With the technical thrash metal trend in some dissolving demand across Europe post-’88 the arms race for riffs had begun to die down in Germany’s thrash playground. The short term solution for many came in the interim between Metallica on MTV and the rise of groove metal failures in the form of an underground progressive metal boon. Just heavy enough to interest headbangers but just weird enough to appeal to the expanding art-rock/alternative metal palate of the early 90’s, bands like Psychotic Waltz, Anacrusis, Depressive Age (and soon Coroner) would kick off this short-lived innovation. For progressive metal fans this is an amazing crossover between aggressive underground metal and progressive rock’s influence on it. For thrash fans this is a noodly, insincere side-quest before groove metal shot thrash in the temple. But what about the thrashers that took the lessons of ‘And Justice For All…’ and did it their own way? Despair had a good crack at it, sure but the band to beat post-1988 was German thrashers Deathrow and they’d unfortunately broken up by 1989.
Unarguably the most underrated thrash band of all time Düsseldorf, Germany exports Deathrow cranked out three incredible full-lengths in the space of three years first with a powerful speed metal sound heavily influenced by 80’s metal from the states and early German speed metal innovation. Their third album ‘Deception Ignored’ marked the entrance of guitarist Uwe Osterlehner who brought on a new age of progressive guitar work. That third album is a crowning achievement in thrash metal as it delivers a superior vision of the feigned introspection (Megadeth) and socio-political commentary (Metallica) coming from their world famous thrash metal peers and it brings extended and beautiful streams of technical and progressive thrash metal riffs. It is excessive and extreme beyond it’s time and serves as one of the more tragically well-hidden lessons in tech-thrash for the generations since. It was peak maturity for the project and they’ve said in the years since that they felt it was no longer ‘musical’ and just madness in it’s complexity. Why did they split up a year later?
Noise Records. After they’d finished their album deal with Noise the band was intent on slowing down and pursuing a new deal that would allow them to breathe and tour more reasonably. According to guitarist Sven Flügge the head of Noise essentially wouldn’t broker a deal for further albums unless the band would fund their own tour of the UK with Sabbat. So, to paraphrase, they fucked off and said fuck him. The important thing to remember is that most German thrashers that cropped up in the 80’s came from the working class and were grounded, reasonable people in defiance of the bullshit world around them; This was in stark contrast to a lot of the US thrash metal scene consisting of trust-fund babies and opportunists. This is expressed even more on the band’s fourth album ‘Life Beyond’.
I’d always though that Osterlehner had been working on End Amen before Deathrow reformed but it turns out ‘Your Last Orison’ (1992) came after a tour with Psychotic Waltz in support of ‘Life Beyond’ and that Deathrow had been working on the album since 1990. Regardless you will hear some influence from ‘A Social Grace’ on the album as it progresses but they touch upon Megadeth, Coroner, and even some hints of Stone through a more ‘musical’ interpretation of Deathrow coming off of ‘Deception Ignored’. Milo Van Jaksic‘s shouts of ‘How much is too much?’ on the single “Towers in Darkness” is a great metaphorical moment for an album that wasn’t sure how far to go with it’s sound in 1992. For my taste ‘Life Beyond’ is a perfect example of how a progressive artist can take a step back from aggressive technical compositions and move forward in a more memorable direction. It is growth and repentance on paper, but surely more aggressive and frustrated than any other Deathrow record released and this is helped by Andy Classen‘s (Holy Moses) clean, but not too clean, production.
The ruins of drug abuse, the illusion of freedom and how it drives the war machine, sheltered minds, false idolatry, idealist hero worship, environmental destruction as a slow suicide, and themes of love/loss come in relatively less dense and more varied compositions on ‘Life Beyond’; Deathrow were unafraid to stretch outside the confines of classic thrash parameters and for many pure thrash fans they’d gone almost too far with songs like “Reflected Mind”. But if you consider the very similar efforts of Despair on ‘Beyond All Reason’ there should be no question that ‘Life Beyond’ had achieved something more ‘upper crust’ in terms of memorable composition, polished production, and distinctly ornate guitar work that could only have come from Deathrow‘s more celebrated Mark II line-up. It is an album that they could rest on as a cap to their legacy and a vital late entry in the pantheon of classic thrash metal’s technical/progressive endpoint. Highest recommendation.
Heroes we want to be falsify the world we see. 5.0/5.0
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