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 band appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!
There are many points of interesting trivia surrounding Antibes, France born death-thrashers Agressor, such as their being “the first French band signed to an international label” or their claim to fame as one of the very first science-fiction themed extreme metal bands, but what’ll bring you back to the band for years to come is simple: Riffs. Yes, I’m going to kick things off by being that kind of douche and point straight to the power of the death/thrash metal riff as the main reason you might’ve ever heard of these guys. They ripped from the first demo ’til the last album (2006 chugger ‘Deathreat’) and remain one of the most pure ‘thrash metal ’til death metal’ stories to begin in mid-80’s France. As you’ll see in the progression of their discography Agressor were always brutal but appeared entirely hesitant to become a straight death metal band until it was almost already out of fashion. This’ll be one of my favorite French bands to cover because there are several interesting side-bars and members would intertwine with Loudblast at certain points throughout their original run. There are a few things I’ve left out, though, specifically the demos from Outcast which I’ll talk about a bit more with reference to Death Power and ‘Towards Beyond’ (1992). Also, two 80’s rehearsals are completely non-essential in my opinion but, they are available through some sleuthing on YouTube. Hey! I’ve done my best to research as much as I can but please feel free to message me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or leave a comment if I’ve left out anything vital or gotten something horribly wrong!
|Title [Type/Year]||The Merciless Onslaught [Demo/1986]|
|Rating [3.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube [Playlist]|
Agressor formed in the hair-raising Satanic speed metal community within France circa 1986 between guitarist/vocalist and main songwriter Alex Colin-Tocquaine, bassist Jean-Luc Falsini, and drummer “Momo” Libeer. Two things are very clear at this time, the first is that they were very well aware of Destruction‘s ‘Infernal Overkill’ and Slayer‘s ‘Hell Awaits’ by this time and secondly the French speed metal scene absolutely influenced their sound. You’ll hear the early ADX in the vocals at least. If you love the thumping brutality of early German speed/thrash metal as well as the mid-80’s French outsiders of the time then ‘The Merciless Onslaught’ will be an exciting experience. The demo is frantically paced, growling mad, and definitely going at things brutally as possible. Don’t let me oversell these early days, though, there is nothing inherently special here for 1986 beyond the great logo and evil sound.
|Title [Type/Year]||Satan’s Sodomy [Demo/1987]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
The original line-up of Agressor would last one more demo and this one is widely considered a satanic speed metal classic. Colin-Tocquaine finds a more impressive set of riffs at a brazen speed and tops it off with a more savage vocal personality. They were still a thrash metal band but like their heroes they’d largely moved beyond speed metal. Some of these tracks are quite catchy and their progressions would partially make their way into the bands debut years later. As for references for this sound, I’d say the drumming is the biggest change as they not only match Merciless‘ speed at the time but sound almost as menacing. They’re still operating on an early Slayer level of brutality and that means high pitched wails and such. The cover is quite brutal on the EP reissue from 1993 where they’ve added blood to the butt that Satan has, uh… I’d always assumed it was semen. Go figure! Compare this to early Sarcofago and maybe Morbid (Sweden), it was really brutal for its time.
|Title [Type/Year]||Keep Fit, Fuck More [Demo/1987]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube | Demo starts @41:45 mins|
Death Power would form in nearby Orange, France in 1986 and create a unique and fairly underrated style of evil thrash metal. Their sole full-length ‘The Bogeyman’ exemplified perhaps why they broke up, their style was all over the place crossing over between speed metal, crossover, thrash metal, and touching upon early death metal status at times. I’ve included this Death Power demo because their drummer Stéphane Guégan (RIP) would eventually go on to play for Agressor for their ’92 and ’94 albums. They were good friends with Colin-Tocquaine, he even provides lead guitars on three of the songs. If you look closer at the demo sleeve you’ll find Agressor is thanked as well. [Click/Tap here to listen to Death Power’s ‘The Bogeyman’ album]
|Title [Type/Year]||Silly Symphony [Demo/1988]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp!|
Sibylle Colin-Tocquaine is the sister of Alex Colin-Tocquaine and in 1986 she’d form this aggressive speed/heavy metal band Witches. The original line-up featured all female members besides Alex who provided drums until 1990 when his own band would become more of a priority. Sibylle is a bit of a legend in her own right as perhaps the first female ‘extreme’ metal vocalist from the country, her style is comparable to that of Holy Moses‘ Sabina Classen early on. Witches are badass and practically unknown outside of France, but you can check out any of their releases and they’ve kept it true since the mid-80’s.
