diamond, but really he’s his own vocalist and I’ve not come across another vocalist who sounds (or dares to sound) like this. But Living Death have never been about individual performances and their main appeal is their atmosphere of that can best be described as strangely menacing (much like a daddy-long-legs). It’s just so… ugly sounding. It’s too grizzly for most metalheads to stomach.

However, even if you don’t care for Mr Bergmann much you can still appreciate the band’s best track which is ‘Wood of Necrophiliac’. It’s an incredibly sinister instrumental that honestly rivals any classic horror theme tune you’d care to mention. You can really imagine a necrophiliac stalking some foreboding forest in the dead of night – or Jimmy Saville fiddling with the recently deceased at Leeds mortuary. The gradually building tension and harrowing nature of it all really makes for one of metal’s finest instrumentals. Outside of that there’s still plenty to reveal in. ‘War of Independence’ is perhaps the second catchiest track here and it rides a fine riff as Bergmann wails as his life depended on it.

Honestly, it’s quite easy to hear why Living Death weren’t the best loved band around when it comes to late-80s thrash. They were clearly too ‘out-there’ for the regular short-wearing thrash populous even if they adopted the standard gang vocal approach for choruses on this album. In fact, I might well recommend this album more to people who like appreciate extreme metal rather than people who just want ‘fun’ thrash (hell, the album itself does have a bit of black metal what with ‘Manila Terror’s Celtic Frost-esque riffs and ‘Wood of Necrophiliac’ which remarkably sounds like Master’s Hammer before Master’s Hammer).

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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Overkill – Bloodletting

bloodletting

Year released: 2000
Duration: 51:46
Tracks: 10
Genre: Thrash Metal
Reviewed by: hells_unicorn on Encyclopaedia Metallum

As sure as the sun will rise, Overkill will deliver the goods with well-ordered, ass kicking precision, making sure that the number of dislocated necks in the audience is maximized. Dave Mustaine may have told the masses to “Rattle their fucking heads” in 1985, but the almighty wrecking crew has been making it happen non-stop since 1979, albeit through a different musical medium. That’s basically the magic that has kept the band at its core while the various members of the fictitious media phenomenon known as the big 4 all went through varying periods of abject sucking, keeping the heads banging and keeping the focus where all members of the metal cult demand it stay, at the altar of the almighty riff.

Their twelfth studio offering “Bloodletting” is no exception, as it oozes heaviness like a river of blood streaming from an army of dead posers on the battlefields of metal. It carries a small amount of remnants from the band’s previous few albums and is a bit slower and heavier than their 80s classics, but unlike “Necroshine” or “From The Underground And Below”, there’s also a very healthy dose of “The Years Of Decay” thrown in to up the thrash ante considerably. This change may have been due to a recent resurgence in interest in old school thrash metal at the time, or just the odd coincidence that this was the first studio album Overkill had done with one guitarist since 1989, but regardless the results are an interesting blend of two solid eras of the band, tilting more towards the early days.

Whether the band decides to kick things into overdrive or hang out in down tempo land, each chord thuds the ears like a ton of tempered steel. “Thunderhead” just lays down the law, banging the gavel like a bolt of lightning with its colossal sounding muted riffs, yet never really needing to sail into the stratosphere tempo wise. In some respects it reminds me of “Time To Kill”, but a little slower and with a chorus that marries audience fanfare with aggression rather than simply acting as an extension to the verses. It’s no surprise that this song has remained a live staple for this band since, as I’m sure its being played could inspire the sky to conjure up a storm in the name of all things metal. “Bleed Me” delivers a similar punch but in more of an “Elimination” kind of feel, going at a faster tempo and pumping out some really wicked riff breaks in between the verse and chorus sections.

The way that entire album just cooks regardless of tempo is enough to carry it along, but newcomer guitarist Dave Linsk takes it a step further. Naturally he takes care of all the essentials as far as bone crushing riffs are concerned, but his approach to playing the various guitar tracks off of each other is sheer brilliance, creating an atmosphere that is heavily comparable to what Gustafson pulled off on “The Years Of Decay”. A few pick scratch noises here, a broken chord line going on in the center of a break section, and a few harmonic fills as detailing between riff transitions and you have an arrangement big enough to make “And Justice For All” sound tame. Add to that an impressive collection of crazy fast guitar solos like the one heard on the catchy thrash anthem “What I’m Missing” with a smooth as hell tone and you’ve got a worthy successor to the Overkill brand name that upstages most of his predecessors. I still prefer Gustafson when all is said and done, but Linsk runs a very close second, largely because of his work on here and on “Killbox 13”.

