For all of the cumulative atomic payload offered by blackened thrash metal’s youthful excess so little of it feels as extreme as anything the mid-80’s, mid-90’s, and mid-00’s waves had to offer. As spiked, patched, and headbanging blackened punk-as-fuck as many of these children of the void often appear, their live shows are about half as heavy as a Black Uniforms cover band. Even the most hyped shit rarely touches the fury of classics like Nifelheim‘s debut, much less the toxic ooze-fed energy of metal punks like Sacrilege nor the salt-the-earth assed Venom worship of Warfare or Bulldozer. Though I might sound like an anhedonist twat my point is that when the rare above average record lands on my plate, I take it seriously. Alberta, Canada metal punks Blackrat were serious facehuggers right out of the gate in 2013 but despite their solid taste in first wave black metal, speed metal, and 80’s hardcore punk variants they were more or less shitting in diapers until their 2017 demo raised the bar all around. You could hear them digging deep for the longer compositions of ‘Hail to Hades’ (2016) but the growing pains were evident. Who knew it’d be time to take them serious soon enough?
Just over a year later we’re graced with what is among the most distinguished and infectious black/thrash records of the year with ‘Dread Reverence’, the band’s debut release for Shadow Kingdom Records. Although the trio’s lack of production value was apropos for the underground canuck black/thrash/punx crowd, the garbage-canned sound of all previous Blackrat releases almost sounded like they were trying to sound like shit. Trying too hard to not try at all, as it were, and the same could be said for the songwriting that merely hamstrung song ideas together with an equal measure of punk, speed, and darkness in mind. That is all well and good fun but they didn’t at all nail the ‘blackened’ ethos inherent until ‘Dread Reverence’. The Destruction style riffs and powerful hook of “Into the Ebony” offer more than enough statement to forgive the mediocrity of the past but, Blackrat have done more than rise out of the muck of similar black-thrashing nonsense; With ‘Dread Reverence’ the trio shows that they are capable of skilled traditional heavy metal hooks and a damned worthy showing of outside-the-box thinking on the second half of the record.
There is good reason to emphasize the punkish speed metal punches of Side A but the record really begins to shape into something extraordinary leading into the second half with the Reveal-meets-Amebix “Thrall to the Gallows”; From that point on the record swings wildly between primate black/thrash ideas unto their own obscene blackened doom (see: “The Sign”) and heavy metal hysteria in reprising that noisy middle peak for the incredible clangorous closure of “Haunter of the Threshold”. That paradigm shift is only a trip to soak in because the opening moments of the record hint more towards the now refined Deathhammer style of blackened thrash metal, mostly in service to tighter rhythm guitar work and a worthy realization of their German thrash metal influences. I wouldn’t say that the album is necessarily uneven, or subverts expectations entirely, but rather that it follows a damned and slightly disorienting progression unlike anything else put out this year. There were a few moments upon initial listens where I wasn’t sure if I was still listening to the same band.
I can’t emphasize enough how much value comes from variation on this style of record. Any black/thrash/’crust’ influenced band has all of these same references and tools at their disposal yet few are so suddenly and satisfyingly capable of flipping between those well established stylistic hats, at least not at this level of songwriting. Because I feel this is one of the more memorable blackened heavy metal records of 2018 I am giving it a reasonably high recommendation. For preview “Into the Ebony” offers a massive hook and “The Sign” is a surrealistic masterpiece but the conjoining of those two extremes (“Thrall to the Gallows”) is where I’d look for the full scope of ideas in one track.
Fuel the darkness. 4.25/5.0
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