PESSIMIST – Holdout (2020)REVIEW

Nine years after discovering them and now finally receiving their third album seven years beyond the last, it struck me in the midst of digging into ‘Holdout’ that I probably still couldn’t make a case for deep southwest German thrash metal band Pessimist‘s lyrical focus on the first (and second) World War themes. They’ve done it, without any remarkable insight, before and this isn’t so much a major flaw as it is an opportunity to highlight the uneven climb the semi-traditional thrash metal band represents on their staircase towards proper German thrash — The riffs are bigger, melodic notions begin to rear, and the straight comparisons to Kreator don’t fully fly anymore on ‘Holdout’ where the holes in the riffs are filled with occasionally dry groove metal excess.

To be fair, expectations were average-at-best and at the very least Pessimist have made their ‘comeback’ at an appropriately standard level. As a fellow who’ll never tire of discussion of impressive heavy metal riffs, I can’t help but feel like ‘Holdout’ comes with some misplaced nostalgia for a slightly ‘ignorant’ era for thrash metal, those early 90’s groove metal albums from moderately popular thrash metal bands (see: Forbidden) who’d maybe not had the level of revisionist theoretical reconstruction that say, Sepultura had. In the simplest of terms: There are some straight boring chug riffs that drain the gas on a few of the best songs on ‘Holdout’. Doomsday, doomsay? Nightmare, nightmare?! Nah, as much of a fuss as I’m making of it this is entirely scene and sphere standard for modern retro thrash metal and Pessimist have always been one of the more aggressive and classics-attuned bands within their reach. Think of it this way, they could’ve hit ‘Coma of Souls’ level hip if not for all of The Haunted circa 1998 riffs and sure, for a lot of folks that’ll be a huge selling point.

I’d been wide awake and on the edge of my seat anticipating some serious riffs from the first moments of satisfying, repeatable opener “Landsknecht”, where I’d gotten the impression they’d been listening to a lot of post-‘M-16Sodom and kinda giving those pause-for-effect moments a moshable high speed boost. The effect is closer to mid-90’s Erosion for my taste but it is still an exciting opener for this traditionally sequenced thrash metal album. “Kill & Become” is the point where you’ll be nodding along and get where I’m coming from with its early references to ‘Arise’-era Sepultura and its heroic crash into muddy post-‘Enemy of God’ Kreator riff territory where melodic death metal and late 80’s Bay Area regalia begin to fly in fairly plain motion. I’d not been convinced of the album until this song hit its ‘breakdown’ near the end, sure it sounds as if Raised Fist went back to their roots for a moment but Pessimist salvage any ruin when the song is experienced within the a full spin of the album, offering some of their most thoughtful riffs alongside simple-but-razor sharpened attacks.

If the mosh shit, the groove digs, are offensive to your personal riff worship you definitely might not gel with what ‘Holdout’ is up to and I’d sympathize with that heroic level of snobbery to some extent, but having been on board with this band since their first album (‘Call to War‘, 2010), where I’d liked it enough to center a ‘modern thrash that doesn’t suck’ article back in 2011, you gotta have faith that these guys are nowhere near trend-seeking kid-core in any sense. Think more along the lines of Repent where fair trades are being made between riff attack, groove, melodic ideas, and allegiance to the old masters. I didn’t personally give a shit about ‘Death From Above‘ back in 2013, it felt redundant and ‘Call to War’ was a better fit for my more orthodox thrash obsession at the time, that old leaning still holds up but I’d generally felt like seven years of thought and some extra insight from longtime producer Christoph Brandes (Bitterness, Freakings) helps to push Pessimist out of ‘bargain bin thrash’ territory towards a feeling of revitalization for the project, which has been largely restaffed since ‘Death From Above’.

So, keywords: German thrash, (modern) Kreator, (early) The Haunted, “mosh riffs”, and we’ve got a pretty shockingly listenable record out of Pessimist after so many years. It is a fine album to return with and enough of a “riff record” to keep the old heads bobbing along. A moderately high recommendation, a killer niche entry entirely meant for thrash metal obsessives with minor commercial appeal considered.

Moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 7 out of 10.
Info:
ARTIST:Pessimist
TITLE:Holdout
TYPE:Full-length
LABEL(S):MDD Records
RELEASE DATE:June 26th, 2020
BUY/LISTEN/STREAM:MDD Store [CD]
GENRES:Thrash Metal
Lyric video for title track

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