Scandinavia are no strangers to metal which is off the aggressive kind. The birthplace of the melodic death metal genre, the home of the famed ‘Gothenburg Sound’ and some of the grimmest, doomiest and blackest metal out there. What we do tend to forget is that those in the northern reaches of Europe know how to thrash, and Skulldrain are a quartet who seem to play it rather well.
The four piece from Gefle, Sweden, have all played together in bands from the region, notably Undivine, Sordid Flesh and Altered Aeon to name some, and this crew has their debut album ready to fire. With influences including Bay Area thrash, Teutonic thrash, death metal and groove metal, you know it’s going to be heavy.
With the title track opening the album, you get hit with a wall of riff based goodness from the off. The cutting thrash tone with a clinical edge, reminiscent of the Teutonic stylings of Destruction and the hard hitting heaviness of their fellow Swedes, The Haunted. With a raw vocal delivery which helps convey the aggressive edge of the music, it tears through like a freight train and doesn’t let up. “White Phosphorus Bombing” sounds every bit as punishing as its title. With a more frantic pace and a real heavy leaning in the melodic death metal due to its impressive blastbeat usage and intricate, entropic, twisting riffs and flat out buzzing fury, it retains the heaviness factor and keeps on pushing it.
The thrash and melodic death metal sounds aren’t the only things of note though. Taking a leaf out of fellow countrymen, Meshuggah’s playbook, “One More Word” has a seriously heavy low end to it. The mechanical sounding riffs and bass with their pounding presence give a real ferocious tone and the venomous vocal delivery and frantic solo really sits this track as a powerhouse. “Bad Blood” has more of a Bay Area thrash edge to it, sounding like something from Slayer circa early 2000’s, but what it lacks in the Slayer like style, this track more than makes up for it with a more technical approach to the composition of the track and a serious dose of groove to it.
The only strange part and slight against this release is the final trio of tracks. “The Only Way” is a three minute long instrumental which acts as more of an intro to the last actual track of the album “Through Death”. This instrumental could have easily been combined into the track it effortlessly blends into as its slow, momentum building rhythmic assault shifts into a high paced thrash riff onslaught which oozes intensity. With touches of melodic death metal and moments where it almost breaks into the speed metal territories, “Through Death” really tears the album a new one and is probably the best display of what Skulldrain are capable of musically. Sadly, even though this track wraps things up, the dirty blues inspired acoustic closing track “Dissonance” kind of takes the thunder and adrenaline right out of the pace of the album so far. Whilst it has a haunting atmosphere to it and a real hypnotic melody which twists and turns its way around you, it just seems totally out of place and honestly, it doesn’t fit with the track before it… or any of the tracks on the release.
Still, misgivings and gripes aside, this is a solid thrash album which firmly sets this four piece out as a thrash band to watch out for. Tight rhythms, impressive tones and some intense as hell drumming really put these guys over as powerhouses and remind us once again why Scandinavia are so good at producing quality bands!