Overkill – The Electric Age Review

Overkill are one of the hardest working, relentless, dependable bands in Thrash Metal. Much like Motorhead were, they were constantly on the road or pumping out album after album, flying the flag and keeping the faith over the years (and still are) wether the media were paying attention or not.

Their first four albums are pretty indispensable Thrash Metal must-haves that I am very find of. I keep a framed vinyl copy of The Years Of Decay on my wall as decoration. I can’t claim to be their biggest ever fan, for example I didn’t give their ‘90s output as much attention as I should have until recently, but I have been slowly rectifying that, and I still have a very high regard of the band even if I don’t know every single thing they ever released. Public opinions seem to be mixed on almost everything after their WFO album, but I remember clearly when almost the whole media, fan community and internet were united in love for their 2010 album Ironbound. That was a fantastic, reenergised, retro but modern, firecracker of an album that filtered what was good about classic Overkill and modernised it, and crucially had the songwriting and performance to back up the production and brilliant formula. To make a Testament comparison, it was very much their Formation Of Damnation.

What happened after Ironbound though? Was it an anomalous high-water mark like Megadeth’s Endgame but then they slowly slipped back down from the heights? Or was it a kick up the ass that was just the beginning of a new period of great album after great album?

Luckily, it was the latter. How do you possibly follow up a career rejuvenation like Ironbound? “Easy,” said Overkill a mere two years later, and promptly issued forth another fired-up, teeth shattering, razor sharp collection of classic yet modernised tracks that give the fans exactly what they want, but somehow without just recycling old material. Stylistically, it is a continuation but also a fine-tuning of what they did on Ironbound, with a few less over-long songs, and a slight rejigging of the ratio of Thrash to Classic Metal to Groove aspects, with a bit less groove this time around and a lot more thrash.

Another superb production job with great guitar tone (and more importantly for Overkill, bass tone), another impressive Ron Lipnicki drum performance, another example of Blitz’s singing/attitude at his very best (gotta love his sarcastic sounding angry snarl) all serve to compliment that aforementioned style and add to the quality of the record as a whole.

Highlights include the single “Electric Rattlesnake” as well as the brief but satisfying “Old Wounds, New Scars” and best of all is probably “Save Yourself” which is just a perfect example of the sound, spirit and style of Overkill.

If you liked Ironbound, this is a tighter, faster, even better version of what that album achieved. If you ever liked Overkill at all, there’s practically no chance you wouldn’t like The Electric Age. Sixteen original studio albums deep into their forty-year career, it was/is pretty exciting to think that the band were/still are able to make material this good.

Heathen – The Evolution Of Chaos Review

Heathen are one of the better of the underrated Bay Area Thrash Metal bands, from their melodic and catchy 1987 debut Breaking The Silence, to their dense and slightly progressive Victims Of Deception in 1991. After a long period of inactivity with only occasional appearances, they finally returned with 2010’s The Evolution Of Chaos (or 2009, if you lived in Japan).

Their guitarist Lee Altus has been making a name for himself in Exodus in recent years, and Exodus repay the favour with guest appearances on here by singer Rob Dukes and guitarist Gary Holt.

This album is very much modern Thrash done right; catchy melodies, memorable choruses, a good mixture of tempos but not forgetting to rock out and speed up, and utterly magnificent lead guitar work.

The production, from Juan Urteaga, is absolutely top drawer and equal to any of the modern Thrash releases by the likes of Andy Sneap. It sounds so clear and smooth, highlighting Heathen’s melodic aspirations really well.

In terms of direction, they do try and balance the style of both their more direct debut and their more ambitious sophomore effort, with steps into the future in the form of a whole new approach. The balance of those three key ideas has lead to a very fine record that fans of the band, and the genre at large need to check out.

If there was a slight criticism to be levelled at the album, it is quite long (68 and a half minutes!) but to be fair, there isn’t much in the way of filler either, so I guess we should just be grateful for having a lot of high quality material, even if it is hard to find the time to listen to it all in one sitting.  

