The Thrashiest Place On Earth: Enforced and Necropanther
When we say FastPass, we mean it.
Summer is on the way, sooner than you think. Why not take the kids on down to Thrashtown, metal’s longest-running thrill-ride amusement park? If I’ve learned anything from Kevin Perjurer, the park never closes but the rides come and go. When an old favorite isn’t drawing the crowds anymore, or has internal breakdowns that halt operations, it means some new boneshaker has to take its place and keep asses in crotch-splitting plastic seats. Maybe it’s all just a bit too exhausting in one go, but as a man once said: Buy the ticket, take the ride. Before I segue out of the metaphor, I also want to point out that like theme park attendees, thrash fans have a reputation for overindulgence on site that leads to ejection. Also the merch costs too much but you’re already in the door Oh My God could this be any more labored let’s get to the bands.
Striking out on their third album, Enforced stand at a point where they could run for the Mayor of Thrashtown. They’ve got recognition, presence, and most crossover competition (Ninth Realm, Foreseen, and the like) in their rearview. In fact, perhaps they’re just a little too good at crowd-pleasing, not rocking the boat and coasting along on good feelings of administrations past. Look at these track names, look at this monochromatic art. There ain’t gonna be no swelling chorus or sinking reprise. War Remains pulls the ripcord in its chest and start sawing away on its E-strings, dressed in the sensibly conservative all-black ensemble of Marshall Amp Thrash Tone. Signal the waiter and you’ll be served up a variety of crooked retools of the sick-ass riff from the middle of “Angel Of Death”. Enforced are equally at ease strumming along on the single note strut or gnashing teeth with jumpy anchor riffs. You are in a 4-Star Michelin Ranked thrashtaurant. Expect unimpeachable execution, but not surprises.
In some ways, it’s commendable to see Enforced establishing a reliable standard of work and getting it out there on time. I still buy every Overkill record that comes out just on the name alone, because they’ve spent a long-ass time convincing me it’ll always be worth it. Workhorses like this are the backbone of the metal world, buoying up labels and touring lineups with easy-to-move goods, release after release. If this kind of honed, sleek thrash feels good rattling in your ears, you should by all means see the show, grab the shirt, and have a good time. I sure did, back when At The Walls first came out and the boys were hitting the road with the likes of Red Death and High Command. Three albums in, though, I’m not sure it’ll ever grab me the same way again.
I feel like Enforced have the consistency that some find commendable in a Cannibal Corpse or Overkill type, doing that kind of boilerplate song-farming that can put out albums every 2 years, but I think they’ve settled their style too early. Not to mention that rather than being architects of their genre and thus relatively above complaints of conformity, Enforced aren’t even the architects of the newest wave of crossover thrash revival. Even when they were new, they were easy to sort as “Power Trip support”, and although they’re now a front-runner in that kingdom, they seem as yet unsuited to take the crown. There’s plenty of kick on War Remains, but this war has been going for a long time, and monotony is becoming its biggest killer.
But nobody likes a party pooper in the Thrashiest Place On Earth. The trip ain’t over yet and we still got time to stand in a couple more lines go on one more ride. So why don’t we turn an eye to another steady stalwart, Denver’s own Necropanther. They’ve kept an accessibly technical approach to their thrash ventures, formed by some early players in Havok. But don’t hold that against them, I’m sure they’ve had all their shots. They’ve got a couple of years and one album on our NoVA darlings above, but they’ve been in slumber for about 4 years since their last full-length. Now, they return with Betrayal, a concept record that certainly has plenty of loop-de-loops and spins out the gate.
In fact, Necropanther has shown a predilection for concept records based on movies, tackling both Dune, the pedestrian choice, and Logan’s Run, a more obscure vintage, on previous outings. This time, it’s 1972’s gangland melee-ballet, The Warriors, with lyrical shoutouts to ostentatious street scrappers like the Gramercy Riffs, the Turnbull Acs, and the iconic, proto-corpse-painted Baseball Furies. Just gonna put it up front, I don’t think the music is a great tonal match for the movie, which was anything but lavishly produced, and paced like a New York subway train: creaky, with plenty of delays.
Necropanther, on the other hand, are spraying flowing murals of aggressive splendor, rich with melodramatic harmonization and progression. Their sound is thoroughly blended with black and death flavors, but the coursing thrash at the core is undeniably their central structure. Right off the bat, I think they hit a real adroit balance in their feels, making handy switches in feel from their brutish death metal to the more urgent blackened chord voicings. The leadwork is super expressive and fluid to match, able to chime in alongside the strong rhythmic motifs before taking a life of their own. Just as one taste starts losing the intensity, the next riff comes barreling in to jolt the palette a bit. The songs rush by like the wind screaming in your ear, shreddy enough to blow your hair back with technique and flair. At least for the first few rounds.
At a more subtle level, the tracks on Betrayal don’t have much contrast to one another, but within each one is a compelling journey. The production comes off very packed, maybe even crammed a bit tight, like the line for Space Mountain on Labor Day. The gas pedal never gets released, and even with all the dynamic arrangement on display, it’s hard for it not to blend together a bit by the end. Not unlike a multi-layered crushed ice parfait, with the acidic syrup dribbled in rainbow strata, it keeps the beautiful shine at first before slowly melting into a sweet, but brown, slush. But that don’t change how good it can be going down on a hot day.
Betrayal and War Remains are both roller-coasters, here to thrill as long as they can convince you to scramble back in line for the next ride. Although Enforced is the more utilitarian of the two, Necropanther’s flash is still in service to this Spartan idiom. Do you want lots of headspinning, tight maneuvers, or do you want big drops again and again? Either way, there’s no slowdowns, and no re-entry after park closing. So fuck off.