But regardless of the heightened sense of technical flair and aesthetic differentiation at work here, the main draw is the textbook yet amazing thrash going on here. “Death Comes Out To Play” is classic fast paced goodness straight from the formula established by “Nothing To Die For” and “Birth Of Tension”. There’s also a gut stomping breakdown section screams “Darkness Descends” with perhaps a hint of “Persistence Of Time”. In classic Overkill fashion, at least for their high Thrash era of the late 80s, there are a couple of haunting ballads presented in the usual gloomy and dissonant fashion, of which “Blown Away” is the most intense, bringing back memories of those creepy harmonized volume swelled guitar choirs that kicked off “Evil Never Dies“. Blitz’s vocal delivery is as sick as they come, rendering the most vile of warlocks to ever shout incantations at the blackened night sky sound gimp-like in comparison.

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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Testament – The Gathering

thegathering

Year released: 1999
Duration: 43:42
Tracks: 11
Genre: Thrash Metal
Reviewed by: metaldude  on RateYourMusic

This album is a true heavy metal masterpiece. I have owned this record since it was released in 1999, and even to this day, I still become utterly filled with pure adrenaline each time I place it in my CD player for another listen. Dave Lombardo offers an absolutely stellar performance on drums for this effort. To this day, when I listen to this album, I am in absolute astonishment that the drumming is actually being performed by a human being. It almost sounds as if the drums are being performed by a machine, rather than someone of flesh and blood. Of course, I am certainly am not offering this comparison in reference to a drum machine either. 🙂 Chuck Billy presents the listener with an outstanding performance on vocals with this effort as well. He sings with a fairly broad level of vocal range throughout the majority of the tracks, and this of course allows the listener to embrace this recording without ever feeling that the music has become tiresome or overly repetitious. Eric Peterson and James Murphy are also superb on guitars, as is Steve DiGiorgio on bass.

There are many heavy metal bands today who are now attempting to slow down the tempo with the release of their latest offerings. The main focus now, for many, is to produce much simpler, and far less aggressive music in an attempt to appeal to the masses of the younger generation. Young people today often believe that bubble gum pop is what sets the standard for what is to be accepted as being high quality music. I, of course, am certainly not suggesting that people do not have the right to listen to music which they feel is most fitting to their own personal taste. However, the music of today which is being embraced as being appealing to the majority of the younger generation certainly does not ecapsulate any significant elements, or possess any shred of integrity. Music such as this,  which has such little substance, definitely has virtually no chance of standing the test of time; however, it is of course widely understood that it is not expected to. Pop music fades very quickly through our exsistence. That is why many new artists which appear are often filtered out just a few short years after being in the public eye. The people in the record industry need to remove these artists to make room for the next pop princess or heart throb to take centre stage. “A new version of the old scene” to present to the masses of the world as it were.

There are very few heavy metal efforts being produced now which encapsulate aggression, power, speed, and raw energy in their purest, and most honest forms. That being said, Testament have undoubtedly presented the listener with each of these elements in spades with this valiant and timeless heavy metal classic. At they same time, they have also completely gone far beyond the expectations of virtually any heavy metal enthusiast as well. There are several highlights on this CD, and in my opinion, there are no throw away tracks present here. My only suggestion for a potential listener is to be very cautious as to where they decide to listen to this album. The music is extremely furious, fast, aggresive, and untamed, and this may result in the listener handbanging in such a fury that an accident may occur. 🙂 Any fan of high quality thrash metal music will certainly be more than satisfied with this effort. That being said, I must give thie album 5 stars. The production is very clean, and the performances from the band are nothing short of absolutely sensational. I hope that every fan of Testament, as well as heavy metal music in general, enjoys this album as much as I have.

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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Venom – At War With Satan

Venomatwarwithsatan

Year released: 1984
Duration: 39:45
Tracks: 7
Genre: Thrash Metal, Black Metal
Reviewed by: Felix 1666 on Encyclopeadia Metallum

From my point of view, “At War with Satan” is a real cult album. It was the first Venom vinyl that I bought. This is certainly one reason why I have a specific relationship to this album. But I promise, the creative output itself delivers many other reasons to praise it in the highest terms. The crucial factor is that the British three-piece delivered an absolutely unique full-length. A bold claim? Well, as far as I can see, there was no blueprint for the gigantic title track. To be honest, this song still remains unrivaled.

