Throughout the ages the history of heavy metal finds many artists consciously visiting ‘big picture’ thematic by way of time and space not only for the mystère it conjures but to consciously communicate a point of enlightenment, a plateau as far as their mind can see at that given point. To suggest one perceives all, or as much as was thought possible, and yet see an infinity above the clouds is to feel humble among the infinite and gain confidence when feet once again touch the ground. All things considered, the early ambitions of Helsinki, Finland based speed/thrash metal quartet Excuse began as ‘pedestrian’ as is possible without actually setting foot in the gutter. The jagged hand-drawn logo and raw speed metal style of their 2013 demo was representative of a band not yet ready to look up from their fret-boards but the Coroner-styled layout of the ‘Path to Extinction‘ EP that same year showed some true ambition slowed by a less-than-perfect execution. It wouldn’t be until their former drummer and lead guitarist left to form black/speed metal band Rapid in 2014 that Excuse‘s line-up would solidify in union with Pit Messiah‘s drummer Tatu Lybeck and guitarist Anselmi Ahopalo who’d produced, mixed, mastered and illustrated the band’s first two releases. From that point their horizons have continued to expand towards the realm of NWOBHM tinged epic speed metal that you’ll hear on this their full-length debut, ‘Prophets From the Occultic Cosmos’.
If you’d been introduced to Excuse through their first Shadow Kingdom Records release, the ‘Goddess Injustice’ (2016) EP, I doubt anyone’d blame you for expecting more of that Coroner and ‘Eternal Devastation’-era Destruction influenced thrash. Hell, I live for that kind of thrash and was hotly anticipating this full-length thinking best case scenario was that they expanded into technical or progressive thrash as “Baphomet” had done more than hint at. In some sense they have upped the ante in terms of composition but not in such a predictable way. Whereas you could have name-dropped ‘Evil Invaders’ in reference to Excuse before, now I’d look elsewhere in the vast pools of ancient and epic speed metal for description. The first record that comes to mind just on pure aesthetics and NWOBHM-kissed songwriting is Martyr‘s ‘For the Universe’, then Defender‘s infamous ‘City Ad Mortis’ EP for melodic values, and finally Helstar‘s pre-tech thrash record ‘Remnants of War’ for general structure and additional melodic cadence. There are more modern elements here but I think those mid-to-late 80’s speed metal records do much justice in describing the general shape and sound of what Excuse are doing today versus the years previous. Consider this shift in ability and ambitious songwriting akin to the leap Hexen made between ‘State of Insurgency’ and their opus ‘Being and Nothingness’.
If Excuse were nuclear-powered in the years previous, today they’ve engineered a craft capable of propulsion by dark matter as their long-winded throngs of galloping NWOBHM influenced lead guitars serve sinister epics with an almost psychedelic amount of vocal effects growling overhead. The sheer majesty of this record is something to breathe in deeply and soak up; It is meticulous enough that you’d think the band had been working on it from the moment ‘Goddess Injustice’ was released but the Excuse have commented that it was finished about two years ago and it has been a rough couple of years getting everything squared away for release. On my end the hope is that this record is well-received enough to warrant another one soon enough. Steering back to life in the moment, and circling back towards those earlier thoughts on the ‘big picture’ of existence and the enlightenment of young musicians, I do think it is safe to say ‘Prophets From the Occultic Cosmos’ is not just a step ahead of Excuse‘s own trajectory but a dimensional shift for the very character of their music that moves beyond thrash metal norms towards a hybridization of puritanical epic heavy metal and speed metal riffing that can range between ancient and nascent in affect. If any of that sounds familiar then you might be a Witching Hour (alternately Chevalier) fan as their 2018 full-length explored a similar side of heavy metal influenced thrash metal with extended song structures though their black/thrash roots arrived with a different perspective than that of the nigh Canadian speed metal core of Excuse. Positive change defines the listening experience.
Though I might be traveling too far beyond, there is a distinct pre-1988 Iron Maiden influence to this records leads and I don’t necessarily mean to single out ‘Somewhere in Time’ but rather not exclude some of its melodic values while still favoring the guitar/bass interplay of ‘Piece of Mind’. Granted you’re not going to get such an arena rock sound from a band like Excuse who represent today’s underground extreme heavy/speed metal sound more than over produced mid-80’s rock music with hints of death, black, and their melodic variants squeezing into an otherwise ‘epic speed metal’ sound. The instrumentation is nonetheless visibly inspired by well known classics of heavy metal all of which seems to build off of the ideas expressed on the aforementioned closing track for ‘Goddess Injustice’, “Baphomet”; This is even more pronounced on the second half of “Sworn To The Crimson Oath” where tangled jogging leads alternate with high speed thrash metal riff ‘rants’ that burn fast and hard as they express. The final track (“Watchtower Of The Trans-Dimensional Pathway”) acts as a collection of callbacks and prologues to the first five tracks while simultaneously finishing the tangential melodic arc of the album and wiring it back into the brilliant opener (“Black Crystal Visions”) for a full listen that is whole but easily experienced on an infinite loop.
Have Excuse reached a peak, an apex of their potential energy? No, actually not even close as I know they’re capable of an even more extreme and ambitious version of this first stab into their own unique ‘epic’ thrash metal musical personality. Their ideas are just raw enough to have the ‘edge’ necessary to kill but the melodic and technical ambitions of the music are just passing the threshold into heavy metal nirvana that you know they’re ready for something bigger and perhaps more accessible the next time around. I love this sort of identity securing moment in a young bands discography where their more obvious influences begin to melt out of view and as such I can give very high recommendation of ‘Prophets From the Occultic Cosmos’ as one of the most essential thrash/speed metal releases of the year thus far. For preview purposes I’d suggest the Coroner-meets-Maiden rhythms of “Sworn to the Crimson Oath” as well as the infallibly heavy opener “Black Crystal Visions” as the ideal introduction to Excuse‘s new vision.
Howling from beyond. 4.25/5.0
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