|Title [Type/Year]||Licensed to Thrash [Split LP/1988]|
|Rating [3.75/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
Of course if you read the Loudblast entry for Thrash ‘Til Death you already know about this infamous split LP between Agressor and Loudblast. It features the ‘Satan’s Sodomy’ demo and I believe it was mastered for vinyl because this was always much cleaner than any tape I’d heard, genuine or not. This is nothing new, though it was legendary and a big step for extreme metal in France getting noticed worldwide at the time. Neither band were ready for a full-length but the pairing between the two is still a classic release!
|Title [Type/Year]||Orbital Distortion [Demo/1989]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube [Playlist]|
I’ve left out ‘Mixed Rehearsal’ (1988) because it is redundant in some respects but that was the first recording of this new Agressor line-up featuring bassist Laurent and drummer Thierry Pinck who would leave Agressor in 1990 (after the debut) to join Loudblast. The faster drumming from the ‘Satan’s Sodomy’ demo now receives a more Slayer-tuned battery without any of the pure heavy metal flair getting in the way of the brutality. ‘Orbital Distortion’ skated the line between brutal thrash metal and was essentially an 80’s death metal tape. The style here is directly translated to the full-length ‘Neverending Destiny’ (1990) so, I’ll suggest the influences and such there. This demo would get the band signed to then exploding Noise Records for a one album deal.
|Title [Type/Year]||Neverending Destiny [Full-length/1990]|
|Rating [4.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube|
I’d specifically timed this feature on Agressor right after the one for Merciless because their three album run compares almost exactly side-by-side. The albums came out at the same time, label changes occurred, and both bands had close ties with Bathory. In fact Stig Börje Forsberg (RIP), father of Quorthon, acclaimed producer and owner of Black Mark Productions would produce all three of Agressor‘s full-lengths prior to their self-produced 1999 album ‘Medieval Rites’. The drum style was their own but should remind you of Insanity (United States), Merciless (Sweden) and Hellwitch to some degree. No doubt they were cued into the Florida death metal scene of the time but there are hints of Voivod in the guitar work as often as Slayer-isms crop up. Because of the sheer speed and density of it the speed metal spirit and sci-fi weirdness of ‘Neverending Destiny’ take a backseat to the riff-machine they were headed for. It really felt like Alex Colin-Tocquaine’s aspirations on ‘Satan’s Sodomy’ were fully realized in the intended extremity here on this debut and I suppose the question for the project would be, what’s next? Well, they weren’t completely happy with this record. Remember that the standards were very high and a lot of folks felt like the riffs on this album were not very original, it was a standard thrash album in the mind of folks like Tomas Nyqvist of Putrefaction Zine (and No Fashion Records) who would suggest at the time that this was a totally average record, probably because he was so focused on death metal at the time. In hindsight, this is one of the best examples of death/thrash in the history of the genre and especially if early Sadus, Hellwitch, and Insanity are your gig. Even just 20 minutes into the album you’ll have been bombarded with a hundred riffs. Does the opening of “Dark Power” try to copy Metal Church‘s “Method to Your Madness”? You decide!
