When I was listening to Black Rose on the Friday Rock Show in 1986, my favourite band was shifting from Metallica to Nuclear Assault because, while I was eagerly listening to everything that might possibly have any connection to rock music, thrash metal had captured me. I don't recall Protector from that era, even though they formed in 1986 and knocked out their first two albums in 1988 and 1989. Maybe they were a little late, but I was listening to a lot of German thrash. And Protector was a German band back then, based in Wolfsburg, but they're apparently in Sweden nowadays.
I see them listed as thrash/death metal pretty much everywhere I look, but there's not a heck of a lot of death here at all, especially for a country that invented melodic death metal. Maybe that's where they were back in Germany in the nineties, when thrash was out and death was in. They put four albums out by 1993 before splitting up, but it took them a decade to actually do the latter, an inconsistent line-up performed occasionally without issuing any new product until 2013, with their reformation only a couple of years earlier, though they'd been playing live as Martin Missy & The Protectors for five years by then.
There's a darkness to the bottom end of their sound that could be seen as death and there's some harshness to Missy's vocals, but it's really just a hint towards a death influence. For the most part, this is thrash metal, whether it's mostly fast and frantic like the opener, Last Stand Hill, or mostly mid tempo like Open Skies and Endless Seas. They move between the two often but stay fast more often than not, which works for me. Their style is technical without being progressive and the slow sections add depth to the sound, especially through their transitions being so clean and tasty.
They also sound very German for a band who are technically three quarters Swedish now. Michael Carlsson's guitar as Pandemic Misery opens is straight out of the Destruction playbook and that's not the only time that buzzsaw guitar comes out to play; my favourite song in that vein absolutely has to be Perpetual Blood Oath, but it has competition. That sound isn't there throughout but the guitar remains agreeably Teutonic, whatever it's doing, and I love it. The only negative thing I can conjure up is that I do wonder what Protector would sound like with a second guitar, but that's not a reflection on what Carlsson does here, just an acknowledgement that he's only one person and can't duel with himself.
It's worth pointing out here that Last Stand Hill is an impressive opener, but Pandemic Misery is a clear step up again. It's almost a deliberate double intro, like Kreator provided on Hate über alles, but they don't stop there the way the Germans did. They start strong with Last Stand Hill, then up the ante with Pandemic Misery and just keep on going. The more I listen through the album, I find the tracks starting to rank themselves because, while everything is excellent, not everything has a little bit more, like Perpetual Blood Oath does. What's interesting is that the ranking changes, as the songs turn into old friends. Infinite Tyranny caught me quickly, but Shackled by Total Control is a real grower.
And I mentioned Kreator, so I should talk about the Big Three, even though I don't really want to. I get that there are three bands above all others who really forged the Teutonic sound and they do deserve the credit for that, but that doesn't mean that they're the best or the most endearing or the the most consistent or, quite frankly, the most anything. Never mind Tankard as a fourth, why aren't more people talking about Angel Dust, Exumer and Sieges Even? Just because they were a little later and they weren't as prolific? Based on this, I should add Protector to that list.
Of course, I need to check out their previous work. I get the feeling that, while this is clearly thrash and thrash done very well indeed, this is a musical shift for them, maybe a purification. If I dig into their previous seven albums, four from the first era of the band and three from this new one, I'm expecting to hear far more death than the echoes of it that appear here. And that's fine, because I dig thrash/death too, but it does put them into a different box.
For now, this is a much better album than Kreator's Hate über alles and a much more traditional thrash effort too. I'd call it a step up on Destruction's Diabolical too, and they've always been one of my favourites. Sodom are only releasing re-recorded stuff of late so the surface fans must look deeper for their fix and here's a great place to start. I'm going to be playing this a lot and I think my son is in for a treat when I let him in on the secret.