It did not only use the entire range of the genre. It was much more than this: the title track redefined black metal once and for all. Everybody thought that this more or less one-dimensional genre was only fixed on pure chaos. But “At War with Satan” proved the opposite in the most impressive way. The song was very well thought out and enthused the listener with an overwhelming number of different parts. I suspect that it marked the result of a long compositional process. Just remember the fact that the opening riff had already been offered at the end of “Black Metal”. In any case, it was a stirring experience to hear that the single parts blended seamlessly into each other without exception. That was by no means a matter of course, because Venom pulled out all the stops. They presented chaotic high speed eruptions, spoken parts, atmospheric intermezzos and, to top it all off, a kind of vocal solo by Cronos. I personally have to admit that it took some time before I understood what had happened. This was almost too much for a good thing. Already the first riffs of this titan were of such top quality that I would have enjoyed to listen to them for twenty minutes without interruption. But as said above, Venom had much more to showcase so that these riffs only showed up again at the end in order to close the circle and to indicate that the war between good and evil – this was the subject of the extensive lyrics – will continue forever.

After this high sophisticated black metal ecstasy, the B side had a hard situation. (Honestly, I was at risk to forget the B side because of the monumental title track…) Five more or less usual songs and the nonsensical final number could naturally not compete with the masterpiece of the A side. It overshadowed everything else. Nevertheless, I am talking about five very strong pieces. Venom had refined its compositions while following a slightly more melodic approach. But this new orientation was not accompanied by a loss of harshness. The album just sounded a bit less chaotic due to smoothly flowing tracks such as “Cry Wolf”. Mid-tempo was dominating, but Venom had never only focused on high speed rhythms. On an overall basis, the B side tunes scored with a well balanced mix of chaos and melody, pounding metal parts and high velocity passages. The main function of “Aaaaaaarrghh” (hopefully, I did not forget an “a”) was to complete the album. It is absolutely rubbish, but it belongs to this outstanding full-length and proved the band´s self-mocking sense of humour. I think that´s the reason why I like it in a certain way. However, in my humble opinion, “Cry Wolf” and “Stand Up (and Be Counted)” formed the highlights of the B side.

Due to its solid and adequate production, the revolutionary album sounded neither amateurish nor polished. This constituted a clear improvement after the rather dull and hollow sound of the first albums. The rattling drums of Abaddon were probably not to everyone´s taste, but their sound matched properly with the chaotic image of the band. Apart from that, the stylish cover design of the gatefold album was remarkable, not least because of the fact that the band quoted Shakespeare on the back cover. In the end, “At War with Satan” was not only the best effort of the magical original line-up. At the same time, the full-length marked its last work that was fully convincing. This might be an other reason, why I still have a special relationship to this outstanding masterpiece.

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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Testament – Practice What You Preach

practice

Year released: 1989
Duration: 46:07
Tracks: 10
Genre: Thrash Metal
Reviewed by: GuitarNick on Encyclopeadia Metallum

Practice What You Preach is the third full-length Testament album and probably the best of their first era, which starts with “The Legacy” and ends with “The Ritual”. While it lacks the delightful eerie acoustic sessions that are spotted in some of the songs of the New Order (i.e. Eerie Inhabitants and Disciples of the Watch) it is full of superb riffs and impressive, fast and melodic solos. Greg’s bass is enhanced so that the listener can get a full image of the band’s sound and Louie’s drumming is creditable and fast-paced. This one is a great thrash album, but you shouldn’t expect to hear anything like “The Legacy”. This one combines melody with speed and, as a result, elegant and elaborant thrash riffs are dominant in it. If you have a good taste in great underground music, then you should definately get your hands on this album.

1) Practice What You Preach: This song starts with a great riff and it continues with another one and all of a sudden, right from the start of the album, great music keeps on coming! You can hear the bass chanting and grooving among with the guitars, filling the sound as a bass should and going further than this, offering an original experience to us, the auditors. Chuck’s voice is great – do not even think about mentioning Metallica here, I’ll talk more about this later – as it strikes right at your brain, making you want to scream the fucking lyrics. The song is very fluent and the solo starts before you even realize that two minutes have passed. The musicianship, the skill, the inspiration, the speed and the melody are all flowing endlessly from Alex’s soloing, giving a miraculous element to this song which is already something more than extremely kick-ass. The fact that the solo is lengthy too renders it one of the album’s heart-pleasers. Listen to it over and over again if you’re unable to discover the magic that’s in it; you’ll profit much from it, believe me. All in all, the group’s conception of this song and their performance on it is astonishing. But music is about lyrics too, right? That’s why we listen to Testament! Practice what you preach is such a common expression, but no one seems to pay attention to it. We all are philosophers in our own way, but are we practitioners? We want to have an opinion about every fucking thing, don’t we? Just think about it… Once you find your answers don’t forget to thank Testament for stressing this out for you.

