Blackened thrash is a strange beast. It was certainly, in retrospect, present before the second wave of black metal, but it never really found that tag until after black metal became an established, definitive style. With the popularity of the Norwegian bands taking precedence, black thrash is often considered a marriage between the blasting cold of Norway and the aggressive riffing of the first Bathory and Sodom records. However, almost simultaneous to the Norwegian explosion of black metal, a different approach was being taken in the Mediterranean, specifically in Greece. The Hellenic bands seemed to jump from the early grind days of Rotting Christ into a more Bathory and Master’s Hammer interpretation, and while some thrash influence was present, they never really honed in on a thrashy backbone more present in other countries.
Over the past three years, Los Angeles based death metal act Draghkar has been working to uncover a twist on the black thrash formula. From humble beginnings playing a more straightforward, classic death metal style on their World Unraveled demo back in 2017, the band was on a stylistic upswing by 2018’s EP, The Endless Howling Abyss. While their material has been fairly good, if not reverent to their influences, in the absolute tidal wave of death metal bands drawing from similar wells of inspiration in the more popular styles of the modern wave such as the brutal aggression of Autopsy, the cavernous evil of Incantation, and the Finnish knack for low tones and quick shifts, the band was easily overlooked in the shuffle.
Draghkar waited until they felt they found something worthy of an album to release a debut. At The Crossroads Of Infinity certainly keeps at least three toes in death metal, but the album is quite a leap from the previous material. It’s thrashier, the vocals not quite as deep and rumbling, and last but certainly not least, it holds the introduction of a distinctly Hellenic black metal approach to riff construction. The blasting sections on “The First Death” immediately evoke a more early Rotting Christ or Varathron feel to them. The less down-tuned tremolo picking instantly jumps out in comparison to the grumbling sewer sounds of World Unraveled, and the differential in sound between the lead and rhythm have that distinctive Greek approach to the respective roles. The subtle choral chants found beneath the post-chorus bridge add that pagan ritual element of mystery to the sound. Drag Car seemed to have performed an engine swap as well—the rhythm section is more driving and aggressive, and that thrash element really shines with the straightforward running kicks and simple (but effective) two-four snare.
If there was any doubt to Draghkar’s shift in direction, the re-evaluated title track from the previous demo, “Beyond Despair, The Dawn Of Rebirth” feels at home with the lighter production and dryer, more raspy take on the vocals. The Greek style has always flirted with more “death” in the vocals than, say, their Norwegian counterparts, and Draghkar uses this as a connecting point between their death metal roots and more Hellenic black sound. The riffs are well crafted, retaining homage to the style and still sounding organic. The melodies hook in and play off one another—it’s clear they were created to sculpt the songs rather than simply cramming a bunch of ideas together in some sort of riff-mash tater salad.
That mythical, pagan feel is highlighted with the vocal prelude to “Seeking Oblivion” that prays for a final death before a doomy, ominous introduction of the music gives way to some free-wheelin’ guitar. The death metal element is again present in the verse with a more palm-muted chug. The leads cry out with a haunted voice, highlighting the song’s principle melody before a thrash-steeped solo starts shredding the song apart.
If you’ve ever wondered what Necromantia would sound like with guitar instead of the twin bass attack, Draghkar makes a damn fine argument on “Pursued By Black Forms.” Not only is that Joey-DeMaio-in-corpsepaint bass most present here, but the riffs and the way the song is constructed with changes every two or four bars (save for the main riff) is assuredly a trait employed by the late Baron Black, especially on those first two Necromantia albums. The popping of the strings adds that drip to the song that makes it a highlight of the album, at least in my personal bias towards all things scarlet, evil, witching, and black.
The title track, while not outright lifting, does throw a bit of a surprise in with a riff that feels based on a touch of Manilla Road’s “The Ninth Wave.” The song builds in a similar manner, as the lead guitar sings out before returning to the Draghkar sound that’s become more familiar across the album. Even still, there is just a hint of Road in the track, be it in the drums hitting accentuated fills in a similar manner to that of Randy Foxe on Open The Gates to the rhythm in the vocal patterns (more so than the actual sound), or the mystical, mythical solo section that feels ethereal and otherworldly. It’s a wonderful closer, and hints a bit more at the kaleidoscopic influence behind the band.
Props have to be given where props are due, and Draghkar really has stumbled onto something with At The Crossroads Of Infinity. The energy of an extreme thrash record built around the elements of Greek black metal, along with traces of their earlier death sound make for quite a unique cocktail. At The Crossroads Of Infinity is an excellent proof of concept for the combination of their influences, and I’d love to see where the upward trajectory of the band carries this idea. Draghkar shows potential to evolve into something truly unique from the seed of Infinity, establishing a connecting point between late 80’s extreme thrash and early 90’s Hellenic black metal. Their debut is solid, and sets the band up for something wildly unique. Already on an upward trajectory and managing to step apart from other acts in the contemporary death metal underground, I am extremely excited to see how the band pushes this sound—they have the potential for a real opus and a band to keep two eyes on in the future.