Here’s include the catchy “Arrows Of Agony,” the direct “Dying Season” and the varied “No Stone Left Unturned.”

Whereas some other heritage bands came back and their album was more of a step in the right direction (Forbidden) or a disappointment (Nuclear Assault), Heathen just nail it here. Well-written, well played and well produced. This set a standard for me against which comebacks can be judged (recently topped by Sacred Reich, but for the past decade, its definitely been one of the best).

Annihilator – Ballistic, Sadistic Review

If I had to describe this album in three words? Absolute. Guitar. Pornography! – Thrash fans the world over can rejoice, because on their 17th studio album, Canada’s best Thrash band (no offence to Sacrifice, Exciter and Voivod fans) are truly on top form. I don’t know what has happened in Jeff Water’s life, but he sounds absolutely super-charged. Best vocals of his career. Superb song-writing. Astounding solos. Performances like a man possessed. If the band had broken up after their second album and this was their comeback, the music press would be all over this like ants on a picnic.

As it stands; Their previous album was a step in the right direction, but this album is an Olympic sprint in the right direction. Chocked full of lead guitar that would make most of the great virtuosos blush, fast enough to make modern Megadeth albums feel like a Doom Metal band, fun enough to make it endlessly memorable, Ballistic Sadistic is quite possibly Annihilator’s best album of the modern age. Perhaps their 3rd best ever.

The production is crystal clear but with nice crunchy rhythm guitar and hard hitting drums, all the instruments are perfectly balanced, nice thick bass, vocals not too loud. Its only 10 songs, no intros, no ballads, no joke tracks, just absolute “give the people what they want” thrashing. I mean it isn’t devoid of variety (they don’t call this man the Eddie Van Halen of Thrash Metal for nothing) but it is hyper-focused and filler-free.

Highlights include the opening three songs, including the very Never, Neverland-reminiscent single “Psycho Ward” (Jeff’s lyrics were never the most progressive when it comes to mental health, but I the music is brilliant) as well as the speedy “The End Of The Lie” and “Out With The Garbage” which channel the band’s faster material from their late ‘80s style and not forgetting the brilliant “Lip Service” which carries on that fun guitars cut out, rhythm section takes over style of song that the band tried on songs like Knight Jumps Queen” and “Pastor Of Disaster” in the early ‘90s.

When Annihilator are on, they are really on, one of the best bands in the whole genre when they get it right, and this my friends, is the band on and righter than right. Do you like to headbang? Do you like your air guitar? Do like a bit of melody with your Thrash? Then this red-hot scorcher of an album is highly recommended.

Agent Steel – Unstoppable Force Review

Unstoppable Force is the classification-defying Speed/Thrash/Heavy/US Power Metal band Agent Steel’s second full-length album, following up the exciting 1985 debut album Skeptic’s Apocalypse and the 1986 stop-gap EP Mad Locust Rising.

The previous record was a blistering Priest, Maiden and NWOBHM influenced explosion of energy, that was reminiscent of a lot of the best early Thrash albums of the time and with a few Queensryche influences sprinkled on top.

This 1987 sophomore effort carries on that sound (and UFO obsessed lyrical bent), but sees the LA band lean even more heavily on the early Queensryche sound. Singer John Cryiss definitely has been listening to more Geoff Tate since the last record, and even on the speedier tracks, like the appropriately named opener “Unstoppable Force,” and the catchy “Nothin Left” you can still pick up hints of Tate in his performance. However sometimes the whole band just goes for it and full-on writes a Queensryche song, such as on the moody mid-temp “Still Searching” which comes across as the missing link between The Warning and Rage For Order, or the atmospheric album closer “Traveller” which has some delicious Metallica Fade To Black sounding lead guitar to start off with, but quickly ends up being their equivalent of Roads To Madness; derivative – maybe, delightful – unarguably!