2) Perilous Nation: Another great song which is full of superb, melodic, thrash-y riffs. Like the first song, this one is not only about thrash and harsh riffing, it’s more elegant and it combines melody with speed. The blending of the guitars with the vocals is wonderful. Chuck is incredible at discovering voice-riffs that are so different from what the guitars play and so melodic and mind-intriguing that they make you want to hear this song repeatedly. And while you are lost in the magic land of Testament’s music, listening to wild vocals, melodic vocals, great voice-riffs – as I call them – and lunar guitar riffs, the pre-solo part begins. Alex is surely messing with our heart in this part of the song. Every time I listen to this short lead I feel the band’s energy overwhelming me; huge emotions of unspeakable pleasure arise every fucking time I’m listening to this part! After that, the real solo starts. Signed by Alex’s quality and genius, it’s superb. Generally, it’s a great song full of intense music which keeps the listener amazed. Let us now consider the lyrics. Testament is known to put politics into music but not in a raw or disturbing way and that’s what they do here. The philosophic and realistic approach to politics in this one is certainly giving you food for thought. I mean, think about this piece of lyrics: Bold is the one who dares to say what he feels – renegation man, to no one he yields. Right there, right from the start of the song, there’s a moral value to be made into an example on how to live your life. The rest of the lyrics is just as good and adorable while it’s full of hidden messages that are waiting for you to unveil them. Speaking of all these I nearly forgot; it takes some courage to try and end a song with a fading solo and it takes talent to make it work. Apparently, Testament got both of these virtues, as this song’s ending indicates. I am very happy to note that there are such great musicians out there like Skolnick and Peterson, competing in talent with the great late Randy Rhoads.

3) Envy Life: This one is as very captivating song. In the very beginning of it you get to enjoy Chuck’s growl – a technique that he will be using more in the later Testament albums “Demonic” and “The Gathering” – and envy him for he’s a multitalented musician. The drumming in this song is fascinating too because it doesn’t only provide tempo and pace but it also completes the riffs with great fill-ups. This song is a little bit of groovy too, giving you an aspect of Testament’s heavy and imposing musical side. That side combined with Alex’s squeals and Chuck’s voice creates a unique gloomy atmosphere and that’s why the lyrics of the song fit in the music perfectly. Obscure rituals and dark magic are the main themes of this piece, but that’s not what the lyrics are all about. Consider this lyrical part: The lost / dark souls of time envy life. If you look beyond the rituals and the darkness, you’ll find out an obvious yet veiled meaning in this song; it’s the dark souls of all time who envy life, not the peaceful ones who are happily resting in peace. It’s the malevolent and vicious persons who spent their life in hate that envy the living. The whole point is that, if you are moral and principled during your life, you won’t feel sad when death approaches you and you won’t become a “lost soul” envying the living. You’ll probably have earned a lot and gave everything you’ve had to your loved ones and, by the time death comes to take you, you’ll feel complete and ready to leave this world. You’ll know you did what you ought to and lived a great life; you won’t envy life!

4) Time Is Coming: I do not think that it’s necessary to point out that this song starts with a superb riff accompanied by an even greater lead that is just mind blowing. Instead, I ought to admit that the next two riffs are pure melody and thrash-y speed simultaneously. Chuck sounds angry and excited in the verses giving emphasis in the dark chorus which follows. The combination of the vocals and the riffs is magical and original. The whole structure of the song is building up nicely, peaking with a repetition of the first fluent riff, which is now used as a pre-solo riff. Next thing you know the solo comes in. The rhythm in the background is brilliant with the drums keeping a subtle pace with pleasant break-ups and the bass flirting robustly with our ears. The solo, of course, is in the limelight giving pleasure to our ears with its greatness and musicianship, both of which are granted lavishly by Alex Skolnick. The complexity of the fuse of the solo with the rhythm produces an amazing piece of music, but that seems to be nothing but a standard in this grand album! As for the lyrics, Testament is onto politics again but, this time, in a more direct approach, talking about corrupted cops and malevolent greedy presidents. Unfortunately, these are the people who are in charge of our world nowadays. I do like to believe, anyhow, that they represent a small minority and that things do change. I do believe that, fortunately, “Life it spins just like a wheel “, as Testament underline in this masterpiece.

