Sunday, July 27, 2014

Game Over - Burst Into the Quiet

Shattering the silence

It's been two months since I've written... well, anything at all.  Lately I've been finding myself unable to review unless I'm making some huge grandstand or a big sweeping statement about something.  It's lame, I know, but it's just kinda where my mind has been at.  Blend that with a waning interest in most new releases I stumble across, and I just find myself at a loss for words.

That is, until I came across this random Italian band by the name of Game Over.  The bright green logo and hackneyed rethrash font already tell you exactly what to expect before you even listen to their 2014 album, Burst Into the Quiet.  The artwork is a lame throwback to 80s horror (I'll give them credit for not taking the quadrillionth Ed Repka ripoff, at the very least), the band logo is a lame throwback, the name is yet another throwback to a classic 80s movie, everything about this band is aesthetically wrong.  I couldn't have been less interested to give this a listen, but I decided to soldier on and see what they could actually offer before writing them off completely like I did for the last two dozen no-name bands I had recently seen.  Don't wanna be a grouchy old curmudgeon forever, ya know?  Oldnoobs are the worst.

And... well, it's exactly what you're imagining it is.  But, and I can't really explain why without going off on a huge tangent, but it's really good.  I'm sitting here stupefied, belching and scratching myself as I am wont to do, but in between the grotesque, cyclical bodily expulsions of mine, I'm finding myself banging my fucking head in a way I haven't done in years.  Hell, in a way that precisely zero thrash bands have managed to do in the last five years outside of Vektor and Gargoyle.  Even stuff I liked (like Pripjat and Essence) have completely lacked in staying power and even the initial burst of energy that makes thrash so enjoyable has just seemed... I dunno, weak lately.  Here I am, completely rocking out to Game Over despite it sounding exactly like the parenthetically aforementioned bands, and I find myself asking an eternally relevant question for metal fans the world over:

Have we actually forgotten how to enjoy thrash metal?

This is gonna be less of a review and more of a stream of consciousness essay, but I think the only thing that's really changed between the last pure thrash album I checked out months ago (which I honestly can barely remember, I think it was Sons of Tschernobyl by Pripjat (which I must reiterate is a good album despite what I may be implying)) and this one here has been myself.  I need to go off on a bit of a history lesson to fully explain myself here.  So please, hold my hand, look both ways, and let's cross memory lane together.

Stardate - Some time in the fall of 2004: A 14 year old BastardHead is rehearsing with his two friends for their first ever "band".  "Band" is in quotes because we weren't very "good".  We were three kids who'd collectively been playing for like two years apiece at that point.  During a break, the guitarist and I were probably trying to see who could say "fuck" the most amount of times in a sentence while the drummer was trying to preach the gospel of power metal to us two thrash freaks.  In trying to explain something, he slammed down his can of apricot juice (because there needed to be at least one drink that was exclusively for insane people) and strode to the computer to show us a band.  He loaded up Encyclopaedia Metallum, and one look at the website was all it took for me to fall in love.  A website with every metal band in the history of ever all cataloged in one place PLUS reviews and shit like that?  Guh law, that was exactly what somebody like me, who was intent on exploring the genre but not entirely sure how to go about it, needed.  The site was still young, so browsing bands by genre and randomly picking them rarely left you with hordes of inconsequential bullshit.  I would sit there for hours, just lost in a haze of fascinating clicking.  Learning.  Discovering.  Absorbing.

During this time, most oldfags probably remember who ruled the roost when it came to reviews.  Two guys you could find on almost any reviewed album you could find on the site.  Big or small, old or new, chances are you could find out what either UltraBoris or Gabometal86 thought of it.  And what were those two dudes best at, genre-wise?  Thrash.  Fucking thrash, that was the shit back then.  Thrash was cool, thrash was the subgenre.  Fuck mindless brutality, fuck flittery synths, fuck everything that wasn't based around the riff.

