MADROST – Charring the Rotten Earth (2020)REVIEW

From graven ghoul-filled labyrinth toward cryptic watery doom in space, it weren’t ’til Lake Forest, California-based progressive death/thrash metal band Madrost had posited the malleability of perception and examined the devolution of society nearing cataclysm that they’d begin producing works that were exponential in advance. This bodes well for any modern thrash metal band’s development, all appear born with wings of feather & wax at their ready thanks to endless technique-boosting resources today but, we’ve seen so many technical/progressive acts run out of steam quite fast in the wake provided by the popularity of Vektor and Revocation. Representing that pooling fanbase and competitively angling toward it for well over a decade now, Madrost smartly intend potency and not belabored technique with each release. Their fourth full-length, ‘Charring the Rotten Earth‘, now aims for the pensive severity of classic early 90’s progressive death metal without losing their densely-packed early 2010’s modern thrash technician spirit, brandishing precise and inspired attacks into an ever flourishing cadre of evocative needling riffs and apocalyptic barking.

It is too easy to see a thrash metal band who’d put out demos circa 2009 and assume their style came from the revelation we’d all felt via ‘Black Future’ but that’d be some lazy nonsense in this particular case. If anything the first several demos (‘Demo 2009‘, 2009) from Madrost were influenced by a crossing of classic Teutonic thrash, the evil grave-digging stuff a la Sodom and Kreator and the blackened, punkish junk Toxic Holocaust had been kicking around for nearly a decade at that point. I love the simpler death/thrash snarl n’ splatter feeling of those demos although it was clear they were already over the straight-forward death/thrash (or, brutal thrash) gig they were throttling on their debut (‘Maleficent‘, 2012). Now I say “they” but I really just mean vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Tanner Poppitt, who’d launch from that spawn point into the much more accomplished ‘Into the Aquatic Sector‘ (2014) shifting deeper toward a more hardcorish style of Revocation-edged vocal and not quite getting there with the riffs. As I’d remarked on an old tech-thrash feature back in the day, it was an album that got nearly everything right but seemed rushed where some of the rhythm guitar still sounds somewhat fumbled. Most folks would embrace the band’s third album (‘The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh‘, 2017) as it was clear they were far, far beyond any formative stages and found their most solid line-up to date, all of whom appear on ‘Charring the Rotten Earth’ as well. That third album wasn’t a leap of faith or a daring take on progressive thrash but a hard-fought epic that felt incredibly accomplished compared to anything Madrost had done before. So, why didn’t it make it onto my end of the year list?

When you start to line up the Death inspired death/thrash metal futurists keeping progressive death metal alive via a crossover from brutal thrash towards enlightened death metal the potential for a certain “generation” of listener to fall back on percussive ‘hardcore’ feeling rhythms (or shouts) is yet a thorn in my side. I’m envisioning Demolition Hammer while most bands are channeling Revocation or Skeletonwitch and we just don’t line up. It is what keeps me at an arm’s length from a bands I should go nuts over, such Hemotoxin. A matter of taste, sure, but a way of qualifying where I was in 2017 versus today’s hindsight that ‘The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh’ was/is a brilliant technical thrash metal album with very inspired ‘old school’ progressive death metal scaffolding. Variation, violence, loudness and well… dense enough to feel long winded at ~38 minutes. ‘Charring the Rotten Earth’ is, again, an exponential push beyond certain aspects of its predecessor despite initially appearing somewhat iterative in overall style. The drumming pushes a bit more death metal air, the guitars bring more pronounced and elaborate tonal modulation, leads continue to develop intention and purpose within pieces, and this time around the bassist is giving just enough of a bonk to the rhythms that the recording appears full-fledged to some degree. The sound design is meticulous under a lens yet comfortably modern and spacious within a casual listening session.

Wailing, flailing, dive-bombing, and some considerable use of stream-breaking changes keeps the guitar work alive and vital for the full-yet-sweetly succinct half hour that Madrost bring this time around but the vocals won’t change your mind if you weren’t convinced by the last album. In fact just beyond the excitement of the opener I figure “To Prevail the Wicked” is going to scream Revocation-core to a lot of thrash fans and turn ’em right off but hey, press on because the album does begin to crack out of that shell quickly. “Dying Thoughts” is likely the first track that’ll give pause to the initiated, it kicks into a far more morbid than usual (er, lately) main riff, skronks out a bit and hits upon the first bout of keyboard adornment via Sam Meador of “cinematic black metal” band Xanthochroid. Teenage me in the mid-90’s would have fallen out of his chair for this stuff as it chimes in and soon begins to follow the dissonant transition that follows, today I’m not sure this is novel unless you’ve tunnel vision for the death/thrash metal spectrum of modern extreme stuff. Lean over towards the thrashier side of labels like The Artisan Era and you’ve got something perhaps more excessive and bombastic but enough to dull the thrill that these sections provide. In terms of what the keyboard-graced sections do for the holistic effect of ‘Charring the Rotting Earth’ I’d say only positive things come from this arrangement, it instantly adds sophisticated textures to otherwise grinding modern death/thrash metal riffing. Pairing this with the ever-increasing lead guitar enthusiasm of the two guitarists and we’re served a brutally heavy progressive metal album with a strong death/thrash lean. I’d like to reference groups like Mekong Delta or Depressive Age but there is little reason to think of 80’s or early 90’s prog-thrash works here as there are more pressing modernisms across the board that define Madrost‘s sound.

“A Violent End to Life” is where I’d point if you’re not sure your classic prog-thrash fixation will be sated enough to grab the record. The rhythm guitar progression built across the span of the first ~2 minutes of this song showcase prime density of technique and movement that will feel brilliant as it adds wrinkles to you brain. If only the entirety of the album was this clever, and moreso, with lining up rapid fire riffs that present subtle melodic ideas because by the time they’ve burned through a handful of ’em, the record is over. “Pulverized” rules, though, I appreciated that it echoed some of their pre-2014 style and gets in and out fast enough to keep the second half of the record burning on. The oeuvre is complete and the dramatic title track that buttons everything up uses every technique on display from chug-hammering, blasting, wailing, lead guitar hooks, symphonic gusts, they’re throwing everything that makes ‘Charring the Rotten Earth’ a step up from the previous album into the finale and it goes a long way to make the experience as potent as intended. Am I gushing, though? The risk of hitting with the ‘best’ possible material on a relatively short progressive death/thrash album is that if even one track feels like filler it becomes an EP’s worth of solid ideas. For my own taste that leaves “Impossible Dreams” as a safe choice for the middle of the album and frankly not much of a centerpiece for the experience.

Madrost have pushed into some brilliant and self-refreshing territory on this fourth full-length without leaving behind the accomplished selves that’d been so relevant on ‘The Essence of Time Matches No Flesh’ and this makes for a charming and often lyrically savage modern thrash metal record. At times it appears they’re about to fly too close to the sun but at this point they’re pros and handle the heat with professional grace. I’m not sure cutting the album to a straight half-hour was the right choice in such a thrash-starved late summer landscape but it’d never been a major issue when reflecting upon the full listening experience. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation.

Rating: 8 out of 10.
TITLE:Charring the Rotten Earth
LABEL(S):No Life ‘Til Metal Records
RELEASE DATE:September 25th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Progressive Death/Thrash Metal

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