From the mist-covered eerie at the top of Castle Ave Noctum, Thee Editor sends trained bats bearing lists of albums to be reviewed down to the homes of the loyal staff. Now, being a cove of advanced age, most of the time I glance over the list and reply unto the site overlord, “yeah, that one sounds pretty interesting, can I have that one please?”. Every now and then though, is a name that stops me scrolling down the list and stop for a moment. In pure shock. Usurper? The Usurper? The Usurper who last released an album back in 2005? No. It cannot be?
It can, and it is. For those younger or new-to-extreme-metal readers out there, Usurper (from that there Chicago), have been plying their trade since 1994, when their extremely influenced by the first wave of Black Metal bands (especially the vocals and riffs of Morbid Tales Celtic Frost, the attitude of Venom and the musicianship of Mercfyul Fate) first came to notice with their debut platter “Diabolosis”. A number of great albums came and went, and then in 2005, with the band then signed to Earache and poised to become a much bigger name in heavy metal, it all went a bit…silent.
“Lords of the Permafrost” sees three quarters of that final line up returning, with Joe Warlord on drums, guitarist and supreme Tom G. Warrior death grunt specialist Rick Scythe, Dan Tyrantor on the vocals and Scott Maelstrom joining on the bass. After such a hiatus though, how does Lords of the Permafrost fare? Well, if there was ever a case of carrying on where you left off, this would be it. Blistering, trend-free extreme metal that concentrates on the “metal” element. The title track alone, an almost five minutes long rager has all of those ingredients of Usurper that you (may) have come to know and love – deep “urrrrrrrrrgh” Celtic Frost grunting, chaotic axe work that somehow works, drumming that’s frantic, manic and full of personality, and bass work that burbles along like Steve Harris on a dozen energy drinks.
This is a full bodied, very much in the zone Usurper release. From the rampant thrash of “Warlock Moon”, to the raging insanity of the Venom on fast forward approach of “Mutants of the Iron Age”, this is a release that takes all of the nastiness of mid to late eighties heavy metal, and takes off any semblance of subtlety, sophistication or irony. The album is all the better for it. When that groove takes off, there really are few bands that can match it for ferocity, skill or just damn feel. If Saxon are “denim and leather”, then Usurper are “denim and spikes” for the extreme crowd; a band that doesn’t feel self-conscious at all, and does what it wants and damn the cost.
At eight songs, this is a release that hearkens back to the glory days of the genre, being a short, sharp shock to the system that doesn’t carry any flab or unwarranted material. Each song has a distinct personality – many of them quite unpleasant – and a production that tends towards the slightly treble-busy sound that your classic acts enjoyed back in the day.
A glorious, unapologetic and thoroughly in your face slice of unrepentant force that smashes its way through your ears into your brain. Absolutely delicious.
Usurper – don’t leave it so long next time, okay?
(9/10 Chris Davison)