RETRO TUESDAYS: Astharoth – Gloomy Experiments (1990)

The full story of Astharoth is one of unstoppable youthful ambition and skilled musicianship colliding with the fickle and broadly changing tides of heavy metal. In just two short years these Bielsko-Biała, Poland spawned technical thrash metal upstarts had recorded two demos, created a hell of a buzz with some major tour support slots and secured this first full-length. Influenced by Coroner, Voivod, and Mekong Delta with the ripping edge of late 80’s Kreator, Astharoth were positioning themselves to be a big deal. Perhaps too green and playing a quickly dated flashy style of thrash metal, Astharoth made the an admirably bold move in moving to the Bay Area to pursue a deal with a record label. After four years of trying they’d produced a handful of mediocre progressive metal demos that never amounted to a record deal.

Quite frankly, it makes sense. I wouldn’t actually blame the rescinded value of thrash within popular music at the start of the 90’s for the demise of Astharoth but rather their inability to impress with the demos they produced. As technical and exciting as their brand of thrash metal was they’d never really evolved beyond their Voivod influenced riffing and the guitarists’ compositions never quite reached the precision or heaviness of Coroner. Plenty of strange bands evolved to survive in the 90’s but I think Astharoth were too new to work it out, and they’d have done better to try their hand at the progressive thrash/alt metal scene in Germany at the time. So, what we’re left with is ‘Gloomy Experiments’ a fine technical thrash metal album full of ambition and raw, brutally delivered energy.

As an obsessed classic thrash fan trying to secure every album I’d read about on the old Classic Thrash and Vibrations of Doom websites ‘Gloomy Experiments’ was particularly elusive and for years it evaded me on eBay and similar sites. Once it was ripped at low quality and began to flood the internet the reaction was underwhelming from the destitute thrash collectors that scour every corner of Googleable internet for rarities. Astharoth were rough around the edges in sound but that never stopped anyone from loving comparable releases from Wolf Spider and Turbo of the era and most of the disappointment was for it’s mix of raw ‘Terrible Certainty’ sound and technical approach a la Coroner or Obliveon. It isn’t an original album if you’re well-versed in Voivod and Coroner alike. But for a fanatic of technical thrash metal the remaster/re-issue in 2009 was a great point of excitement.

Likely inspired by a mix of ‘R.I.P.’-era Coroner and Voivod‘s ‘Killing Technology’ but not yet fully interested in, or capable of, the precision of Watchtower the guitar performances from Dorota Homme and Jarek Tatarek are made thrilling for their exploration of contrapuntal guitar runs and frantic avant-garde riff changes. Astharoth‘s style seems like a bit of an anomaly at first as they weren’t as atmospheric as Obliveon or Disciples of Power, were still far too ‘street metal’ to compare to prog-tinged bands like Molecular Repulsion and not street metal enough compared to similarly influenced bands like Equinox. The only moderately fitting sibling would be Anacrusis‘ oddball ‘Manic Impressions’ for both sound and style. If nothing else they certainly stood out in the small crowd of Polish thrashers that hadn’t converted towards death metal by the end of the 80’s.

‘Gloomy Experiments’ isn’t a perfect record and it can only hold a candle to the greats of technical thrash metal during it’s first half. By the time “Mirror’s World” swings around the composition gets wobbly and too oozy for it’s own good, though the guitar performances do pick up by the end of the record. I think you could hear what most any label scout would have said, in denying a deal, in analyzing the full listen of this album: Technique is initially impressive, spongy guitar tone gives the impression of sloppiness, songs are not distinct enough for a world stage, and their approach to riffing is out of ideas after 30 solid minutes of variation. Even if that is a rough approximation of the value of ‘Gloomy Experiments’ it will ring even more true when listening to the tuneless, bland iterations on the demos they’d produce in the early 90’s (see: ‘Lost Forever World’ compilation). Whatever point I’m trying to make… I understand why this band didn’t ‘take off’ and for what it’s worth this is one of my favorite technical thrash metal albums for it’s crazy sound, original guitar technique, and frantic ‘Pleasure to Kill’ attitude.

Artist Astharoth
Type Album
Released 1990
Listen on YouTube! Astharoth on Metal-Archives
Technical Thrash Metal

Fire in the veins. 4.0/5.0

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