5) Blessed In Contempt: By the start of the fifth song you should be already taken aback by Testament’s art. This one is beginning with a sturdy opening accompanied by a solo which seems to be blessed in eloquence and swift melody. Chuck Billy enters the musical arena with an appetite for annihilation. His rough vocals are stretched at the end of almost each line creating an eerie but grand atmosphere of darkness. The lyrics are in perfect harmony with that kind of atmosphere, as they seem to talk about an unbearable pain evoked to the singer by many venomous incidents including his father’s death. The terror and the misery are burying his will to live and so he ends up a contemptible human wreck. That’s what we should all avoid to become, no matter what shit happens to our life. And while you get the chance to start exploring the deeper meaning of the lyrics, a joyful music break takes place, in which Testament present once again their musical skills as a group. The arabic scales that are so commonly used by this huge band are showing up here as well, taking your mind even deeper to the darkness of this composition. The track keeps flowing while our hero is going mad, pleading for someone to take him to his sanity “before it gets too late”. All the intension which is constructed hitherto is exploding with Alex’s solo which starts out with quick tapings to get to a more psychedelic squealing session, which is again followed by Alex’s speedy melodies. These continual inversions might even symbolize our hero’s psychic instability. The solo is smoothly giving ground to the last great riff of the song while passing off. That last riff is excellently combined with the distant obscure cry, chanting “Blessed In Contempt”, which is giving the auditor the fucking creeps. Broadly, it’s a very imposing and morbid piece.

6) Greenhouse Effect: Right from the outset of this song an elegant trash riff is appearing just before the whole thing gets heavier with Chuck being in charge of this heavy-ness. Many inspired riffs come along filling the song with great music and constant changes. It’s amazing how many cool riffs are in this song being accompanied by different sturdy leads. Regarding the solo, I must admit that it’s a real diamond. Alex is fusing speed with melody again, achieving an exciting result. This song is, in general, another proof of Testament’s musicianship; it’s filled with A-class music. Those dudes should be honored for giving their souls into music; there’s no way they could have made an album like this one without doing so, you see! I won’t analyze the lyrics this time as it’s obvious that they’re talking about adopting an active stance against environmental issues. All I would like to mention is that Testament did again a great job creating a song which contains excellent music and thoughtful lyrics too. Keep in mind though that not all bands are capable of doing so; some thrash bands are completely wasting the lyrical part of their songs talking about endless massacres! That concept could be nice for a song or two but certainly not for more. Anyway, the political aspect towards the ecological issues which is included in this song is also nice, taking these problems to a dimension more original than what is on your television.

7) Sins of Omission: I’m getting weary of composing this hymn to this super band’s album, because it truly has so much spirit and skill inside it that I just can’t help but mention every single detail. Once again, it takes Testament not one but two great riffs to compose the introduction of their song. The vocals in this one are overflowing with rough excellence while they’re neat and catchy. The whole composition is memorable without losing the gloom that Testament always attach to their compositions. A short solo intervenes the song’s progression, bringing a gleefully impressive change towards the light on this otherwise obscure composition. As soon as it vanishes though and its gentle melody fades out, the heavy thrash elements are emerging once again. The verse and the refrain are followed by a grimly growl and a new innovative riff blended with a lead part. That is when the solo comes in. Did I say that the last one was a diamond? Well this one’s a diamond too, as nearly as every single solo in this album. Fortunately for us, it is lengthy and the auditor can satiate with pure magic. Squeals, sweet bendings, fast sweep pickings and fluent legatos constitute this solo, so enjoy it! The last refrain is enriched with accurate leads so you can be absorbed by this song, in case you weren’t overwhelmed with magic yet – which is absolutely impossible. Finally, the lyrics on this one are a real headache. Like many Testament compositions, including songs from this album, depending on the idiosyncrasy of each person the lyrics can be interpreted in many different ways. Personally, I think that this one is talking about how pointless life can seem to be when we are possessed by depression and desperately seek answers to our problems. That’s when we’ve got to use our mind and “hope to find the meaning of existence “. It may be that many different purposes hold us to life but again, we should try and find them in times of crisis in order to be saved. We should not omit to search for them – that would be a sin (of omission)! It’s easier said than done, I know, but what’s the whole point of life if not fighting for decency and prosperity?

