Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Feature: Buried Treasure I - Thrash Metal

"Buried Treasure" is the somewhat cliche name ascribed to what I hope will become an occasional feature. The premise, ideally, will be to showcase a few bands from a genre that are somewhat lost in the mists of time, bands who made great albums and then split, and bands who simply aren't as known as they should be.

"Testament are really underrated". That's the sort of thing I used to say, and I'm sure Youtube comment boxes will testify is a widely held belief. In perspective, I'm not too sure. I definitely enjoy some Testament of an evening, but underrated? Perhaps not. What is underrated, however, is the collection of bands below. Bands which were easily on a par with the biggest thrash acts which survived through to the present day. But these bands, in many cases, prematurely split, or were often lost to the mists of time. Like most things in contemporary life, I've written a list of ten;

Toxik: Toxik last made an album in 1989, but reformed in 2007. The two albums that they did make are solid, undisputed cult-classics, and it's not hard to hear why. The material is an absoloute riff-fest with extreme virtuosity and technical competence, coupled with falsetto vocals which are as refined as any power-metal or speed-metal vocalist could hope to muster. It seems that this is a winning combination, as as Toxik are quite possibly one of the most renowned bands on this list.

Gammacide: Gammacide cultivated the "nuclear waste" image long before it became cliche. Combining wickedly crunchy riffing with angry vocals, the cheap looking album artwork really underplays the thrash-monster which is the band's only album - "Victims of Science". While the album stands alone, it's a genuinely well-conducted affair, and was, oddly, a very early discovery in my discovery of thrash. Gammacide are grimy, grim and radioactive thrash at it's best.

Rigor Mortis: Another outfit who have really earned their cult following, with speedy, crisp songs bedecked with clattering, powerful drums and enraged, explosive guitarwork. The first album is considered by many to be the finer of the two, but the band's work, albeit a small back-catalogue, is acclaimed in it's totality by many who listen it. Well-crafted and chaotic solos, and thundering, pounding riffs abound from a band which borders on the brutal in many places.

Anacrusis: Anacrusis are probably a close second of  the bands involved in the list in terms of number of albums, releasing four full-length albums before splitting, and a number of compilations and re-recordings after reforming. Starting out playing fairly conventional thrash, the band gradually entered the progressive realm with some seriously interesting and unique material as a result. The band have all four albums available to freely download on their website.

Exumer: Another band to score quite highly, in fact, probably the most highly of any on the list is Exumer. Playing a caustic, evil and frenzied Teutonic breed of thrash with screeching, almost black-metal style vocals, evil sounding guitar work and a dark aesthetic.  The band split up after two albums, but re-formed and have very recently released a third offering. I've not listened to it quite yet, but I will at some point, and I hope to be impressed.

Realm: Realm were released two albums before they split. Falsetto driven, with a hint of power-metal in places, and with a speed which ought to be the envy of many bands. Realm manage to be technical and at the same time modest, not making it the centre of attention. They certainly possessed a lot of kick, catchiness, and plenty of genuinely unique moments. I'd love to hear more bands which combine power and thrash metal in the ratio that Realm do, which, like the proverbial porridge, is just right.

Watchtower: Frequently gazed at in awe for their uncompromising technical ability and thinking-out-of-the-box style of playing, there's a bit of everything in Watchtower's music, and while the songs aren't the easiest to follow, they more than make up for it in mind-blowing uniqueness and skill. Every track has some kind of magnificent technical flourish just around the corner, and to this day, Watchtower seem to be one of the most unique bands in thrash.

Lääz Rockit:
A band who have a fairly large discography, you could think that they have no place on this list. Not so, say I. Lääz Rockit seem horrendously little-known for the amount they've done. The band launch an energetic Bay-area thrash attack with angry but varied vocals, which often explore the realm of the falsetto, and a quintessential Bay Area sound. The bands discography, it seems, is quite inconsistent, but there are plenty of gems waiting to be listened to.

Heathen: Another band which is quite well known (but certainly obscure enough to make the list) is Heathen. Quite possibly the most melodic band on the list, Heathen manage to combine thrash and speed metal in roughly equal measure, creating a brand of metal with a slightly epic feel. The vocals are very refined, the riffs memorable if a little subdued, and the lead work is well placed. By all accounts, after re-forming, the band made a comeback album which was actually good, and well recieved. More respect to 'em.

Assassin: Last, but perhaps not least, Assassin. Playing the most chaotic, low-fi and angry sounding thrash of the bunch, and their debut album's artwork is iconic and memorable in it's own right. Splitting up for the rather unfortunate reason that all of their equipment was stolen, Assassin have now reformed, and after a shakey start quality wise, there's a reasonable chance that a couple of decent post-reunion album could be done, building on the strength of "Breaking the Silence".

It's fairly obvious that there are plenty more thrash bands which could make this list, and I'm sure that everyone reading it could suggest a name or two. If you've read this far, you'll have noticed a recurring theme; a lot of the bands seem to be re-forming, and although some may forever gather dust, others are a testament to the fact that buried treasures need not stay buried forever.