|Title [Type/Year]||Disincarnate [Full-length/1991]|
|Rating [5.0/5.0]||LISTEN on Bandcamp|
One of my favorite death metal albums of all time that I’ve reviewed and written about several times. This would be Loudblast‘s venture to Morrisound Studios to get a sub-par recording, a bad mix and write one of their absolute best albums. It is the band’s first and I believe only album with drummer Thierry Pinck after he left Agressor that same year.
|Title [Type/Year]||Towards Beyond [Full-length/1992]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube! | Listen on Spotify|
From this point on we reach the Mark III line-up of Agressor with Colin-Tocquaine restaffing the entire band with two members of Outburst (France): Patrick Gibelin on guitars and Joel Guigou on bass. Guigou has stayed with the band since 1990, but after the recording of ‘Neverending Destiny’. Stéphane Guégan of Death Power would join the line-up as well and ‘Towards Beyond’ would be Agressor‘s first official death metal album. There is a fully acceptable grey area to consider but I would argue that it is still in a death/thrash style, or at least heavily informed by thrash. This would be the first of two albums for Black Mark Productions and was almost completely written off in the history of the band despite being relatively well received by zines at the time. It was just a bit plain at first glance, much like Merciless‘ ‘The Treasures Within’ where it just felt far too death/thrash to keep up with what was going on in Scandinavia and the United States. Upon closer inspection this is actually a brilliant album that was often very experimental for its time with its strong sci-fi theme, which almost resembled Nocturnus‘ but with a weird medieval twist to the narrative; This would become a bit more real and expansive on the next album. I will say that there is a sort of, ‘borrowed’ feeling to some of these riffs similar to that of early Thanatos where they appeared to have copied some ideas note for note (see: the end of “Primeval Transubstantiation”). A lot of bands were guilty of this but the only side-effect that occurs is some measure of generic or unrelated movements.
|Title [Type/Year]||Symposium of Rebirth [Full-length/1994]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube! | Listen on Bandcamp!|
Here’s one of the fucking weirdest-but-coolest death metal albums out of post-1993 French death metal and a first ‘pure’ death metal album for Agressor unless you’d count ‘Towards Beyond’. A lot of very questionable things happen on ‘Symposium of Rebirth’ and most of it in the name of ambition and mood. First, drummer Stéphane Guégan‘s orchestrations give the album a progressive/melodic side that is immediately evident and this includes three covers from the Conan the Barbarian soundtrack, oddly enough. Not only that but a four person choir comes along for the ride. Throw in a guest appearance from Barney Greenway of Napalm Death and a great cover of Terrorizer‘s “After World Obliteration” and… well, what exactly was this record suppose to be? Well, this becomes a bit more clear with the 2018 2CD ‘remaster’ of the album that includes a full re-recording of the album as well as a million other bonus tracks (including the original version). If you can sit through the reorganized bass-heavy version of the album you’ll see it perhaps as it was always intended, and that’d just as well indicate that Agressor had gotten in over their head with ‘Symposium of Rebirth’, that it was too ambitious at the time. “Barabas” makes the first impression on the original version and that huge burst of melody really was striking at the time whereas the re-recording sounds a bit like medieval Mithras. Though it is messy and full of confounding filler the original version of ‘Symposium of Rebirth’ is something special, something ultimately very different than you’ll have ever heard as a death metal fan and it remains special today. I’d only wish the band had managed to take it even further on later releases.
From there you could say Agressor kept going with various line-ups and two more spirited modern death/thrash metal full-lengths in 1999 and 2006 respectively. Colin-Tocquaine would join Loudblast for about five years, contributing to their ‘Planet Pandemonium’ album but no solid line-up for Agressor would hold together until about 2014. The ‘classic’ period of Agressor ended on a weird note perhaps because Colin-Tocquaine had decided to make big changes with each record and there was less of an urgency beyond the ambition of 1994. There isn’t any takeaway that goes much deeper than, they’d simply changed and long breaks between albums saw the band fading out of mention slowly over time. The release of ‘Rebirth’ in 2018 shows some great promise for the future of the band all the same.
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