Shredification
The last column took on a bifurcated Death Metal/Stoner Metal focus, so I'm happy to return today with an update that concerns the Bay Area's favorite kind of metal: Thrash! To bring the uninitiated up to speed, let us note the fact that these Nor-Cal shores were at the epicenter of a musical movement, at a time when bands like Exodus, Testament, Death Angel, and everyone's favorite Napster-enemies were beginning still-extant careers amid an orgy of polka-beating violence.

In recent years, heavy music has witnessed an explosion of so-called "retro-thrashers," all attempting to capture the glory and furious fecundity that the genre experienced in the middle eighties, when the Big Four (Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer) were at their peak and thrash outposts like Germany birthed classic bands like Sodom and Kreator. The results attained by these backwards-looking hair-farmers have been varied -- sometimes ripping, sometimes mediocre, sometimes downright poseur-tastic -- so allow me separate the ripe wheat from the corny, fecal chaff.

Gama Bomb

Ireland isn't known as a metal hotbed, but the thrash masterpieces produced by Dublin natives Gama Bomb might just change that reputation. 2008's Citizen Brain (Earache) was my favorite album of that year, combining impossibly fast razor-wire riffing with a tongue-in-cheek lyrical sensibility that name-checked video games, horror movies, and the band's inexhaustible appetite for alcohol. The immaculate production and airtight drumming added further incentive to headbang unabashedly (headbash unabangedly?), but it was the group's way with a heavy hook that made them stand out, with guitarists Luke Graham and Domo Dixon proving that you don't have to sacrifice an ounce of frenetic mayhem to produce a riff with unrestrained earworming tendencies.

Gama Bomb is back this year with Tales from the Grave in Space , and their dedication to preaching the thrash gospel is made apparent by their decision to make the entire album available for free download on Earache's website. The band's picking hands and double bass feet seem undiminished by their heavy drinking, and the gleefully theatrical vocals, light-speed chugging (both guitar and booze), and machine-gun fills all return with a vengeance, replete with a pulpy sci-fi twist. Now if only they would fucking tour the U.S. already!

[audio:http://www.thebaybridged.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/05-Escape-From-Scarecrow-Mountain1.mp3]
Gama Bomb - Escape from Scarecrow Mountain

Skeletonwitch

This Athens, Ohio band wears the mantle of retro-thrash reluctantly, but their classic sensibilities, hair-raising tempos, and song titles ("Soul Thrashing Black Sorcery") leave modern metal taxonomers little recourse. The quality of debut LP Beyond the Permafrost (Prosthetic) rocketed them into prominence, and they've toured with some of the best in the business, including the legendary performing midget Glenn Danzig (please don't sue me!). The quintet stormed stores on October 13th with Breathing the Fire, which is sure to increase their renown by leaps and bounds.

The music is a mix of relentless thrashy grooves and a riffing style that lies at the magical intersection between the New Wave of British Heavy Metal and Black Metal's less tortured chord voicings. Vocalist Chance Garnette brings a raspy, high-and-low vocal approach that is distinctly post-thrash, but there's hardly reason to quibble when one is exposed to the band's soaring solos and anthemic choruses. Drummer Scott Hedrick excels at peppering his more straightforward parts with double bass salvos and some deft blast beats, and he underscores the murderous hammer-ons and pull-offs deployed by guitarist Nate "N8 Feet Under" Garnette (Chance's brother). If you're interested in delving into the current crop of thrash, but retain a yen for European-style neo-classical melody, look no further.

Slayer

Obviously, Slayer is not a "retro"-thrash band, and before you ask, yes, there is some mouth-breathing, forum-trolling virgin out there who would excoriate me in the comments if I didn't issue a disclaimer. That aside, I can't write a thrash column at this point in time without mentioning the release of Slayer's latest opus, World Painted Blood (American Recordings/Sony Music), which came out November 3rd. The hype surrounding this album isn't quite as frenzied as the last, which took full advantage of its 6/6/06 release date, but World... might just be the better offering, if only due to the raw, organic production by Greg Fidelman and longtime Slayer ally Rick Rubin, which gives the album an angry immediacy that recalls the band's vintage classics.

Drummer Dave Lombardo is a living legend, but his drumming has never before been given so much emphasis, a wise decision in light of his still-steely creativity and untrammeled chops. The interplay between guitarists Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman is as demented and powerful as ever, as are the vocals of frontman Tom Araya, whose graying hair has lent him an aura of terrifying gravitas. Stand-outs like "Unit 731" and "Public Display of Dismemberment" capture the band at their frantic best, and "Psychopathy Red" features a hammered-on main riff that evokes the ferocity of "Raining Blood."

Slayer fans are notoriously hard to please, but one can't imagine them griping when the new tracks surface in future set lists. There may be a resurgence of the "retro," but for the veteran L.A. band, its just thrash, and they plan to fuck your face with it.

Shredification is a monthly expedition into the world of heavy music led by San Francisco Bay Guardian and Bay Bridged writer Ben Richardson. Combining album reviews, news, and general commentary, it uses the power of forgotten heathen rituals to surreptitiously devour your soul. Ben can be reached at ben.richardson@thebaybridged.com.

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