8) The Ballad: This one is a golden song full of emotions; it’s another proof that Testament’s music talent knows no boundaries. Constituted by pure and sweet melody, it’s an amazing metal-ballad, just like the other ballads of this unique band. The only differentiation is that, in this one, many heavenly solos are included. The intro solo is not just harmonically fitted into the music; it’s also extremely hard to play on acoustic guitar too. Moreover, when Chuck starts singing you get that knot of sorrowfulness right in your heart… Sweet sadness is taking over your soul and you ought to enjoy this depressive feeling as long as you can because, after all, music is all about emotions. The two next solos are very mind-tripping – especially the last one – while each note seems to be carefully chosen in both of them. The metal part of the song begins after the second solo and it is combined with Chuck’s talented vocal exhibition (yeah!). Nice riffs and leads are showing up, leading to the main solo which is a jewel too. This song ends before it even began if you ask me, that’s just how fluent and great it is. I really can’t understand why so many people underrate it! It’s all about music, harmony, melody, and emotions without missing the thrash metal element one could expect to hear from a band such as Testament. The lyrics are depressing all the way, making you sigh silently for all that you’ve missed during your lifetime. That’s until it gets to the end, where hope is reborn from the ashes of despair. Your life can begin right from the start, no matter how old you are or how old you feel; life’s never done with you, so keep fighting.

9) Nightmare (Coming Back to You): This one is the most thrash-y song of the album and it lacks the elegance for which I’ve been praising Testament throughout my whole review. This one is for the rattleheads! It seems that Testament is giving a break to our minds which must be truly absorbed by the quality of the album at this point. This song is based on speed and roughness. It is really robust and has an insane solo which is aiming to drive the auditor crazy. Chuck is strengthening the speed of his performance, rendering this song intense. The lyrics are rebel-like and signify the confusion that many people who are desperately searching for a way to “find the place their life was before” feel. Chuck advices each one of us to wake up from his nightmare and stop taking what they give, implying the media and the political and economic leaders by using the word “they”.

10) Confusion Fusion: This is a nice instrumental song written by skillful musicians. The fact that there’s no solo in this one, although it’s an instrumental, renders it an exception to its kind. In that way though, a lot of attention is paid by the listener to each of the riffs of this piece. Needless to say, the lead parts are carefully designed and the whole composition is complex and pleasant to listen to. The bass is amplified so that we can enjoy it equally with the guitars, and the drums are decently keeping the tempo. A groovy song operating as the unexpected but nevertheless grand finale of this unique album.

There are some remaining points that I would like to point out before finishing my review. The most significant of these is regarding Chuck Billy’s voice. Many are the ones who can’t really spot the difference between Chuck Billy’s and James Hetfield’s voice quality but, if you ask me, these guys obviously don’t know shit about Testament nor Metallica. There’s a case, however, that they are so attached to Metallica’s sound that they hear Hetfield’s voice every fucking where. Get over it people! Yes, James has a nice voice, but Chuck does to in a whole different way. And since this album is a Testament album I insist on stretching out that Billy’s voice quality is unique and that it indicates in an odd but pleasant way his native american roots. His talent is obvious; all you have to do is listen to him for what he truly is, not what you want to hear. Once you manage to expel Metallica from your mind, you’ll find out why Billy is so unique. As for the music, I can’t understand why everyone is comparing Metallica with every single metal band. You ought to know that almost all the old thrash bands emerged at the same chronic period in the same territory. However, if I must issue a judgement, that would be in favor of Testament for obvious reasons: you really can’t compare the skill and the musicianship Testament have with the one Metallica have and you just can’t compare Alex’s soloing and Eric’s genius at composing great complex riffs with Hetfield’s and Hammet’s abilities. Thank god there was Cliff out there, delivering music to the people!

All in all, this album is an excellent, perfect piece of music. I do not consider Testament to be the gods of music or anything like that, so do not get me wrong. Anyway, this is not my one and only favorite album, but it certainly is one of my favorites and I sincerely couldn’t bear staring at all those shitty reviews throwing mud on in. In conclusion, you ought to love an album full of emotions, thought (in the lyrics), complexity, melody, speed, heavy-ness and, of course, thrash-ness; you ought to love “Practice What You Preach”, Testament’s third full-length album. I’m obliged to utter a huge thanks for Eric’s incredible riffing, Alex’s godly soloing and Chuck’s awesome voice!

PART OF THE “THE 36 GRAND” ALBUM CHART by VACTERION

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