Review: Maligner – Attraction to Annihilation
Thrash done right.
In spite of its wide-reaching popularity and immediately engaging nature, thrash metal is a surprisingly hard genre of metal to get right. Even in the genre’s heyday it suffered moreso than any other style with an oversaturation of mediocre to outright snooze inducing bands who had the raw chug and charge needed to fill out the boxes but little of the creativity, finesse, truly unchained tenacity, or songwriting talents needed to give us more than the sum of their parts. To some extent, fusions and cross pollination with other genres can help but as the glut of forgettable black-thrash bands so, it has never been a guarantee. On the surface if you were flipping through a youtube playlist of thrash bands and came upon Maligner midway through you couldn’t be blamed for skipping over them too as initially they don’t seem to be that far out of the box. They aren’t anyways but it’s not a case of escaping the box in this case as much as turning that box into a fortress, one bristling with ever watchful mounted machine guns and flesh-rending barbed wire. This isn’t merely a well-done nostalgia trip but a deadly reminder of why thrash was once feared and respected as feral spearhead that played the largest role in giving us extreme metal as we understand it today as well as serving as a bridge between it and the more accessible forms of metal it superseded.
It’s one thing to be fast and punchy in thrash metal but it’s another to do it in a compelling manner. The main problem of thrash where rhythms grow into static chug or aimlessly droning jackhammer motions off of the bat aren’t an issue here in the slightest. Maligner’s intense delivery immediately makes them almost every bit as vicious as the death metal their particular style would help to birth yet it relies on more than sheer impact. Perhaps owning to guitarist Aztiak’s Chilean background, Attraction to Annihilation features a surprising degree of melody woven into its rhythms, at times even simply using leads as or in the place of riffs in and of themselves. Even the blunt end rhythms often tend be phrased with fairly easy to follow melodic patterns and at times it can be distantly reminiscent of prog/tech-thrash like recent Home Style Surgery and Trecelence. Of course, they differ from those bands in that they focus on skull-exploding viciousness, just very well executed cranial destruction. From their ability to balance rapid tremolo motion against fractured crunchy notation down to the concise leads that slice and dance across the fretboard and clever use of breaks in patterns and tempo to build variety and contrast (and subsequently enhance) aggression, Maligner understand the genre’s core tenets very well and excel far beyond their contemporaries and more than a few of their predecessors.
Of course, simply knowing how to play thrash well is one thing. Writing compelling songs is often where even the most instrumentally gifted bands regardless of genre are broken more than they are made. While Maligner’s brand of death/thrash isn’t too complex, ultimately moreso in the thrash camp than the death metal one, they know how to arrange riffs in efficient structures that can play off just a few ideas to devastating effect. Their songs tend to be sectioned into individual portions that work through short cycles of repetition, building momentum and bursting from one area to the next in a theatre of mounting suspense giving way to horrific and grimly satisfying violence. While the overall level of narrative nuance isn’t anywhere near the spiralling chaos of the death and black metal that Maligner’s approach to thrash helped spawn, it does still give their songs a sense of progression and thematic storytelling that elevates would normally be competently executed mayhem into a finely tuned machine of war. Combined with a wide range of riffing and lead work phrased in a variety of ways and over a diverse set of tempos, they get quite a lot of mileage out of the kind of militant intensity that many other bands would easily turn into monotony. In Maligner’s case however, there’s a great grasp of how to link multiple segments of varying intensity levels together, using melody to help tie together acerbic riffing as well as to explore and shape song direction which in turn opens new avenues for their heavier, more straightforward riffs to break through and proceed to butchering away.
Opening salvo “Oath Bound” opens with an ominous mid-paced stomp that’s rapidly ambushed by a skank beat lead onslaught of dynamic riffing before leading to a reliable set of paired riffs set at the speed of an armoured column charging down a plain. However a little over halfway in and it abruptly introduces a series of quick, slicing leads that open up to a wider range of melody and surprisingly expressive soloing. “Salvation” starts with lengthy upper register melodies over a spastic, collapsing rhythms before turning into a punky and oddly catchy d-beat supported riff. It almost seems out of place, at least on paper, but the band avoid sugary pop hooks and use the slowed tempo to emphasize bulky weight and syncopated punch. A neoclassical style solo even appears, set over the opening riffs of the track. “Reign of Fear” opens as if it’s Helstar with its arpeggiated melody and utilizes a similar level of flourish to transition into an interesting series of staggered, paused melodic single string riffs that are straightened out into ambiguously toned tremolo when it needs to kick up the tempo again. As its name might suggest, “Into Oblivion” ends the album on an apocalyptic note a la early Sepultura. Its crunchier palm mutes are easy listening by their standards but gradually the song warps more and more, picking up momentum and tension but anticlimactically breaks into slow chunking riffs, gradually breaking off into yet another neoclassical sounding set of harmonies. The solo almost sounds like a late 80’s US power metal band yet it’s delivered with the flair for the dramatic needed to sell it. It’s only then does it rip into a full speed thrash attack, breaking off at a few intervals to bleed off tension with slower riffing. That doesn’t stop it from racing towards its morose conclusion, ending on the same pounding slower-tempo riffing it initially appeared to have escaped from.
Thrash has become somewhat of a desert as of late with the retro movement mostly giving us shallow imitation of past greats and attempts to crossbreed the genre marred by repeating its mistakes with a new paint of coat on. However when a band does manage to not only capture what made it so respected in its heyday and do so with a distinct voice of their own there’s always much cause for furious headbanging and degenerate bloodthirsty celebration, unfortunately rare as these occasions are. While it’s probably not going to change your mind if your level of jadedness means you won’t listen to any entries in the genre released after 1991, those who still hold out hope will find one an example of thrash done properly intransigent, up there with Canada’s Besieged and Italy’s Ripper, if not higher, in its own visions of destruction and hopelessness.