Style: Thrash Metal
Release Date: 29 Nov 2019
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This isn't quite what I expected from a thrash metal band returning after a quarter of a century with a new album and who label what they do old school. This is definitely thrash, but it's predominantly mid-tempo thrash with the bass of Didier Renaud prominent in the mix and the guitars tuned reasonably close in pitch. Given the strong focus on bass, it might be odd to imagine similarities with slower Metallica but it's that tone for a while, albeit a little less imaginative.
However, the next most overt element takes us in a different direction and that's the decidedly rough voice of David Roustany. It's hardly traditional clean metal singing and it's just as far from a death growl. It's more akin to the early extreme bands who were in the process of creating black, death and whatever else but hadn't quite defined them yet. Put together, this has a sound that feels like a crossover album from a band who might have started out as hardcore punks. I have no idea if they did or not.
What they stand out for is the time taken between their last album and this one. Their debut studio album, Tribal Tech, was released in 1994 after seven years of demos and gigs and they promptly vanished sometime soon afterwards, even though the album seems to have impressed the underground. The band got back together again last year with, if I'm reading the details right, with two of the original four members now performing as a trio with Renaud as the new bass player.
It's good though, often really good and it gets under the skin because it's really tight and that's not necessarily the first thing we notice. We don't notice guitar solos because it feels like Aleister don't even have anyone on lead, Roustany content to play rhythm along with the bass and drums. That's probably their weirdest aspect, as if this album is really a studio demo of what the band came up with before the leads were added in. We don't focus on vocal hooks because Roustany isn't interested in those either.
We don't even focus on riffs as much as we do how they shift from one to the next. These riffs are more mechanical, industrial without sounding like the work of an industrial band. What the band do is just knuckle down and try to keep their sound interesting with changes, which sound good from the outset because this trio is so tight and only sound better when they ratchet it up a gear and really show how tight they are. Slave has Voivod style changes, a band worthy of comparison if you ditch their fondness for prog rock. There's no Pink Floyd here but there's some of that War and Pain back end.
While the best riff likely belongs to the final song, Gods Don't Bless You, my favourite song here is probably the middle one, Straighten Up. It has the closest thing to a solo, albeit one that's delivered on bass rather than the usual guitar, and that makes it interesting. The mid section casts a sort of intricate web around that bass solo and it ups the tempo a little too, which I liked while it lasted. Primary did some of the same too and the drums get frenetic on Bastard, which is emphatically not a Mötley Crüe cover.
As I mentioned, this took me by surprise. It's not remotely what I think of as old school thrash. It's not fast enough, for a start. It's too downtuned and it's shorn of solos, blistering or otherwise. It feels very different to me, but that's a good different. I don't know that a sound as stripped down as this is a great way to go—I'd certainly like to hear this album with an added lead guitar—but it's interesting stuff, its highly rhythmic approach a little hypnotic. I like and I have a feeling that people with a fondness for both Pantera and Sepultura might like it too.