Excruciator’s 2009 demo was a nugget of brutal thrash that I returned to again and again, long after my review. So when the opportunity came to review the band’s full-length debut, Devouring, I jumped at it. In the intervening two years, Excruciator’s sound has undergone some subtle changes, but it is still thrash through and through, and Devouring largely delivers on the promise of the demo.
As for the aforementioned changes in Excruciator’s sound, they are small but worth noting. Singer / guitarist Chris Birkle has taking to shrieking on occasion, in a manner similar to Schmier of Destruction. While this technique does make the vocals more dynamic, it also makes them sound kind of cartoonish. Thankfully, Birkle relies on his vicious mid-ranged snarl for the majority of the record. The other notable change is one endemic to any band that makes the transition from demos to professional recordings: The sound is clearer and punchier, but some of the organic energy is lost. Devouring is a great-sounding record, but the demo’s claustrophobic sound lent a little more desperate fury to the tracks.
At the risk of damning with faint praise, one of the best things I can say about Excruciator is that, when I listen to the band’s music, I am not immediately reminded of some other band. Excruciator is certainly not offering a novel approach to thrash – the band is about as straight-forward as can be – but it nonetheless has its own voice, and in an oversaturated genre like thrash, that is saying something.
Now to praise Excruciator in a more direct manner: This band can write a damn good thrash metal song. In fact, with Devouring, Excruciator has written nine damn good thrash metal songs. The band’s music leans toward the heavier side of the genre, with a no-frills, riff-after-riff approach. The solos provide a little melody, but any other instances of such come off as incidental. That is not to say that Excruciator’s music is devoid of depth or subtlety, just that the band has no intention of showing you its sensitive side.
The songs on Devouring vary in tempo, but Excruciator does its best work at high velocity. Tracks such as “Devouring the Flesh of My Master”, “Destruction” and “Nuclear Exmortis” (a holdover from the demo) get the job done quick and dirty, while predominantly mid-paced numbers like “Hunter-Killer” and “Wretched” get a bit bogged down and dragged out.
Devouring has one song, “Metal Forces”, that really sticks out from the pack, so much so that I thought it might be a cover, but my research seems to indicate otherwise. “Metal Forces” is still arguably a thrash song but the song’s galloping riffs and anthemic chorus reveal a different side of Excruciator’s songwriting, one that leans more toward traditional metal than the punishing, chromatic chaos that makes up most of the band’s work. While the track itself is not quite a world-beater, “Metal Forces” does present some interesting possibilities for the band’s future musical direction.
Devouring did not quite chew my face of like I had hoped it would, but the band set the bar quite high with its demo. As thrash records go, Devouring is still well above average, and serves as an auspicious full-length debut from a hungry young band.