[Cover artwork by Sam Nelson]
There was a time when the words “thrash revival” mostly conjured thoughts of a seemingly endless slew of Bay Area revivalists such as Warbringer, Evile, Bonded By Blood, Untimely Demise, et al., but a more extensive resurgence in the modern age has rekindled the flames for most every other branch of thrash as well. Fans of the more progressive / tech realm finally have new groups to chew on (e.g., Bestial Invasion, Droid, Black Fast), crossover freaks once again have fresh skankables (e.g., Power Trip, Iron Age, Foreseen, Enforced), and there’s clearly no lack of rogues painting fresh coats over intricate thrash that dips into the more extreme realms of death and black metal to boot (e.g., Nekromantheon, Bütcher, Obsolete, Paranorm, Madrost, and a hundred others.)
Our focus today, however, is on a brand of thrash that likewise grew up in the 80s and blended equal shares melody, sophistication, and actual singers (read: “crooners”) into something of a hybrid between speed, (the U.S. strain of) power, and thrash. The mid-to-late 80s and very early 90s were stacked to the rafters with bands of this ilk—Metal Church, Heretic, Heathen, Agent Steel, Sanctuary, Flotsam & Jetsam, Artillery, Grinder, Paradox, and countless others—but not until relatively recently have we been exposed to a notable heap of young bands talented enough to produce power / thrash records of a caliber deserving to hit what’s left of the glossy pages: Slovenia’s Eruption, Germany’s Septagon, and Greece’s Sacral Rage (a little more on the speed metal side) quickly spring to mind, and nestled alongside them is the relatively uncharted Project: Roenwolfe.
First, while the heart of the band remains the same, with Parris bringing vocals and lyrics to the plate, and Cordisco providing songwriting, guitars, bass and, at least in the earliest days, drum programming, Roenwolfe now boasts an actual drummer. That sort of news is always worth celebrating when the metal ain’t, you know, industrialized, but the level of ovation skyrockets because said drumming is now provided by current Theocracy batsman, Ernie Topran, and he is quite proficient at what he does. Topran’s heavy-handed style is perfectly suited for music of this nature, and there are moments throughout Edge of Saturn where he hits the skins with the urgency of a cartoon bear fleeing bees, which certainly adds to a good portion of the record’s aggression.
Second, there’s a clear improvement in the overall production — the mix / mastering (Michael Goodrich and Jamie King) gives Edge of Saturn a deeper clarity across the board, but particularly with regard to the bottom end (it’s nice to hear Cordisco’s bass play) and certainly in relation to the riffing, which is one of the true stars of the Edge of Saturn show.
Now is as good a time as any to establish the following caveat: There’s unique sense of quirkiness afoot here, and it mostly pertains to the vocals and how Parris often layers them in the choruses. This gives a distinct King Diamond feel to a fair bit of the passages, and like any band / vocal talent who often relies on a higher register that’s unafraid to jump into a piercing wail, it’s the sort of thing that could bar entry for those sensitive to such things. Parris certainly wastes no time establishing his foothold, so at least you’ll know early if you’re unfortunate enough to be in the parade-whizzing camp.
“Something More” is based on Sapkowski’s The Witcher novels (I was admittedly a little sad that the mention of the Sword of Destiny had nothing to do with Gob and failed magic…”Still, where’d the lighter fluid come from?”), and the song’s early placement does well to swiftly establish what one can expect from Project: Roenwolfe’s brand of winding and refined melodic thrash. The chorus here is warm and catchy enough to hang in the brain matter for hours after the record ends, and Cordisco’s approach is clearly mapped from the Tim Calvert school of thrash riffing, with plenty of bright melody and sporadic soloing to accompany the soaring vocals.
Another band that springs to mind a fair bit as the record continues to unfold is Nevermore. Edge of Saturn scoots and catches and soars and dives as various tempos mingle, and moods shift from dark to light and back again, so there’s a strong sense of narration similar to a record like Dead Heart in a Dead World that’s broadened by Parris’ appetite for dramatic storytelling. There are songs here dealing with cults, beast hunters, Frankenstein’s monster, lost friends, and sci-fi concepts exclusive to the band itself, and there are myriad shades of heaviness and varied gaits to suit each face: aggressive burners (“Mastermind Manipulators”), slower-paced wallopers (“Starbound Butcher of My Dreams”), emotional odes that represent “ballads” without actually being ballads (the album’s true closer, “Aeturnum Vale”), and outright face-melters like “Of Mice and Straw Men” dedicated to fighting racism, fascism and any other form of injustice we confront on a daily basis.
Similar to thrash of this nature from 30 years ago, Project: Roenwolfe is clearly aiming for a specific target audience that beams at the thought of a more sophisticated form of thrash that punctuates toothy riffing with plenty of U.S. power. And in a modern age where umpteen bands battle to the death for the right to pleasurably kill with endless pain, it’s nice to hear young crews deliver big on a more melodic subsection of the style that absolutely deserves continued awareness and more widespread rekindling.
Eight years between records is obviously significant, but Edge of Saturn is certainly worth the wait.