Repent arrived upon the Teutonic thrash metal, via Lauf and soon Nürnberg, landscape during a time of terrible uncertainty where there was no clear path forward for the ‘true’ among German thrash. By 1992 Kreator had discovered weed to unfortunate results, the nearby hardcore/crossover scenes were awkwardly fusing with the horizon of groove metal, progressive thrash simply became progressive music and let us not begin to speak of the unending industrial metal fetish that’d spread its loins around that time. Repent didn’t appear to squirm under the conformist heat of messianic 90’s trends and instead united to jam covers and enjoy the indomitable pairing of a few beers and a good thrash. It doesn’t appear that things really ramped up for the project until 1996 when a vocalist was acquired for original material and the ‘On Your Knees’ (1997) demo resulted. The first era of the band starts there and is defined by Serkan Sanli‘s hardcore-punched voice and Bay Area/New Jersey influenced thrash metal with the appropriate bombastic guitar tone and hardcore influenced pace. A long hiatus would follow a full restructuring of the band post-second album, ‘Disciple of Decline’ (2004), where only the two guitarists have remained present in the line-up since, lead by guitarist/founding member Philip Rath. The two beyond that point haven’t broken tradition but have leaned into former Final Breath vocalist Jürgen Aumann‘s aggressive phrasing while digging into deeper criticism of the failures of mankind as a species; This comes to a foaming head with Repent‘s fourth full-length, ‘Condemned to Fail’.
‘Vortex of Violence’ (2012) was very much in the tradition of finer German thrash metal in the sense that it was scorched earth for humanity from a lyrical perspective, a skewer and a flamethrower for the destruction of the planet and its inhabitants. Musically speaking that third record was a ‘debut’ for a new and still tentative line-up since 2005 and Aumann hadn’t really perfected his approach to the narrative focus of the record and for my own taste I felt that Max Zimmerl‘s drumming on the album didn’t necessarily pull from the bag of tricks that old school thrash metal more or less demands to sustain concerted interest. I only scour that previous album a bit for the sake of contrasting the idyllic sound and methodology applied on this (much stronger) fourth album. ‘Condemned to Fail’ finds the quintet running on old nuclear energy and nailing a balance between the ‘new wave’ of thrash metal they’ve been a part of these last two decades and a resemblance of classic German (by way of the Bay Area) thrash metal.
Though personal associations with a broad treatment of classic-meets-revisionist thrash metal can be confounding ‘Condemned to Fail’ offers several tracks that jog along in the same space as Vindicator (circa ‘United We Fail’) that’ll likewise please Havok fandom but, most of the record feels as if it wants to lean deeper into the past thanks to guitar work that’d fit on the sort of ’88-’90 era of thrash metal. The thoughtful-but-dark crunch of Cyclone‘s ‘Inferior to None’, the existential wallop of Gothic Slam‘s ‘Just a Face in the Crowd’ (alternately, later Stone), and the Deutsche-ification of Bay Area tenets by way of Accu§er on ‘Who Dominates Who?’ (or, early Erosion?) all mingle within this otherwise modern, confrontational and moderately intricate thrash metal record. Repent approximate the late 80’s thrash metal sound quite well here and there but to be sure they make thrash metal influenced by thrash metal and not something that aims to be either pure retro worship because frankly, you can most definitely hear the 90’s in some of Rath‘s riffcraft.
“Pride of Creation” kicks things off with a straight burner of a riff that immediately communicates that this record is for thrash heads and by thrash heads that doesn’t pay any mind to the rest. That first of many ‘handshakes’ amongst the insular in the know is satisfying but, only to a point. It bears some mention that Repent were one of the earlier thrash metal revivalists in Germany to toy with melodic death metal techniques/patterning a few years before Kreator took that idea and ran with it. Alternate picking, gang shouts, and choruses that often bring a grand feeling should conjure some alignment with folks who found ‘Violent Revolution’ to be a revelation. This also makes some sense of the constant comparisons to Ritual Carnage throughout Repent‘s career but you won’t hear much of that chunkier noisome side on ‘Condemned to Fail’. As much as I like the message of “Theo-crazy” and the idea of “Hypocrite’s Tears” I’d really wanted both songs to show up later on the second half of the album because they’re nowhere near as interesting as what they’ve put together for Side B of the record. The second half of “Hypocrite’s Tears” feels like a nod or reference to a pure heavy metal band I might not get, it felt a bit like when English Dogs went power metal but couldn’t quite figure it out. Otherwise I’d felt like “Empires of Evil” saves Side A and the combo of “Mutilation Ritual” with “Wimpreaper” keep things going on Side B. The variable quality and mood of the tracklist on a full listen reminds me of greener bands, such as Crisix more than the old classics but those expectations aren’t worth much when I’ve created them out of thin air.
As a full spin I found ‘Condemned to Fail’ just different enough to stand out from Repent‘s past discography while still clearly building upon their established sound. There isn’t anything too polarizing or ‘stand-out’ amongst the tracklist but as a whole the current line-up have never been as tightly knit and heavy as they are within. How much the average thrash head enjoys this record will completely depend upon how much of a purist you are, I default to “Fuck anything that doesn’t sound 1986” and soften up through successive listening and found most of what Repent does is satisfying if not somewhat indicative of what thrash metal was doing in 1995, going somewhat groove or crossover in avoidance of death metal. How do they gain a few extra points for my own recommendation? By sounding like Repent and not so obviously copping a certain scene or style, you can harp on the idea that this sounds Bay Area to some degree but if you know German thrash history well enough this is -that- more than it resembles the former greatness of any southern California trendsetters. Moderately high recommendation. For preview purposes I’d suggest the two songs that got me on board for further listening were “Pride of Creation” and “Mutilation Ritual”.
Blind to the beginning of the end. 3.75/5.0
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