To find out if you’re going to enjoy Proliferation, album number two from Aussie thrashers Harlott, ask yourself the following questions:
Do you like Tom Araya’s voice, particularly since he took on a higher, more hardcore-tinged yell in the late ‘90s?
Do you hope for a new Slayer album in which Gary Holt is now the primary songwriter and Andy Sneap the producer?
If you answered both questions with an emphatic “YES,” then you’ll find a lot to like on Proliferation, at least for a while. With a few tweaks to be explained below, Proliferation has largely an Araya-on-God Hates Us All-plus-modern-Exodus vibe. And for the most part, it does a decent job at this, but the degree to which this comparison can be taken at face value should not be underestimated. Harlott vocalist Andrew Hudson sounds almost exactly like a later Tom Araya, straight down to his moments of higher hardcore yelling and even his general vocal cadence and rhythms. It’s almost uncanny. (He also has a bit of Mille Petrozza, but that impression might just be from the Kreator that can be heard during moments of heighted aggression.)
Furthermore, the music feels less “modern thrash” than it does “current music by veteran thrash bands,” hence the comparisons to recent Exodus. The production even feels like Tempo of the Damned or The Formation of Damnation: Thick, crisp, and very beneficial to the drumming. Add in some admittedly catchy choruses (“Legion” among the best), touches of techy extremity, and soloing that runs the thrash gamut and you’ve got the sound. And again, it typically works, riding the band’s high energy to stay fun far longer than it really should.
The hints of tech and extreme metal are what makes the album’s largely derivative nature work. The opening title track has great some speed-picked hooks; “Systematic Reduction” is 95 seconds of near-death/thrash that brings Vader to mind with some blast beats; “Lord of War” features some muted, almost-tremolo riffage; “Civil Unrest” ups the right-handed acrobatics. However, even when the band approaches a more extreme form of metal, there is no doubt that this is thrash metal that aims to be nothing but thrash metal.
It is all quite appealing, and sometimes downright kickass, but it also starts blending together rather quickly. This is largely due to the paint-by-numbers feel of much of the album. While there are attempts at variation – the “thrash epic” intro of “The Fading Light,” for example – nearly every song features at least one completely interchangeable barrage of 16th-notes. It’s far from damning, because just about every other aspect of the band’s sound kicks the crap out of the majority of young thrash bands, but 45 minutes of this stuff is just too much without a couple tracks that actually stand out as both different and superior. Swapping out a few of the 4-5 minute tracks in favor of more no-nonsense blazers like “Bloodlust” would help; Harlott works better when being brutally efficient.
Overall, Proliferation is a pretty decent slab of thrash that is entertaining when taken in about 15 minute chunks, but shows cracks when taken as a whole. There’s a really good chance that you’ll like Harlott more as a surrogate for some of your now-washed-up favorites than as a group of hungry youngsters, but there’s still a really good chance that you’ll enjoy them.