Monday, May 16, 2011

Znowhite - Act of God

Oh come on, baba don't you wanna go?

I'm gonna come clean with y'all here, this is the only release from the Chicagoan thrash quartet I've ever heard, and one of the only reasons being because of their hometown.  Being a part of the Chicago scene myself, I always found it baffling that the third largest city in the US has left such a small footprint on the annals of metal history.  I think the biggest band we've ever spawned was Trouble, plus a few underground favorites like Usurper and Judas Iscariot (I know the latter is from DeKalb, it's close enough and with a scene this bizarrely tiny I feel it's forgivable to stretch a bit), but the Illinois in general pales vastly in comparison to what areas like New York, Florida, and California have given us.  So I was beaming with hometown pride when I heard that Cyclone Temple wasn't always a fairly mediocre "long thrash" band, and was previously known as Znowhite.  And lemme tell ya, the name and cover art do a damn good job of hiding what is easily one of the top 10 brutal thrash releases of all time.

First off, the band gets a lot of press for being female fronted, but that aspect takes a caboose to the sheer intensity's engine.  When I say "brutal thrash", I think of stuff like Sadus, Kreator, or Sodom, and Znowhite is surely not as intensely over-the-top as these bands, but it's by far one of the heaviest and most vitriolic thrash releases of the late 80s (and possibly ever).  The fake-out ending of "War Machine" and the opener, "To the Last Breath" are great examples, boasting some of the most high octane riffage the genre has ever seen.  In fact, the only time I find myself disappointed with the guitar work is on the overlong and heart crushingly anticlimactic closer, "Something Wicked This Way Comes".  The slower, more twisted atmosphere that song attempts to conjure just falls flat in comparison to the 8 slabs of beastly thrash that precede it.  The band's strength lies in never taking the foot off the gas and just letting the songwriting and aggression manifest themselves through fast paced and cutting guitar work.  Znowhite reminds me of a slightly less sharp but infinitely grittier Anthrax, as the punchiness and hard hitting rhythms of the New York legends is definitely present here, but they sound as if they were filtered through a sandpaper loofah.  Really, the tightness of the rhythm section is really accented by the bone breakingly crunchy guitar tone.  It's like Extreme Aggression with added low end and at least two extra sets of balls.

Despite the overall pant-shitting intensity of the music and generally monotonous shouts of Nicole Lee, the songwriting here actually manages to be very accessible and catchy at the same time.  The incredibly 80s gang shouts in "Thunderdome", every riff in "Soldier's Creed", and the chorus of (once again) "To the Last Breath" are prime examples of moments that are not only incredibly awesome but also infectious.  Yeah yeah, the singer is a chick and the guitarist is black and affirmative action and yabba dabba doo, but none of those superficial aspects should be the reason Znowhite and Act of God get noticed.  This really holds it's own against almost everything else released around the same time, and that includes rippers like the aforementioned Extreme Aggression, Agent Orange, and Eternal Nightmare.  The only thing I dislike is how the leads kind of go in one ear and out the other (which isn't a huge problem since the riffs make up so much of why this album is enjoyable), and the bafflingly poor closing track.  Everything else is sublime, razor sharp, punishing riff writing coupled with enraged shouting that so perfectly captures everything that made thrash metal great in its heyday.  This is a must listen for any self respecting thrasher.

RATING - 89%

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