Norwich based thrashers Shrapnel are back and much like their name, they are tearing through things without mercy, cutting down all in their path with furious riffs, scathing vocals and piercing lead guitar work. Last time out, “Raised On Decay” which was released in 2017 got a big thumbs up from me, gaining a respectable 8 out of 10, and with Canadian giants Annihilator and US titans-to-be Havok both releasing notable albums, Shrapnel have a lofty bar to hit. So let’s get on with it and take a tour of this majestic den of musical madness.
Opening up, “Might Of Cygnus” is a heavy hitter. With an intricate build up sequence of clean guitars, lingering distorted leads and a subtle atmospheric synth line backing it, the teasing shifts to full on thrash when the wall of chords slams home hard. Punishingly heavy and thick toned, the wall of noise gives way to frantic paced riffing with plenty of melodic accenting, alternating between fast paced chugging and pedal tone melody with ease. It’s rhythmically tight and leans on the more technical side of thrash, giving off vibes of Evile in places. “Salt The Earth” is a no-nonsense monster of a track. Heavy as hell, the crushing riff driven rhythmic assault hammers away with the ideal pace for intense headbanging. Hammering drums prop the track up, keeping that groove going and the slick and precisely executed lead fills and solos have a cutting presence, kind of like a modern day twist on classic Sepultura.
With the two opening tracks out of the way, things start to pick up where the pace is concerned. The scathing “Vultures Circle” is something straight out of the 80’s thrash playbook. The surging pace, tight riffs and vocal spat out with contempt and disdain come across as a nod to the Bay Area stylings of Exodus whilst the subsequent track “Cannibal” offers up some of the spiciest lead work on the release with its 1-2 solo trade off spot, a move which did have me smirking with joy when imaging how this would go down live. “Begin Again” appears to focus more on the composition. An atmospheric intro shifts to a hypnotically crushing track. Rich bass rumbles under a hazy sounding guitar which lingers underneath some raspy vocals and an ominous air. It’s enough to make the hairs on your arms begin to stand to attention and the alternating between subdued and subduing music works great – it gives you just enough time to catch your breath before it explodes back to life. The high point of the track though, and quite possibly the album is the second half of the track – an ambitious build up section, bringing in harmony lines and the shift to a bass solo spot before a magnificent solo and dramatic, climactic feeling final-run caps it nicely.
From here, it’s business as usual. “Bury Me Alive” is a breakneck paced thrash monster. Relentless buzz saw guitars and blasting double bass drive on this track which is one of the fastest thrash tracks I’ve listened to in a long time and “Turn Off The Lights” brings back that Bay Area buzz once again, keeping the thrash party feel going. Bursts of gallop chugs, harshly sneered vocals and a sweet groove… What more do you need? More Bay Area you say? Well, “Infernal Choir” does that, bringing more of the classic 80’s vibe with it. Again, with the Exodus vibes, but delivered at speeds you would associate with Slayer, this track takes no prisoners and I can only imagine the chaotic mess of bodies down in the pit when the shredding begins or this one. The same can be applied to “The Mace” which follows these two, another solid slice of 80’s goodness!
“Violent Now, Forever” sees the band pull themselves back towards the more ‘Euro’ leaning sound they opened up the release with. Controlled, groove laden and sharp, the Xentrix vibes are strong here and “Future Sight” seems to drift back towards the same feel as Bury Me Alive and Might Of Cygnus did – longer tracks which have a few more sides to them than just the flat out thrash attacks. It’s good way to set up for the end of the album, even if it doesn’t stand out as much, but it does the job it is required to do. “Palace For The Insane” closes the release, and it is a great blend of all the approaches the band have used across the release. Dramatic and atmospheric, then slick guitar work is paired up with dynamic vocals which jump from gang to growl to rasp and the speed is consistent – it doesn’t offer much of a break throughout its runtime with the only reprieve in the assault coming towards the end of the track after a solid lead section.
In all, “Palace For The Insane” is a solid release. It wears it’s influences on its sleeve and leaves them there for all to see, but it still allows Shrapnel to express themselves musically with little fear of being written off as just another throwback band riding on the coattails of a previously successful approach. Whilst I do feel the previous release “Raised On Decay” was the stronger album, this one shows the band are consistent in the standard of music they create. It is definitely worth checking out!