THRASH ‘TIL DEATH is a 50 week long set of features exploring the legends who crossed over between thrash and death metal between 1983-1993. The focus is primarily on under-served, unknown, and exemplar bands/releases. The selection is comprehensive but the numbering is not indicative of any type of rank or value: The order of appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!
Although they are known best for their mixture of groove and melodic death metal today little consideration is given to the very distant past forms of Parisian metal band No Return who would officially form in 1989 after five years and three demos as speed/heavy metal band Evil Power. France had a long a very serious heavy (and by ’84, speed metal) following in just about every major corner of the country and few places brimmed with influence and competition as Paris herself. There is no doubt that major distribution for ‘Show No Mercy’ as well has primal releases from Coroner and Sepultura had palpable outsider influence upon rise of extreme metal variations in the country but the scenes appear insular and isolated in style when summing up the early-to-mid 80’s demo/tape trading scenes. The epic and true ways of Sortilège gave way to slightly edgier fellows in ADX and Killers who helped define a small part of the harder side of French speed metal in the 80’s but it would be the next set of Slayer and Dark Angel cranking fandom that would usher in pure thrash metal. The first gems that many would discover out of France were Loudblast and Agressor thanks to their phenomenal split ‘Licensed to Thrash’ (1988) though there were concurrent rumblings from the folks in Massacra, Mercyless, as well as Evil Power.
|Title [Type/Year]||First Invasion [Compilation/1987]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
This 1987 compilation of Evil Power‘s three demos between ’86-’87 includes a live set from 1987 found the band as a five piece epic speed/heavy metal band who went under pseudonyms like ‘Caligula’, ‘Demon’, ‘Crowley’ and uh, Phil. This was Philippe Ordon who would bring his versatile vocal talents to No Return for their first two full-lengths. If you’re already familiar with No Return in general then the style of these Evil Power demos will be startling as the somewhat polished sound and traditional heavy metal influence would not surface again after the name change. It is not hyperbolic to say that this is one of the best set of speed metal demos out of France and this despite the third demo not being as strong as the first two. The transition from 1987 until 1990 was nothing short of incredible as the band would quickly trade their distinctly French style of heavy metal for thrash metal influenced by some of the heaviest bands from North America and Europe at the time. If you have a spare 45 minutes (over an hour with the live tracks) I’d recommend sitting with this Evil Power demo and consider where that direction might’ve gone if they’d have pursued it head on.
|Title [Type/Year]||Vision of Decadence [Demo/1990]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||No Clip Available|
Influenced by the rising tides of aggressive thrashers Slayer, Exodus, Coroner and Sepultura a major change of style took a couple of years for the newly renamed No Return to engineer. The first demo ‘Vision of Decadence’ is certainly a treasure if you manage to acquire it but perhaps completely uninteresting to anyone who owns ‘Psychological Torment’ as superior versions of these songs appear on their debut full-length. In terms of collection and provenance it is a very sharp example of a heavy/speed metal band adapting to the times and new found interests. I have this on a CD-r somewhere in storage thanks to a rip from a fellow named metalfranc back in 2007 and if I find it I’ll update this and post the demo on YouTube or similar site.
|Title [Type/Year]||Psychological Torment (1990) [Full-length]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN: Spotify [Remaster] | YouTube [Original]|
With an impressive mix of Exodus and ‘Beneath the Remains’ style heaviness hinted at on their first demo No Return would get the go-ahead from Sematery Records to record their debut full-length at Phoenix Studio in Herne, Germany with Coroner drummer Marquis Marky producing. Based on how the band talks about this process it seems like Marky provided direction for the style and art of the record whereas Pete Stabenau and Stéphane Girard had more to do with the actual sound of the recording; Regardless Marky’s input on their stylistic shift shows a considerable difference between the demo and this album. I reviewed this album back in late 2017 for a ‘Retro Tuesdays’ entry so I won’t go far in depth with this [CLICK/TAP here to read the full review] but I will say that it remains one of my favorite thrash metal releases of all time (the non-remastered version, specifically). The use of gang-shouted vocals really adds to the tough classic thrash sound of the record, taking from both Bay Area thrashers and Teutonic riff styles which had fully leaned towards technical and progressive trends by 1990. Darker time were coming in terms of extremity and No Return were just on the edge of the more explosive era of extreme metal with a great appreciation for their 80’s metal roots as well as the storm of death coming from Florida and Brazil at the time. Morrisound Recording studios was the only option from there.
|Title [Type/Year]||Contamination Rises (1991) [Full-length]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Rising from some moderately serious hype and greater networking found No Return back in the studio in November of 1991 and under the guidance of Tom Morris who had a great feel for how to mix a modern death/thrash metal band and had worked with several successful thrash bands in the past (Coroner, Despair, Ludichrist). Considering what a mess Scott Burns’ muddy treatment of Loudblast‘s otherwise fantastic ‘Discarnate’ had been, I’m surprised they’d gone with Morrisound. ‘Contamination Rises’ is the type of death metal album you already love, you just don’t know it yet. If Napalm Death‘s ‘Harmony Corruption’ and Sepultura‘s ‘Arise’ were conjoined and meshed it would no doubt sound like this second No Return album. The style isn’t the most ‘pure’ mixture of death metal and thrash metal but it is a stunning balance of brutal drum performances, hard hitting thrash riffs, and pure death metal. Though this record is clearly the same band that released ‘Psychological Torment’ this grinding album that could easily jump between brutal thrash metal and ‘Consuming Impulse’-esque death metal was a true modern masterpiece of its time. This is the peak and prime release for the band and for years I couldn’t see past their confused identity beyond this album.
No Return would lose key members (vocalist, second guitarist) in 1992 and with a massive loss of momentum they’d try to follow the trend of groove metal with ‘Seasons of the Soul’ (1995) to relative mediocrity; This makes sense in hindsight coming from songwriters whose ‘spirit animal’ was Sepultura at the time. Original guitarist and sole remaining founding member since 1998 Alain Clément has done a fine job of reinventing the band since about 2000 with seven full-lengths of modern groove/melodic death metal crossover that should appeal to fans of popular extreme metal. Whatever factors contributed the fast and furious rip from traditional heavy/speed metal towards world class death/thrash in the space of five years I can at least say that it was all done in very good taste. As you’ll find as I dig deeper into bands that ascended from speed metal up towards death metal some found a slow and natural progression whereas others simply exploded with youthful inspiration as the world of heavy metal changed around them. No Return were a true boon of that inspiration in their early years and whether or not you consider those changes ‘trend hopping’ or their ‘formative’ period this Mark II formation of the band was pure class.
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