The real album highlight however is the six-and-a-half minute instrumental workout “The Day At Guyana” (which is not a Manowar cover, in case you were wondering, but obviously named for the same Jonestown Cool Aid massacre).

Like the previous album, clocking in at just over half an hour, this record is filler-free, to the point and great from start to finish. The playing, performance and production are all tighter and more professional than the debut, and this is a damn fine follow up and must have addition to your collection. If you like your Thrash and are also a big fan of Crimson Glory, Metal Church or especially early Queensryche, then this is essential listening.  

Sacred Reich – The American Way Review (2)

(I wrote this review several years ago, but noticed it was missing from the reviews menu, and it was quicker to post it again here than scroll through years of post to find the origional to fix the menu)

Sacred Reich are a brilliant thrash metal band from Phoenix, Arizona. They play groove centered breakdowns mixed with chunky speed metal segments and have an awesome singer called Phil Rind, who belongs more to the Phil Anselmo School of singing than to the Death Metal or Iron Maiden-copycat styles that were common among many non-Bay Area Thrash bands.

The American Way, is a bona fide metal classic, containing many of the band’s greatest songs, for example ‘Who’s to Blame,’ and the famous Title Track (which you may remember from the early 90’s Brendan Frasier Cave man Movie ‘California Man.’)

The American Way is possibly Sacred Reich’s career highlight; capitalizing on the success of their previous EP and signature tune ‘Surf Nicaragua,’ the band further mix Hardcore Punk and a little taste of Groove Metal into their classic Thrash sound to create the perhaps ultimate Sacred Reich album. Don’t get me wrong, its still classic Thrash, but with enough variety to make every song distinct, memorable and catchy.

This album contains everything you want from a metal album; complex drumming, speedy riffs, groovy breakdowns, flashy guitar solos and interesting lyrics. The lyrics are socially conscious and political like many of their peers, but less ham-fisted than some of the worse thrash lyricists of the time were. Topics of discussion include everything from backwards messages and politics to metal elitism.

The production is punchy and chunky, with a clarity between the instruments and overall it is generally one of the better produced albums of the era.

The remastered edition comes in a beautiful digipak, and contains raw demos of 6 of the album’s songs along with the music video for ‘The American Way.’

In summary; This is a highly recommended album to any fan of thrash metal. If you like Nuclear Assault or Anthrax in particular then you’re going to love ‘The American Way.

Sacred Reich – Still Ignorant Live 1987-1997 Review (2)

(I wrote this review several years ago, but noticed it was missing from the reviews menu, and it was quicker to post it again here than scroll through years of post to find the origional to fix the menu)

Sacred Reich deliver the goods on this live effort, with a career spanning track listing, energetic performance and a great sound. The live album, recorded before the group disbanded sounds awesome, with a really chunky guitar sound and a good mix altogether.

Vocalist Phil Rind can really perform live, and doesn’t fall short live like some other singers. Highlights include a storming rendition of ‘Who’s To Blame,’ a surprisingly bouncy version of ‘Independent,’ as well as all the classics like ‘Surf Nicaragua,’ and ‘Death Squad.’

The Crowd are mix low enough to still be heard but not ruin the sound, and the whole sound gives off a really good concert vibe, it seems like it would’ve been amazing to have been there like all the best live albums do.

The concert mixes in a few numbers from the band’s underrated final album ‘Heal,’ and the songs sound amazing and are welcome next to the classic material.

Good grooves, melodic solos, chunky riffs and a solid production. What more could you ask for ? If you like Sacred Reich you really owe it to yourself to buy this, if you’re new to the band this is a great place to start.

Sacred Reich – Heal Review

The 1990s were not kind to a lot of Thrash Metal bands. Some broke up. Some went soft or tried new styles. Some went too progressive or too extreme. Some just ran out of good ideas.

