Style: Thrash Metal
Release Date: 7 Feb 2020
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Oh, I remember Assassin! Actually, I remember two different Assassins in the late eighties who even appeared on consecutive editions of The Friday Rock Show, but I preferred the thrash band from Düsseldorf over the Irish melodic rock outfit from Eire. While they never reached the heights of Destruction, Sodom and Kreator, I regarded them as one of the truest thrash bands at the time, very fast but accurate music with rough and ready vocals, perfect for those moments when you want music to just take you away and clean you out.
I remember enjoying their debut, The Upcoming Terror, a great deal and their follow-up, Interstellar Experience, a little less. I also remember that they broke up for a sad reason: their equipment got stolen and they weren't able to replace it. What I didn't remember, because I didn't know it, is that the band got back together in 2002 and have continued to release new product. It seems that the original members have gradually slipped away again, though, with only one remaining: guitarist Jürgen Scholz, better known as Scholli.
Realising all this now, I'm eager to catch up and this fourth album from the new Assassin era starts off well with a no nonsense pit starter of a song in The Swamp Thing. It blisters along wonderfully without giving us a chance to catch our breath. It's quintessential Teutonic thrash, with Ingo Bajonczak's urgent vocals in slightly accented English and a vicious guitar attack from Scholli and Frank Blackfire, who spent the eighties with Sodom, the nineties with Kreator and is now back in Sodom again in addition to Assassin.
The good news is that The Swamp Thing is a really strong opener, doing what Assassin did so well on The Upcoming Terror. The bad is that it's probably the best track on the album, but that fortunately doesn't mean that the rest takes a dive in quality. How Much Can I Take? is a little more anthemic but it still blisters along, even finding an atmospheric way to wrap up. And so we go, with a consistent sound throughout. These songs are built from solid riffs and a pace that ought to keep the pits lively, but there's melody here too in that rough Motörhead-inspired style that resembles Kreator.
So that's the upside. What's the downside? Sadly, there are a few. The one I found most annoying was the drum sound, which favours a couple of drums over the others so that there's a constant emphatic beat but we struggle to catch everything else that Björn Sondermann is doing. Less annoying but clear for anyone paying attention is that the lyrics are hardly stellar. I have every sympathy for the subject matter of songs like The Wall, which rails against the Trump era, but its lyrics are clumsily over-written and they're far from alone on this album. The words for Shark Attack were never going to win any awards.
There's another attribute to this album that I'm sure will count as another downside for some people and that's that Assassin fail to find the identity they need to thrive. I have sympathy for that, because it's fair to say that this is generic Teutonic thrash, but I don't buy into that necessarily being the calamity that some might.
Sure, it means that we're never going to see Assassin headline a tour over a Kreator or a Destruction, as it'll always be the other way around. However, I'd still be there early to see Assassin open and I would be right there at the front banging my head and enjoying the show, waiting as much for worthy new songs like The Swamp Thing, Hell's Work is Done and The Killing Light as old favourites like the glorious instrumental, Speed of Light, from the 1987 debut.
Your expectations will shape how much you enjoy this. If you're a fan of the classic German thrash style, this is a strong but unsurprising new album to make your day a better one. However, if you've never dug that scene, there's absolutely nothing here that will change your mind and you can safely drop a point off my rating. I am a classic German thrash fan and this made me happy, even if it won't do the same for you.
The most inventive song here is Chemtrails, Pt. 1, which feels like a heavy Alan Parsons, but it's easily the least and most unrepresentative track on offer. It's only really there to be an interlude before Chemtrails, Pt. 2, which firmly believes that it's going to wrap up the album in classic style. It doesn't, because it's just a decent thrasher to keep the pit moving. And, well, that kind of sums up the album.