It's hard to imagine now, but back in that time, everything was about riffs and how fucking powerful or headbangable they could be.  Obviously every subgenre had its niche, but the biggest and most visible was riff worship, which obviously lent itself well to thrash, trad, and USPM.  Thrash was seen as basically the holy grail of heavy metal, it was the purest form of sheer aggression you could possibly attain while still working within the framework of the classic bands.  Death and black metal are their own things, but thrash is just classic metal combined with classic hardcore punk to create a completely new classic sound, and that was fucking admirable.  We worshiped at the altars of Overkill, Dark Fucking Angel, Sodom, Kreator, and even bands that weren't thrash, as long as they had balls (WASP, Virgin Steele, Grave Digger).  Balls, riffs, heavy fucking metal.

Now, imagine being wholly entrenched in that mindset when classic bands like Exodus and Destruction started releasing honest to goodness thrash albums again.  Imagine being there when Merciless Death, Fueled By Fire, Evile, Bonded by Blood, Municipal Waste, and all these other revival acts started cropping up.  People like me were fucking STOKED.  Man, thrash is fucking BACK!  This is what I and so many others wanted.  New bands, new songs, new riffs, a fresh take on the classic 80s attitude.  That unbridled fury and pompous swagger of thrash with a new injection of youth.  Yeah, it's cool the old bands were being awesome again, but they were undeniably old, it's time for the kids to retake the thrones.  Inherit that which was left to them.  THRASH CAN NEVER DIE!

And then... thrash promptly died.

I think a lot of people lacked the foresight to realize that thrash reached it's logical end around 1992 for a reason.  Most of the ideas were just completely used up.  The only way to keep the style fresh was to add new elements or change existing ones to the point where they were no longer recognizable as an inherently "thrash" trait.  Make the riffs more atonal, the vocals deeper, the drumming more frantic, and bam you have death metal.  Make it more melodic, increase the amount of skill needed for the vocal lines, and bam you've got USPM.  Make it simpler and bam you've got punk.  You can't change thrash too much or it becomes something unthrash, and that's why it all but disappeared in the early 90s, and it's the exact same reason why all the new revival bands (called "neo thrash" at the time) soured the metal fandom's opinion on thrash so quickly in the mid to late 00s.  So many of these bands found themselves trying to be either Exodus, Slayer, or Kreator, and that was the extent of their goal.  Nobody wanted to explore, nobody wanted to push boundaries anymore (ya know, the thing that made thrash a thing in the first place).  It's the same shit over and over again, dozens upon dozens of bands stuck to a formula that worked twenty years ago and steadfastly refused to mix it up in any way.

And I feel like it's because the sour taste of rethrash is still in the back of the collective metal fandom's throats that thrash as a whole is kind of looked down upon nowadays.  Perhaps I just hang with a shitty crowd, but thrash is seen as a poison to metal it seems.  Somebody recommends a band, "it sounds like riffier melodeath with a healthy dose of thrash", and somebody will respond with "a dose of thrash is the opposite of healthy".  I remember a time when that was the most backwards statement in the universe, but nowadays it seems to be the accepted position.  Thrash is for dumb neanderthals with no creativity, it's an artistic dead end and the only bands that seem to get universal love from the metal fandom at large aren't even fully by-the-numbers thrash bands anyway (like Vektor or Skeletonwitch).  It's always kinda perplexed me, because there's definitely acceptance for big, stupid caveman metal.  It's why Jungle Rot and Mortician have such a strong contingent of fans, why can't thrash metal get a pass?

Well, frankly, I agree with the assessment.  Thrash is essentially creatively bankrupt.  I outlined it up two paragraphs ago, you really can't change it much without making it un-thrash.  So this genre made a resurgence, presented very few new ideas, and fell out of favor in half the amount of time it took for thrash's initial run to become uncool.  So does that mean ten years from now we're gonna have another groundswell of thrash bands that'll stick around for three years and then disappear again?  Who knows?  The point is that rethrash died extra quickly, and it was very likely because of how few new ideas were presented, how lazy the songwriting was for most of the band, how obnoxious the aesthetics were, and just an overall changing of what we as fans expected out of a new band playing thrash.