There are of course, always exceptions to every trend. Heal by Sacred Reich is one such exception. This album is an underrated gem. Now; They may have moved into a Pantera-influenced Groove Metal style for half the album, which could be off-putting to die hard Thrashers, but half the record is still aggressive speedy Thrash and the songs that aren’t are way better than you’d expect from anything in 1996 anyway.

Part of what makes it work so well is Phil Rind’s vocals are perhaps the best of his career. He really developed over the years since Ignorance. Another thing that makes it work so well are that the songs are just so damn catchy and memorable. Finally; The slower moments really help the band’s trademark political and socially aware lyrical content easier to get across. When its not constantly all 1,000mph then you get to take it on board a bit more.

As described above, its an album of two halves. Highlights from the faster stuff includes “Break Through” and “Don’t” which are punchy and energetic, and perhaps best of all the furious album closer “The Power Of The Written Word” which is perhaps the band’s most pissed off song since their debut. (Talk about going out with a bang).

Highlights from the slower stuff include the Sabbathy grooving Title Track, the memorable anti-racist “Blue Suit, Brown Shirt” and the very fun “I Don’t Care.”

Even the Oingo Boingo cover works. The only thing that doesn’t quite do it for me is “Low” which is a bit too Alice In Chains for even my tastes. People who thought that tracks like “A Question” from the previous EP or “Crawling” from the last album weren’t Thrashy enough may want to avoid that one track in particular. (Don’t let it put you off trying the whole record though).

After this album, drummer Dave McClain would go on to join Machine Head for around two decades and Sacred Reich would break up and only play intermittently over the years. (Although things have come full circle now, with the band back full steam ahead with their superb new album, Awakening, and guess who’s behind the kit?).

Although their comeback record is superb, for the last two decades this was a fine ending to the Sacred Reich story. It may not be all fast, all the time, but it is all entertaining, all the time.

Exodus – Force Of Habit Review

The 1990s had a very mixed effect on Thrash Metal bands. Some, like Megadeth and Metallica toned down their sound and became superstars (or bigger stars than they already were). Some, like Sodom and at one point Testament, decided to incorporate some influences from the Death Metal scene and get even harder. Some, like Heathen, Hirax and Death Angel broke up.

One of Thrash’s most important bands, San Fransisco’s Exodus had some line-up trouble, bereavement and a whole lot of confusion. Right before it all went upside down, they released their fifth album, Force Of Habit, in 1992 (the year after Nirvana’s Nevermind album).

Like Anthrax’s Sound Of White Noise, Testament’s Low, Forbidden’s Distortion and so many other Thrash band’s albums between 1992-1999, the album is not the all out speed and violence fans had come to expect. There were new ideas, slower tempos and alternative lyrical themes than just the usual things like blood, war, slaughter and the glory of metal. There was a fatter production sound, and more of a Rock feel than their previous all-Metal all the time material.

If you just want face-melters like ‘Piranha,’ ‘Thrash Under Pressure’ and ‘Faster Than You’ll Ever Live To Be’ from previous records then there is some material here that may come as a bit of a shock. The single ‘A Good Day To Die’ has a southern groove like Pepper Keenan-era C.O.C. The 11-minute ‘Architect Of Pain’ is a dynamic, slow, sludgy number with an almost Alice In Chains feel.  The Rolling Stones cover song ‘Bitch’ has a horn section and ‘Pump It Up’ has sing-along choruses and a punky tom based drumbeat.

There are a few bones thrown to Thrash fans though. Other single ‘Thorn In My Side’ has a crunchy riff and great energy. ‘Feeding Time At The Zoo’ & ‘Count Your Blessings’ pick up the speed. ‘Me, Myself & I’ has razor sharp riffing, gang vocals and a chorus which could fit on any of the previous three albums.

After this album, the band would disband, then later reunite with original singer Paul Baloff and release a live album, before disappearing again, and going through numerous line-up shifts over the years, but releasing some of their best albums to date along the way (Tempo Of The Damned for example is definitely worth looking into).

