Style: Death/Thrash Metal
Release Date: 1 May 2020
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There's an urgency that pervades this album by Poland's finest purveyors of death/thrash, their twelfth of original material. It gets down to business immediately and stays there throughout without too many points for us to sit back and breathe. Even though it includes eleven songs, it's short, clocking in at just under half an hour, which means that those tracks aren't exactly long either.
The longest is the closer, Bones, which almost reaches the four minute mark. Seven of the eleven wrap up under three and a couple don't even reach two. I had to compare that to the last true Vader studio album, 2016's The Empire, a lean and mean album with three of ten songs over four minutes, or the one before that, 2014's Tibi et Igni, with half of its tracks lasting over four minutes, one of them over five and even one over six. Vader keep on getting leaner and meaner, however lean and mean they were last time.
The sound here is just right for me. It's thrash metal at heart, but with a consistently applied layer of death metal that deepens the impact. It's not particularly evil, though lead vocalist Peter does aim for that a little as he rolls from Dancing in the Slaughterhouse into Stigma of Divinity, but it is deeper and growlier than thrash tends to get, while not getting as deep or growly as death usually wants. It ought to appeal to fans of both genres without feeling like it's a watered down version of either.
As I've reviewed the latest crop of American thrash albums, from Testament, Warbringer and Havok, I've watched the discussions in Facebook thrash groups about which is the best. All of those are truer thrash than this, but, as an old school thrash fan, I'd take this any day. It wants to kick my ass and it wants to do it in the pit. James Stewart's drums rarely leave full tilt but, when they do, there's good reason, like the jaunty parts of Into Oblivion. I haven't felt this energized by drums this year.
That's not to say that the rest of the band are letting him carry the weight of this album. The riffs are strong and unrelenting and Hal's bass (no, not mine) rumbles along underneath everything with menace, while Peter's voice rolls over the top with ominous power. He's found a balancing point where he can growl with intent but still apply intonation and remain intelligible, a point that's not often found in anything with death in its genre.
As I mentioned when reviewing Vader's EP from last year, Thy Messenger, they manage to cram far more into these short songs than we expect. Shock and Awe and Into Oblivion don't amount to five minutes between them, but they still feature verses, choruses, guitar solos, the works. Despair is done in under eighty seconds and there's still time in there for a guitar solo. One key result of listening to this on repeat is that time seems to slow down as we try to adjust and catch everything that's going on.
I couldn't find a poor track here, though I do have favourites. Incineration of the Gods, four songs in, stretches out a little and chugs just as well as it blisters. Sanctification Denied does the same thing, with an even better midsection. While they're slower songs on this album, they're still fast and generate thoughts of Possessed covering Kreator.
Emptiness is a shorter song but it spends the first 20% of its running time with a pristine guitar solo. Final Declaration is shorter still and blisters magnificently. Dancing in the Slaughterhouse is a glorious invitation to the pit, a sort of thrash/ metal take on Anthrax. Stigma of Divinity doesn't let up for a moment and those drums get thunderous, as they do to such effect in the midsection of Bones.
I enjoyed Thy Messenger a lot last year but it was an extra-skimpy release, its four original songs filling less than ten minutes. Only Emptiness and Despair made it onto the full album but at least there's enough here to get our teeth into. And with so many highlights and zero downsides, this is a must.