Few stylistic movements in the classic era of speed metal are as packed with inspiration as the piercing, bloody-eared reign of power/thrash that hit an incredible peak of progressive interest as the late 80’s ensued. Long in development and truly ambitious the hardest workers yielded the most intentional and amazing works and their names still ring the hallowed halls of heavy metal: Helstar, Agent Steel, Artillery, Fates Warning among others had risen to the highest standards by ~1988 and unexpected influential side-bars from Angel Dust, Crimson Glory and Liege Lord doubled down on the rise of 80’s US power metal with intense results. This refinement of technical thrashing ability, soaring and dramatic vocal performance informed by progressive rock song structures continues to inspire underground modernists in power, thrash, and even death metal to some degree. Few of these modern day screamers arrive with such willing engagement as that of Athens, Greece thrashers Sacral Rage who have undergone a similar 1984-1988 progression from ‘Fear of Tomorrow’-esque speed metal towards ‘Master Project Genesis’ heights.
‘Beyond Celestial Echoes’ is a grand ‘ante up’ with consideration for their already huge leap in concept and overall quality that came with ‘Illusions in Infinite Void’ (2015). That full-length debut was a monster with a dramatic arc and thrashing riff-work worthy of albums like Messiah Force‘s underrated ‘The Last Day’ and Helstar‘s ‘A Distant Thunder’ where complex rhythms and sharper guitar work begins to edge out purist hits of heavy metal. It seems the band would agree that it was a massive record in terms of both capturing a really incredible sound without relying on retro-recreation because they made to sure take their time and at the very least rise to that high-set bar. Where I felt they could improve was largely the thrash metal side of things in terms of managing those Coroner and Watchtower influences to make better sense in the bigger picture. In tweaking their approach further towards technical thrash metal composers Marios Petropoulos (Necrovorous) and Spyros S. (ex-Mentally Defiled) ensure a more cohesive whole this time around.
Though the moving-parts of the Sacral Rage machine is the ultimate majesty the exploding star creating necessary fission for life has to be vocalist Dimitris K. whose dramatic King Diamond and Agent Steel style cadence and range provide limitless expressive dramatics (see: “Samsara (L.C.E.)” immediately) to emphasize the more ambitious points of composition; He acts as a wild but purposeful narrative instrument that hugely defines ‘Beyond Celestial Echoes’ transcendent proggy power/tech-thrash presence. This extra push for refinement really does reach the level of classics like Fates Warning‘s ‘Awaken the Guardian’ and capitalizes on some of the missed opportunities of classic-but-forgotten gems like Angel Dust‘s ‘To Dust You Will Decay’ and Target‘s ‘Master Project Genesis’ all of which balanced similar elements. The band surely achieved the intended balance of European and North American power/thrash metal influences and avoid any redundancies with the previous album.
A sucker for the high-drama of a space operatic theme and an outspoken fan of twisted sci-fi technical thrash metal riffing ‘Beyond Celestial Echoes’ cut off my head and screamed down into my lungs from first riff. Sacral Rage have gone well beyond ‘retro’ appeal with their intense and attention-grabbing sound thanks a sharp balance of undeniable thrash rhythmic appeal given detail with enough progressive flourish to enrich across multiple listens. It feels a bit like discovering the first Annihilator album back in the day and just ‘needing more shit like this’ because the big four just felt flaccid afterwards.
My listening experience can be summed up with yet another simile in that it resembled reading a great novel and wanting a sequel right away; I came back to the album for weeks analyzing, comparing, and above all mentally juicing its grand musical statement. It wasn’t that I was captivated or spellbound as I often am with thrash records but that I felt myself ‘edged along’ enjoying every moment thanks to a sense of narrative provided by the vocals. This experience suggest an appropriately high recommendation from me and in preview I’d say the duo of “Suspended Privileges” and “Samsara (L.C.E.)” offers immediate thrash riffs and peak range in terms of vocals. If you’re somehow still on the fence what pushed me into the stratosphere were my favorite tracks; The Watchtower-esque “Vaguely Decoded” and the insane 14+ minute epic closer “The Glass”.
Silver clouds hide distant storms. 4.25/5.0
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