History has sort of forgotten about (or intentionally overlooked) this album. How do I feel about it, you ask? It’s a bit of a strange record, but interesting. If I was ranking all of Exodus’ albums, this would be dead last. It however, is not bad. Uneven maybe, but still worth your time. It is refreshing to hear them thinking outside the box, but its also good it didn’t last for too long and they got back to doing what they do best later.

Whiplash – Insult To Injury Review

If you like Thrash Metal, chances are you’ll like at least most of the Big Four; as well as probably Testament, Exodus, Sepultura, Kreator and Overkill. If you like any of those bands you may delve deeper and get into bands like Sodom, Destruction, Death Angel, Dark Angel, Sacred Reich or Nuclear Assault.

If you still want more thrash, you may go for British bands like Sabbat and Onslaught, or indeed less successful Bay Area bands like Heathen, Vio-Lence and Forbidden. Maybe some Canadian bands like Annihilator, Voivod, Razor or Sacrifice. Maybe crossover bands like D.R.I and Suicidal Tendencies. There’s probably tiers.

The subject of today’s review, Whiplash are definitely a band worth checking out if you love Thrash but have exhausted the kind of 10-20 biggest bands already. Hailing from New Jersey, being singed to Roadrunner, and playing straight up, unadulterated Thrash, Whiplash have a lot to offer. Not the least known band, but definitely not the first band you’d be recommended…

The previous two albums to this, the semi-classic Power & Pain (1986) and the heavier Ticket To Mayhem (1987) are hard hitting, fast and energetic metal which has been recorded as a power trio. What Insult To Injury (1989) adds is a new lead singer (Glenn Hansen) and much more emphasis on song-writing over pure fury.

Don’t get me wrong. Most of the album is still all about face shattering impact, but there is room for singing along too, hooks to hang onto, moments of intrigue. “Dementia Thirteen” for example has a lot of groove to it. “Essence Of Evil” is a bit more technical. “Battlescars” sounds like a band trying to replicate the Slayer of Show No Mercy instead of the Slayer of Reign In Blood. “Rape Of The Mind” even has a very Led Zeppelin feel to it, which isn’t something you’d always associate with Thrash, but it works!

In my opinion; of the band’s original run before their hiatus and reunion, Insult To Injury is definitely the best and the new fan’s first port of call. It has the best production, the best vocals, the best lead guitar and the most variety. Sadly, almost comical album art, but hey, that’s almost part of the charm.

Acid Reign – Moshkinstein EP review

Moshkinstein is the debut EP/Mini-Album from British Thrash Metal band Acid Reign. It was released in 1988. If you want to pick up a copy nowadays, the band have helpfully reissued it, along with all their albums and almost every track they ever recorded on an anthology boxset.

The artwork and lyrics remind me of Anthrax with their nonsense Thrash can be fun too beliefs, but not into parody territory like Lawnmower Deth. The music however is competent, serious, well-meaning ‘80s Thrash, with quick drums, buzzy guitars, and ok solos. The songs mostly tend to run to the 5-6 minute mark and do mix up tempos. They have a strange mixture of a punk feel due to the poor production and a technical feel due to the choppy song structures. The vocals are reminiscent of D.R.I or the shorter novelty Nuclear Assault songs in their shouty almost Hardcore flavour (I’d recommend this band to fans of either of those artists).

Highlights include the pounding opener ‘Godess’ and the Norman Bates themed ‘Motherly Love.’

Compared to other British Thrash bands of the era, they aren’t as Venom-influenced as Onslaught, nor as Bay Area copyist as Xentrix. Acid Reign, while not being the most unique band in the world, do manage to carve out their own niche.

This isn’t a band you’ll just discover and love for any other reason, but if you are a massive Thrash fan, Acid Reign are a band worth investigating, and this mini-album is a good start.