Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Terrorizer "Hordes Of Zombies" (Season Of Mist)

In 1989, Earache released Terrorizer's "World Downfall", the LP that defined the original high-falutin grindcore "sound", and alongside "Straight Outta Compton", "The Chronic" and "Original Gangsta" one of the essential California albums of all-time. With Oscar Garcia's staccato guttural vocal grunting and Pete Sandoval's sheer percussive velocity, interspersed with foot-tappin' guitar breakdowns from Jesse Pintado and David Vincent's high-in-the-mix bass this was - like Napalm's "Mentally Murdered" EP - grindcore you could *dance* to, if you were so minded: its ebbs, flows and grooves were worlds apart from the pained, trebly screamo-mathgrind nonsense that would later shuffle into vogue. As part of Lock-Up's warming and wholesome set at the Underworld last December they dedicated two tunes to the late Jesse Pintado (also, of course, ex-Napalm and Lock-Up): covers of Terrorizer's "Storm Of Stress" and the ever-brilliant "Fear of Napalm". It was both a generous tribute and a potent reminder of just how timeless that first Terrorizer album has become, more than a score of years later.

But when Pintado and Sandoval returned, without Garcia and Vincent, for Century Media album "Darker Days Ahead" in 2006 we were forced to lament that although "a thick, earthy, hulking mass of death metal" it was hardly "the grindcore classic we yearned for". As we later remarked, ostensibly whilst reviewing a Secret Shine record, you can tell that an album is in trouble if the best track on it is a re-work of an older tune by the same band, and the highlight of "Darker Days Ahead" was probably "Dead Shall Rise '06", a crashing if unenlightening re-take on the classic cut from "World Downfall" (and "Grindcrusher", lest we forget). See also Public Enemy's "Apocalypse '91", which arguably peaks with its Anthraxed-up re-rendering of "Bring The Noise".

A mere five and a half years later, Terrorizer have decided to roll out album number three, on label number three (Season Of Mist, of Marseilles). The sad death of Pintado on the cusp of "Darker Days Ahead"'s release means that Pete Sandoval is the only constant (although Morbid Angel mainman Vincent returns to the fold, at least for the purposes of this recording, to restore the 50% original member quota). Line-up 3.0 is completed by new guitarist Katina Culture (who played alongside Jesse Pintado in Resistant Culture for a while), as well as Resistant Culture singer Anthony Rezhawk, who made his bow for Terrorizer on "Darker Days Ahead".

* * * * *

To tackle the lows head-on, the over-clinical production is perhaps a little samey; the bass is somewhat hidden; the lyrics, while intelligent and worthy, break no new ground, and the vocals are a tad one-dimensional (although, unlike much of this ilk, you can at least hear the words). The only thing on "Hordes of Zombies" that truly leaps out at you is the drumming. The speed of the drumming. It's unrelenting: even when the guitars slow down for a while, Pete is hammering out 250+ beats per minute, his hands surely a mere blur, his famous footpedal going gaga. But the danceability and verve of the Terrorizer of yore has largely vanished.

Yet viewed on its own terms - a machine-like, head-down, album of eco-political songs played in death metal stylee and with turbocharged grindcore celerity - "Hordes" is still a compelling proposition. The admirable tunnel vision at play is typified by the fact that pretty much every track ends super-abruptly and, rather brilliantly, with *exactly* the same truncated chord: it's almost as if they glance at the studio clock and as soon as a song's over two minutes decide just to wrap it up immediately, regardless of where they'd got to. In terms of deviation from this unforgivingly austere template, Katina gets the occasional brief solo, and there are a couple of samples, but that's it. (If you strive *too* hard for musical diversity, mind, the danger is that you end up with that fairly remarkable last Morbid Angel LP, which is the Royal Variety Show by comparison, but which hardly makes for cohesive or even repeated listening).

So while "Hordes of Zombies" has received a fair pasting from certain quarters, we reckon you need to go for a "glass half full" approach here rather than wallow in Terrorizer's past glories and think that a record featuring half of the original line-up, and made over 22 years later, could really ever be expected to revisit them. There's a particularly strong run of tracks towards the middle and end of the record, and at times it even reminds us of one of the first bands who tried to marry death brutality with insane pace, the oft-overlooked Unseen Terror. (Should you ever wonder why we so often sport such sour demeanour and hangdog face, it's because there just aren't *enough* bands nowadays who manage to remind us of Unseen Terror). Which all makes this third Terrorizer outing pretty enjoyable: more sprightly and self-knowing than "Darker Days", and blooming - just a little - with each new listen.

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