CALIGULA – Technical Aggression (2020)REVIEW

There are two major options for cataloging a historical archive regardless of its caliber. Present the full story in chronological order with formative warts, goof-ups and mess on display with enough provenance to explain the time and place or simply present their peak relevance, the high point of an artist to give credit where due and let the back-story sink in as the best of the best spins. In the case of Howard Beach, New York thrash metal band Caligula it makes great sense to focus intently on their third and most official demo ‘Technical Aggression‘, self-released in 1987 with their most stable and definitive line-up in action. The band formed in 1984 and their adjacency to Long Island’s crossover, Brooklyn hardcore, and various other scenes might’ve found them playing mixed shows along the way but their earliest stuff was probably best described as heavy/speed metal. The two tapes that aren’t included on this remaster of the third tape, demos from 1984 and 1986, speak to the enthusiasm for yet to be fully defined thrashing in Caligula‘s regional underground, boosted by tape trading and local greats alike. The road leading up to ‘Technical Aggression’ was fast and furious but the destination is what we’re getting here and all in all, I’m most enthusiastic about their stopping point than their gigs leading up.

…but I’m still going to talk about the first two demos, because I’m that kind of dude. Caligula‘s first tape sucks, the 1984 demo features two pieces with four main elements entirely out of whack. A steady kraut rockin’ beat, jammin’ hardcore riffs in the background, random swinging lead guitars, and a fellow talk-growling over the tape. I personally love that kind of thing, it has all the constituent pieces of then-extreme metal in mind without the know how. Clearly they’d amped up and figured it out by 1986 when their Dark Angel and Whiplash influenced second demo was readied. Without downplaying the hardcore punk influences within his was work on par with Forced Entry, (early) Demolition Hammer, Blood Feast, etc. and I figure from that point ‘Technical Aggression’ either began as a demo with a full-length in mind and/or a sort of ‘refresh’ moment of the best songs from that 1986 demo due to some substantial changes to the line-up via a new vocalist and a swap to a single guitarist playing both parts. Though I do think the subtle differences in certain songs are interesting, it makes sense to not dig up the ’86 demo for this compilation as it’d have been more or less redundant and I’ve most definitely found the ‘Technical Aggression’ demo vinyl worthy in its restored glory.

If you’ve followed the Thrash ‘Til Death series or dug through any thrash lists, playlists etc. I’ve slapped together over the years you know I go for three major archetypes in ‘Schizophrenia’, ‘Hell Awaits’, and ‘Darkness Descends’. So, a major point of interest for my own taste is that the basic shove of this demo lands somewhere in between ‘Darkness Descends’ and Attitude Adjustment‘s ‘American Paranoia’ in terms of high-speed riffing and ripping hardcore/crossover presentation. It does sound like if these guys had put out a full-length circa ’89 it’d have been even more technical and “metal” than say, Aftermath‘s ‘Killing the Future’ due to the sharp technical skill that has been unearthed via the remaster. “Euthanasia” helps to solidify this notion and likewise emphasizes the goddamn perfect bass guitar sound all over the recording; The guitars themselves still have a bit of that tape wobble, giving the demo its original swerve in the best way possible. The start of “Crippled Youth” is still a masterful move, sounding as if the tape were slowed as part of the opening salvo but as you can hear in the bonus live shows included here it was technique and not tape manipulation, one of the coolest things guitarist Chris Deleo pulls off throughout but on a demo that is full of killer details like that. If you weren’t on board with the Dark Angel-assed crossover angle I’d presented earlier, “Crippled Youth” should at least get you on board for a minute.

There isn’t a piece on ‘Technical Aggression’ that isn’t in place, on point and sharply developed for maximum impact — It really does feel like a band entirely ready to crank out an important regional favorite or, in the context of the late 80’s, a minor underground hit. I mean put this up next to (on of my personal favorites) Prong‘s ‘Primitive Origins’ and tell me you wouldn’t sign Caligula instead? It was a time and place thing and I’ve no idea why Caligula called it quits in 1988 but ‘Technical Aggression’ remains a special bout of “What if…?” and a damn solid listen beyond all of that. The band would eventually put the demo in its raw form on MySpace about twelve years ago and folks have been tossing around bad rips of it online for years (along with the other two demos and live bootlegs) but as far as I know this compilation is the first official Caligula release beyond their self-issued demo tape back in the day. It appears the band have reformed as of last year, also. The remaster helps a ton and doesn’t erase any of the charm of the original, I’ve opted for the vinyl version which includes the remaster of ‘Technical Aggression’ (~20 minutes) on Side A with Side B containing a live show recorded at CBGB’s on September 27, 1987. The CD version adds what has to be one of their last shows recorded live April 15th, 1988. The only reason I’d hype the CD a bit more is if you’d like to hear songs that don’t appear anywhere else in their obtainable discography such as “Terrorist Invasion”, “Splinter of the Mind” and “The Decline of Morality”. These songs are hard to judge as we’re getting a single guitar thrashing out pretty intense hardcore-shunted brutal thrash so, still pretty solid without that second guitar line but hey it sounds like they had a full record’s worth of pieces at the very least, and a good one.

Don’t care about classic thrash, metalpunk, hardcore punk, history or riffs? Fuck off. Anyone else should give this charmer a run, it pulls technique into the brutal spectrum of late 80’s thrash metal without losing the furor of hardcore in the process. If you love early Prong, (early) Aftermath, Attitude Adjustment the first Epidemic album, Holy Terror, and any point where crossover fully leaned into the intricate Dark Angel side of high-rate thrash metal riffing you should be way on board with Caligula. This is the best way to experience it for the first time these days, even if you don’t care about the live tracks (in this case, I do) Side A is pure gold. a very high recommendation.

Very high recommendation. (87/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Technical Aggression
TYPE:LP [Compilation, Remastered]
LABEL(S):Ripping Storm Records
RELEASE DATE:July 20th, 2020
BUY & LISTEN:[Direct] [NWN!]
GENRE(S):Thrash Metal,
Crossover Thrash

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