Friday 15 December 2023

Gama Bomb - Bats (2023)

Country: Ireland
Style: Thrash Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 10 Nov 2023
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Irish thrashers Gama Bomb have called this, their eighth album, their "weirdest" yet, and they're not wrong. There are many sounds here that we wouldn't expect on a thrash metal album, but I'd suggest that they all fit. Given what some of them are, just saying that surprises me, but it's quite the adventure and the sense of humour they maintain helps that mindset. My only problem came from so much of the influences here are very easily identifiable, meaning that this is somehow an innovative departure from the norm and an often derivative set of pastiches at the same time.

The forgettable sub-minute long intro leads into the opener, Egyptron, which is clearly one of the most innovative songs here, featuring as it does two highly unusual guests. Pioneering American rapper Egyptian Lover delivers a rap section against a saxophone backdrop in the Madness style, created by Gavin Kerins, neither of which is remotely expected on a thrash album. Neither are the vocal lines in the bridge that sound rather like Mike Patton of Faith No More. This is thrash metal and there's an excellent frenetic guitar solo from Domo Dixon to back that up, but it's hardly the thrash metal we're used to. Maybe we could call it the nuttiest thrash sound around.

Living Dead in Beverly Hills follows in much more traditional fashion, a frantic thrash track with an overt Anthrax sound, even if the vocals are split between lead singer Philly Byrne and bassist Joe McGuigan. It's almost as if the boys wanted to underline that, after such a departure to open the album, they weren't just going to leap off the rails over the rest of the album. This one's fast and impactful, so much so that it's done in just over two minutes, but its only nod to another genre is a guitar line borrowed from Grieg's In the Hall of the Mountain King.

That one's an obvious lift, because it's so well known a melody that you don't have to be a classical buff to recognise it. I have to wonder if the riff in Materialize is another one that I merely haven't recognised, because it's so insanely lively that it could be a cartoon theme tune, the sort of thing we might hear while Scooby and the Gang are running from zombies. Trollfest don't have anything this bouncy! There's Acid Reign here, I think, and the vocals shift up to the piercing levels of Bobby Ellsworth at its intensity peaks. I kept waiting for the electro-violence.

Most of the influences are more generic in nature, though, such as that obvious Anthrax sound on Living Dead in Beverly Hills. Oddly, these influences aren't all from the thrash genre. Judas Priest kind of count because they pioneered the genre; they show up occasionally in Rob Halford screams but also escalations and guitar solos and, most especially, on Dreamstealer, where the song plays like Judas Priest but with a David Lee Roth vibe to the vocals, of all things. And yes, every time I re-read that line, I wonder if I was insane when I took that note down but it's there.

Don't Get Your Hair Cut is sped up Tank with a decent side of Motörhead. It's a silly song, down to the stereotypical metal scream at the very end, but it's a lot of fun. There's more Tank on Bats in Your Hair too, but the vocals are more operatic, a cross between between a pair of different Robs, Halford and Gallagher. There's definitely some Raven here in the riffs of fast but not quite thrash sections. That Faith No More vibe is back at points on Secular Saw and the saxophone returns for Bats in Your Hair and sounds even more like Madness than Egyptron.

I have a love/hate thing going on with thrash bands who don't take things as seriously as the norm demands. I appreciate the depth the genre had in writing songs that warned about nuclear chaos and social issues, but it's also refreshing to bounce over to Anthrax sometimes to hear them sing about Judge Dredd or dip into hip hop or lounge music. It's OK to have fun with thrash metal and I haven't heard any thrash band clearly having this much fun without turning into parody, like, say, Lawnmower Deth or Metal Duck. I liked this a lot. It walks a very fine line but it walks it well. I like Gama Bomb being weird.

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