Tuesday 9 June 2020

Alligator - Direct Heart Massage (2020)

Country: Ukraine or Russia (depending on which country you're reading from)
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 1 Jun 2020
Sites: Bandcamp | Metal Archives | VK

It's been a good year for thrash metal but it hasn't been a great one, with a lot of the big names releasing albums that are worthy but not outstanding. Annihilator still have the edge for me thus far in 2020 and I've never been a particularly big Annihilator fan. So I've been wandering virtually around the globe looking for more good stuff in the hope of finding great stuff. I expect to be looking all year but here's another good album from Sevastopol in the Ukraine (or is it Russia now?), courtesy of Alligator.

Instrumentally, they're excellent, and they stay that way during long intros on many of these tracks. A Chisel, which opens the album, runs on for a full minute and a half before vocals show up and the song only lasts a couple of minutes longer. The intro for Dying For takes a full minute of the three and half that the song runs. And these are far from acoustic intros intended to set a mood, they feature the whole band riffing away at full pelt. Ditch the long intro and you get songs like So Fear is Born, which is a blitzkrieg at under two minutes in the vein of Destruction.

Most of the first half is fast, beginning with A Chisel, which is enough to get the blood pumping without any of the manual intervention depicted on the cover art. It's not breakneck though, because this is technical thrash and it lives or dies on its riffs and changes rather than its sheer speed. It's consistently fast enough to keep me happy as I do like fast thrash bands so much more than those who stay relentlessly at mid-pace. Shake up the tempos, like Alligator do on the title track and indeed much of the second half, but don't ignore the speed completely.

It seems that Alligator have been around for a long time, originally getting together back in 1992 but giving up the ghost only four years later without having recorded anything. Clearly they didn't get serious until reforming in 2015. Since then, they've released two EPs and three studio albums, this one being the most recent. Maybe Believe in Yourself is a musical take on their new work ethic: "Your time will come," they tell themselves and I hope that happens.

Alligator are a power trio and the main man is Vladimir Ternovskoy. The best thing about this album is his guitar and he's the only guitarist in play. I adore his guitar tone and I adore how he puts it to use. There's no messing around here. He just gets right down to business and bludgeons us with riffs for the twenty-six minutes the album lasts. That's the worst thing about the album, by the way: that's shorter than Reign in Blood and that's noticeable in 2020.

Talking of Slayer, they're clearly a primary influence and there are points where this sounds like Schmier singing for Slayer. The voice also belongs to Ternovskoy because he does double duty in this band and, while I enjoyed his vocals, I enjoyed them less than his guitarwork. It's a rough voice, with an accent obvious even in the faster sections, and it makes the tone set by the guitar even grittier.

Backing him in Alligator are Nikolay Chechin on a solid and audible bass and Evgeny Tikhomirov on very reliable drums. They're clearly backing Ternovskoy rather than leading the music anywhere; I didn't catch any solo moments for the bass to shine or points where the drums set the direction forward. That said, they don't mess around either. Even at midpace, this is pure thrash. I could imagine walking into a gig late with Alligator on stage and instantly finding myself in the mood to leap into the pit.

Interestingly, my favourite songs here are a mix of fast and slow. I dug the speed of So Fear is Born and the in your face attitude of Street Guys, but I also appreciated the closer, Father's Tears, which is slower and, at under four minutes, still happy to ditch the vocals before the halfway point and wrap up things instrumentally.

If I wanted more than Alligator were willing to give me, that's entirely a comment about the length of the album and I feel I have to dock a point for that. The music, however, is glorious, and it's a lot more consistent than anything the American bands people are raving about have released this year.