But, here I sit, listening and rocking out to Game Over, and I can't help but ask why did we move the goalposts?  See, thrash in the 80s was consistently breaking new ground, but that's not why it was good.  It was good because it fucking sounded good.  It was fun and/or cathartic to listen to, that's really the be all end all of it.  The best things are enjoyed when context isn't needed.  You don't have to know how ahead of the game Judas Priest was to know why Stained Class is a great album.  You don't have to know how impressive it is that Iron Maiden released seven genre defining classics in a row to understand why Seventh Son of a Seventh Son is so good, and thrash is no different.  Do you really need to know how much faster and heavier Pleasure to Kill was than all but a handful of albums at the time to understand why it's so fucking good?  Do you really need the context of where metal was in 1983 to know that Show No Mercy is a phenomenal album?  Fuck no, you just need to listen to them and rock the fuck out.  The riffs do the talking, the energy propels it all forwards, the attitude makes it stick with you, that's all you needed.  Why now do we start asking people to be all high minded and make their neck wrecking riffs smarter?  Why are we no longer satisfied with sheer energy and riffing prowess?  When we start turning on a genre simply because we began expecting to be something they're not aiming to be, and generally never aimed to be, that's not thrash getting shitty, that's the scene getting shitty.

Now, I'm not saying we should have accepted mediocrity and let rethrash multiply like it was in a petri dish, there were definitely throngs of shitty bands that weren't even trying to be entertaining.  There were fashion bands like Fueled By Fire and Merciless Death, but we also had bands that were just bursting with youthful exuberance and let hard and heavy riffs just shine through, like Diamond Plate.  ACTUALLY NOW THAT I THINK ABOUT IT DIAMOND PLATE COMPLETELY FUCKING PROVES MY POINT.  They started off writing simple thrash songs with tons of energy, check out something like "Criminal Justice" or "Maelstrom".  Were they overly complicated?  No, not at all.  What happened when they started to get more proggy and technical?  We got Pulse.  When we start asking thrash bands to stop being thrash bands, we get even shittier hybrids that nobody really wants.  It took this random Italian band to write riffs so simple and so goddamn effective to remind me why thrash was so fucking awesome in the first place.  I feel like we stopped wanting riffs.  We wanted something smarter.  Man fuck that with dynamite, I'd take Sadus over Queensryche any day of the week.  Fuck off with that intelligent bullshit, we need to go back to understanding that masterful riff writing backed with boundless enthusiasm and/or sheer anger is what made thrash such a force to be reckoned with in its heyday.  It wasn't just that it was fresh and pushing boundaries, otherwise we wouldn't still have love for Slayer and Znowhite today. 

Basically, thrash got shitty because we got complacent and wanted growth.  Growth isn't a bad thing, not in the slightest, but we shouldn't try throwing out or discrediting an entire genre simply because it doesn't lend itself to such a thing.  We, as a fandom, need to remember what it was that made the genre so fucking powerful, and we should accept the bands that still carry that flag.  I love Vektor as much as the next guy, but Game Over is carrying the more traditional torch in a way that we've all forgotten how to appreciate.  I'm not saying ask for less, merely we should ask for something more specificBurst Into the Quiet is chock full of everything that made an album like, say, By Inheritance or Taking Over or Among the Living so good, and Game Over understood this so well that it actually managed to snap me out of my trance that saw me drifting away from a style that can scratch a very particular itch like no other. 

No gods, no masters.  We've forgotten what it was that made thrash worth listening to, and Game Over fucking reminded me.  Maybe they'll remind the rest of you as well.

No I'm not going to actually review the album.  It's good, that's all you need.

RATING - 83%

1 comment:

  1. Well done, you actually summed up most of my thoughts about thrash metal nowadays and its current scene. I think I'll also give the album a listen or two. Good job, keep it up!