After being dragged down by Hum, I wanted something fast and heavy to wake me up and kick my ass, so I ran through a bunch of thrash metal albums and EPs, most of which left me dry. The one to break through my ennui was this one, by Texan band Gridiron, even though it's not quite the sort of thing I was looking for.
Metal Archives call what they do thrash/groove metal, which isn't unfair, but Gridiron themselves call it metalcore. What won me over was the sheer ferocity when they're seriously shifting, because they carry some serious power and energy. Become is strong out of the gate, for instance, and then gets truly ferocious. Where's my socially distanced mosh pit?
Now, I'm an old school thrash fan—that's always been my go to genre—but I prefer it without groove on the side and with its vocals some degree of clean. The most overt metalcore elements here can be found in Zack Knight's vocal delivery, a mostly monotone shout that's easily my least favourite aspect to this album, but it sometimes gets closer to a death growl, especially when he's roaring, and he also sings clean, so there is some variety here.
He's also one of two guitarists in Gridiron and, without attempting to shift any credit away from the rhythm section which is admirably reliable, it's the guitars that dominate this band and the longer I listened, the more they stood out. I may not like Knight as a singer, but I'm a big fan of him and Josh Cross as guitarists. While I prefer the faster, more energetic sections in any song here, there are slow parts that I really like too, because of the way they merge a crushing heaviness with a strong sense of melody. In fact, while the fast sections got me on board, it could be fair to say the slower ones made me all the more interested.
Lazarus moves back and forth between faster and slower sections and it all works magnificently. Eyes Wide Shut and Afterlife shine because of the guitars and Blame It on the Fire is all about the guitars, with some uncharacteristic keyboards floating over them that at times hint at being a choir. This one is an instrumental, the only one on the album if we ignore the minute long intro, and I'd call it a fine example of what the rest of it could have been, if it didn't seem like a different genre. It's symphonic power metal, really, on a groove/thrash album, an approach telegraphed in A Sight to Behold.
Things shift back to normal with Wretched Earth and stay there. I kept on hating Knight's vocals but loving his guitars. I don't know how he and Cross divvy up their work, so I have no idea who deserves praise for what, but they both clearly deserve plenty of it. Eventually, I freed myself from their thrall long enough to also appreciate Rhannon Knight's drumming. I should have been caught up by it on A Sight to Behold, but I was certainly there by the last song, Of Blood & Bone, which is just as intricate. The bassist stuck in between these forces of nature is Mike Elsner.
I'd also love to know where Gridiron's influences are. They're clearly Pantera fans and I caught various American thrash bands too, but there are older sounds here as well and I'm not just talking about the inevitable Black Sabbath. I don't buy into them only listening to the obvious bands for their genres, Exhorder and Sepultura. I'm not up enough on the metalcore side to suggest comparisons, but Jesse Zaraska from Misery Signals guests here. It all sounds to me like they're pretty well read musically; in moments where I expected X, I often got Y and I appreciated that, especially on Eyes Wide Shut.
You may not be entirely my cup of tea and you weren't quite what I was looking for today, but thanks for improving my day, Gridiron. Oh, and I'd go 7/10 if it wasn't for the vocals. If you're into that style, add that lost point back on.