Style: Thrash Metal
Release Date: 18 Jan 2019
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As an old school thrash fan, I saw many of my favourites live back in the day, but a few slipped through my grasp and I've been gradually catching up with them in recent years. Now I did miss out on seeing a number of what are now local bands because I didn't live in Phoenix when it was the next big second wave thrash town in the mid to late eighties. However, I moved here in 2004 and yet still haven't seen either Sacred Reich or Flotsam and Jetsam on stage. Yeah, I know.
Well, I'll need to remedy that sad state of affairs soon because this new Flotsam and Jetsam album is very impressive indeed and they'll be at Club Red in Mesa in mid-June on their Tour of Chaos, with a bunch of local bands that I haven't heard of but need to look up. I can't wait to hear some of this from the edge of the pit.
If there's a problem here, it's that the whole album is so consistent in quality that it blurs together on first listen into a single fifty minute track. With each succeeding time through, the tracks start to distinguish themselves and exert their own identities.
The problem is that it's difficult to choose a highlight because every frickin' track is a highlight. The only reason a number of killer tracks like Prepare for Chaos or Control have trouble shining out brighter is because Prisoner of Time sets the bar too high for that at the outset and even the lesser tracks, like Slowly Insane and Unwelcome Surprise, are still damn good. In isolation, they're solid, enjoyable tracks. In this company, they're just not quite as good as everything else.
The highlights here aren't really tracks but parts of them: the melodic lines in Prepare for Chaos and Survive, the riffs in Architects of Hate and Snake Eye, the sheer power of Control and the blitzkrieg of The End. New highlights pop out at me on every listen.
I remember Flotsam and Jetsam being at the progressive edge of thrash in the eighties and they're still there, even though only one of these songs edges slightly over the five minute mark. A good part of that here is the contribution of Eric 'A.K.' Knutson, because his voice has certainly lowered and matured over the years. Here the timbre and melodies remind just as much of Geoff Tate as they do Eric A.K., but this album is a lot heavier than Queensrÿche ever got. Check out Control and The End, which both blister.
In fact, some tracks are as fast as I remember Flotsam and Jetsam ever being and I came in at the beginning with Doomsday for the Deceiver. I'm not quite buying the 'going back to their roots' line that I've heard of late, but there's some truth there. This isn't Doomsday and it isn't No Place for Disgrace either, because the band are not simply revisiting old glories.
However, they do seem happier with their roots than they were on the odd mid-period material I've heard (which did get odd and divided fans). This is an unrepentant thrash album, played at pace and with power, but with more melodies than ever and with every single track condensed down to its essence. There's no fat on these bones, just lean and mean muscle. If The End of Chaos had been recorded in 1990 with the very same twelve tracks, it would have been a lot longer than fifty minutes.
Part of this, I think, is due to the presence of new drummer Ken Mary, as he's just seamless. The man's credentials are insanely good but he lives up to them here and it feels like he energized the rest of the band, who have generally been there much longer. Eric Knutson has been there since the beginning. So has Michael Gilbert on guitar, though he took a break for a decade. Michael Spencer may have only joined in 2014 but he was in the lineup back in 1987 too.
The point is that this really doesn't sound like an album from a band who have been doing this for three and a half decades. It feels like a bunch of talented eighteen year olds heard that band and decided to show them how it's done. This deserves to be talked about alongside the Firepower album that Judas Priest pulled out of nowhere last year and for precisely the same reasons.