Realm – Endless War (1988)
A technical thrash masterclass, Realm’s histrionic, kinetic and brain-scrambling debut still pummels the senses with its falsetto vocals and stampeding rhythms; threatening to career off the precipice of plausibility at any moment!
Straddling the fine line between thrash, power metal and speed metal – Toxik are a fitting comparison – Realm’s supreme confidence in finessing the core ingredients of these sub-genres was only outweighed by their sheer technical virtuosity. The guitars are virtually impossible to pin down, a cacophonous aural caning containing endless shredding, lightning-quick picking, intricate leads, the odd surprising acoustic section and more sickle-sharp rhythm’s and hair-raising solo’s than seems humanly possible to assimilate.
The frenetic pace of the entire album only shifted into a (slightly) lower gear for the likes of the slow-burning “Eminence” and the borderline balladry of “Second Coming“, while the classic sound of “All Heads Will Turn To The Hunt” helped to calm the pace of the attention deficit soloing and endless shifts in tempo that permeated through this accomplished debut.
Also home to one of the greatest thrash cover versions in the shape of The Beatles‘ “Eleanor Rigby”, this theatrical blast through such a usually melancholic song screamed insanity and summed up the hyperactive approach Realm adopted for the majority of Endless War.
Defiance – Beyond Recognition (1992)
Beyond Recognition remains a technical thrash masterclass from the Bay Area’s Defiance and proved to be a fitting swansong to thrash’s heyday.
At this stage in their career, Defiance were now trying to out ‘heavy’ the likes of Testament – by way of fellow Bay Area brethren Heathen – and found themselves forging ahead in an ever more progressive thrash direction and proving seriously damn good at it!
“Inside Looking Out” entertained a decidedly warped take on typical chugging riffs (and featured vocal contributions from the aforementioned Heathen frontman David White) and the heady thrash-fest of “Promised Afterlife” rivalled Justice-era Metallica for complexity while remaining staunchly ‘heavy’. The remainder of Beyond Recognition’s tracks offered diversity, complexity and enough ideas to fill a further three albums!
Beyond Recognition is Defiance’s greatest achievement and one of the most impressive moments in 90’s thrash….even though it remains ironically unrecognised by those clearly not ‘in the know’. Of course, the rest of us recognise the moment when Defiance excelled themselves and if thrash hadn’t died on its arse in the 90’s, this outstanding album surely would have sent Defiance stratospheric!
Gruntruck – Push (1992)
Lumped in with the grunge crowd (hailing from Seattle and releasing Push in 1992 probably didn’t help) these pure rock ‘n’ rollers released one hell of a sophomore album and one that seems sadly consigned to the ‘also ran’ pile of the era.
Sure, you can hear Alice In Chains and Soundgarden influences but Gruntruck had their own distinct persona, with darkly ominous grooves and vocal patterns creeping steadily under your skin. True harbingers of the Seattle sound, how this band were merely a footnote in the grunge explosion is a travesty but at least time has enabled their reputation to grow and grow.
With tracks like “Crazy Love’, “Tribe” and “Push” in their sonic arsenal, huge success should have been assured. Alas, this is yet another underrated Roadrunner release but one that should appeal to those who like their head-banging riffs laced with some serious soul!
Disincarnate – Dreams Of The Carrion Kind (1993)
Arriving just as the golden age of death metal drew to a close, James Murphy’s (Cancer, Death, Obituary, Testament) Disincarnate were a state of the art shock to the system; enamoured with technical showboating and bringing a level of brutality to technical death metal that had rarely been heard.
After honing his considerable chops with the cream of death/thrash metal, Dreams Of The Carrion Kind was James Murphy’s chance to prove his status as a death metal guitarist capable of steering his own ship instead of setting sail with whoever would offer him safe passage. As it turned out, he was more than ready. Dreams Of The Carrion Kind was – and still is – a masterpiece and deserves to be spoken of with the same reverential tones as early 90’s technical death metal standard bearers such as Suffocation’s Effigy Of The Forgotten, Atheist‘s Unquestionable Presence and Death’s Human.
While vocalist Bryan Cegon growls with purpose, his one-dimensional delivery reveals itself to be fairly standard – all be it serviceable – but the same cannot be said for the ingenious layering of Murphy’s pendulum swinging solos and intricate, ever-changing riffs; a cavalcade of tempo changes and brutally complex song writing that proves Murphy was at his creative peak in 1993.
From the exquisite death/doom of “In Sufferance” and the Aaron Stainthorpe (My Dying Bride) guesting “Monarch Of The Sleeping Marches”, to the pummeling workout’s of “Deadspawn” and “Stench Of Paradise Burning”, the sheer audacity and technical verve on display remains revelatory but never at the extent of an ingenious hook to keep the neck muscles as well as the brain engaged.
Floodgate – Penalty (1996)
Penalty, the one and only album from Louisiana mob Floodgate, and led by Exhorder and Trouble frontman Kyle Thomas, is an unequivocal classic and a 90’s highlight highly deserving of as much praise as we can throw at it!
As far removed from the pioneering groove thrash of Exhorder as you can get, Penalty was a terminally unfashionable sludgy, southern metal extravaganza! Unencumbered by a desire to please modern metal fans, Floodgate simply created the music they needed to play – the hallmark of any great artist – and unsurprisingly this one-off monster of kick-ass rock is now considered a cult classic.
Kyle Thomas’ ridiculously versatile vocal performance – that still found space to unleash that rib-cracking roar from his Exhorder days – is still a revelation and an obviously huge inspiration on the direction the likes of Down, Crowbar and Corrosion Of Conformity found themselves heading over the preceding years.
Perhaps this is one of those moments where the stars aligned and a ‘sequel’ of sorts simply wasn’t warranted. We’ll just take solace in the fact that Penalty still kicks almighty amounts of ass.