The thirty three year history of German classic death/thrash legends Protector might’ve been created by the hands of fifteen different men over the years but, even in a state of thriving reformation they’ve managed to keep well alight the spirit of 80’s death metal throughout that long and sometimes shaky span. The Protector you know and love from those late 80’s death-thrashing Teutonic ‘burnt classics’ would weave a complex web of line-up changes that’d leave the band without any original members by 1991. I’d explored that entire history, even including ‘The Heritage’ (1994), in Thrash ‘Til Death #05 but this is a band I’ve had my own obsession with since first landing a copy of ‘A Shedding of Skin’ right around the time they’d officially kicked the bucket in 2003. That year marked drummer Marco Pape‘s last gasp to keep the band going despite things having been shaky since he’d joined after a bit of an exodus in 1991. With major early days songwriter, and original drummer, Michael Hasse dead since 1994 it didn’t appear any ex-members held any meaningful claim over a band that’d dissolved for them nearly twenty years previous so, it’d appear Protector was dead and several record labels would pluck the corpse of its flesh with unlicensed compilations in the years beyond. Beyond 2003 the bands original (well, second as Hasse sang on the ‘Protector of Death’ demo circa ’86) vocalist Martin Missy was perhaps the only original member still interested and capable of carrying the torch. Because most classic thrash metal folks remember Protector best for their timely, fucked up brutal thrash on ‘Golem’ (1988) and the clunky almost death metal of ‘Urm the Mad’ (1989) it made great sense for Missy to revive, or at least perform some of those old songs casually under The Protectors name. The rest is history and we’re all lucky enough to live in a time where we’ve been handed a solid addition to Protector‘s discography every three years starting in 2013.
It’d have been easy for Missy to recreate those early pure and brutal thrash days before he’d left and bassist/vocalist Olly Wiebel (ex-Heritage) would take Protector in a death metal direction for the third and fourth albums but instead he had made sure to meticulously continue with a sort of amalgam of the Destruction and Sodom influenced ‘Golem’ along with the early Pestilence-esque rip of ‘A Shedding of Skin’. This lead to two incredibly fine death/thrash records with the first, ‘Reanimated Homunculus’ (2013), reprising those fiercely guarded thrash roots and the second, ‘Cursed and Coronated’ (2016), finding an almost ‘Release From Agony’-like set of riffs that’d land it among my absolute favorite release of that year. Almost perfectly aligned with the return and resurgence of classic NWOBHM greats Satan, so does Protector gift us with an evolution of their sound that sticks to their most distinct and crowd-pleasing elements.
What ‘Summon the Hordes’ brings us in 2019 is a complete change of environment and a bit more creative freedom for the musicians aiding Missy in his successful resurrection of this legendary name. The two previous records were both largely recorded and engineered by Tomas Skogsberg in Sunlight Studios whereas ‘Summon the Hordes’ finds Protector working with legendary producer Harris Johns (who also produced ‘A Shedding of Skin’ and hundreds of German metal classics) but this time splitting the efforts between Phonostudio Johannisthal in Berlin, Germany and Wolfden Studio in Stockholm, Sweden. The difference is remarkable in the sense that this third record maintains the quality level and relevance to its predecessors but Johns approaches the drum presence with tightened atmosphere, giving the album that 80’s death metal ‘compression’ that really growls under the pressure of the guitar and bass amping. Protector‘s sound is often so fixated on a high-speed pocket that their slower moments haven’t always been given as much consideration in the mix and I think Johns really understands how to make those slower parts really hit hard without making oatmeal of the guitar/drum interplay when things strike above 100 bpm. ‘Summon the Hordes’ also sees Missy loosening up his grip upon the songwriting, though his bandmates have created wholly appropriate and staunchly 80’s death/thrash songs.
Although I am fully aware that I am a stuck-up death metal weirdo, and this is a limited bout of petty critique but, I can’t help but have had a sort of snobbish reaction to the album cover at first glance. There was such a fine art touch that the previous artwork from Necrolord (Kristian Wåhlin) brought that this one looks a bit cheap from afar, perhaps only because of the inclusion of the crossed guitars. It isn’t a major gripe but I am not so wildly compelled to grab a vinyl copy as I was with the previous two albums. It could grow on me, just from afar it looks like a weird bootlegged 90’s W.A.S.P. compilation. The music within matters much more than the choice of packaging, and this is where I was equally impressed as I’d been when ‘Cursed and Coronated’ released a few years ago. The best way to sum up my thoughts on this seventh Protector album is that it is ‘more of the same, but different’ and I say that from the perspective of a fellow who lives and breathes death/thrash as if it were an unhealthy religion. It is a fantastic crossover between German thrash metal riffs and the bridge towards death metal prior to 1990.
How much does ‘Summon the Hordes’ sound like classic Protector (’86-’91)? At one point I’d had to double-check that “Meaningless Eradication” was a re-recording from ‘A Shedding of Skin’. Johns and crew have rendered so finely the sound of death metal circa 1989 that this’ll be more than a smack of nostalgia but a strong enough listen that you might go scrambling to spin those early Protector albums just to make sure they were ever this awesome to begin with. No doubt this is a ‘for fans of the band’ sort of affair but this is one of those bands that always had a sort of exemplar presence for death/thrash aficionados. The attack of the first three tracks should have old school thrash heads on board but I’d say wait and see how you feel about “The Celtic Hammer”, which you can figure who is paid tribute by yourself. “Two Ton Behemoth” was probably the first track on that first casual listen that really struck me as this purely bad-ass distillation of what Protector was in ’91 and has been since 2011. The back half of the album ended up being my favorite due to the title track and “Meaningless Eradication”, I think this is where classic thrash riff hounds will get off the most. The only track that had me scratching my head was “Three Legions” as it is structured as a sort of arena metal stomper that needed a bit more of a hook to justify its place at the pole position of the album.
Nobody’d blame you for smacking me in the back of the head for being a doofus fanboy when faced with analyzing this latest Protector record but even when approaching in with an ounce of objectivity, the essence of this late-80’s born Teutonic thrash legend is upheld within. Protector is no less powerful and exemplar as they were back in ’88, ’91, or ’16 and I feel lucky to have gotten to wrap my head around ‘Summon the Hordes’ in 2019. Very high recommendation. For preview I’d say the provided sample “Steel Caravan” gives a sense of the classic thrash lean that the first half of the record, and they’ve provided “Three Legions” as well but, if you want something a bit more brutal seek out “Meaningless Eradication” if possible, or at least keep in mind that they go even harder as the album progresses.
Terror reigns eternal. 4.25/5.0
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