As social media becomes more effective in training and rewarding high conflict personalities into increasingly prominent viral view rabid political correctness has inevitably forced the already willing hand of sycophants into an all-or-nothing sport of conscious misjudgment emulated by millions. Manufactured conflict, overstated betrayal, ramping stakes and division of established bodies can only run so rampant among the human population for the sake of machined insurrection, anti-community strokes levelled by multi-national corporations to ensure competition runs high and reactionaries are rewarded for divisive action. If the military industrial complex can no longer hide their inept reconstruction of entire societies demolished in the name of democracy overseas, their over-funded status is in danger of oversight without this sustained level of societal conflict. I don’t even need to be country specific, this dystopic template is at work within every recognized democracy worldwide. These puppet masters showed their hand once again this summer globally, that they would crack skulls and hunt down dissenters, protesters and hey… I’m allowed to throw some loose-necked socio politico around here today because this Athens, Greece-based power/thrash metal band Exarsis has been a staunchly politics-minded group from the very first song (“Resist“) they’d publish back in 2010. Conflict is at the heart of the accomplished underground thrashers fifth full-length album ‘Sentenced to Life’, where we not only find the band resisting the grip of corrupt government, censorship and societal mass delusion today but also tending to the wounds intensifying discord sets upon our minds.
Folks who’ve known me since the late 2000’s and early 2010’s will recall I was a harsh motherfucker when it came to modern (~post-1994) thrash metal for nearly a full decade and I’d not been kind to early Exarsis. Looking back it is more clear that they were doing their best with what they had at the time, putting out an independent demo with a solid Whiplash cover in 2010 and a likewise do-it-yourself first album (‘Under Construction‘, 2011) with a sound I’d compare to Shah with its thinner guitar tone and already apparent melodic intelligence. This wasn’t a flop so much as a very standard record, a band that’d just about reached professional capability. Big changes came after their second album (‘The Brutal State‘, 2013) which was the last album with original vocalist Alexis P. as well as the last record to feature co-guitarist Christos T. who’d joined Suicidal Angels until returning to the band for ‘Sentenced to Life’. So, without sounding like a jerk, I’d say this is the best thing that could’ve happened at the time because they gained a more effective signature vocalist and the guitar performances were not only heavier but finally up to a professional standard. This made the above-average hammer of ‘The Human Project‘ a reasonable prospect in a year (2015) that wasn’t stellar for thrash and I’d say it was their best render/mix quality ’til today. I dunno man, I wrote a terrible review for Exarsis‘ fourth album ‘New World Order‘ (2017) when it came out and I’d for sure not done the album justice beyond a few comparisons that still stick.
At their best and with the bones revealed Exarsis manage a blend of straightforward militia thrash riffing a la late 80’s Hirax or Vio-lence and the higher speed power/thrash of peak Artillery and Whiplash. Much of the viability of the band hinges on vocalist Nick J. who began to show more of his range on ‘New World Order’, hitting higher shrieking points added an exciting King Diamond level of personality to Exarsis‘ increasingly technical power-thrash sound. ‘Sentenced to Life’ finds a much more seasoned pair of guitarists at the helm, ramping up the speed while aiming for a style of thrash heavily influenced by NWOBHM and early 80’s traditional heavy metal. Not only does this provide space for their vocalist to expand his wares but it also makes for a song oriented thrash metal album with a polished but decidedly non-commercial affect, more-or-less in the tradition of the best power/thrash and power/speed metal records of the mid-80’s. Unsurprisingly there are parts of this record that remind me of stuff like Traveler, perhaps because of the 80’s Priest influence in each repertoire, I mean it isn’t friggin’ Liege Lord but hey we’re headed for the right sphere.
The duo of “Mouthtied” and “… Against My Fears”, the latter featuring vocalists Pyros Lafias (Chronosphere) and Lefteris Xatzhandreou (Bio-Cancer), is the big reveal of the full listen where the ‘Sentenced to Life’ essentially lifts the last veil on its true 80’s metal character. I wasn’t sure what to think when the second single, “Mouthtied“, came out because it sounds so different from anything they’d done before but within the context of the album it works quite well and brings a very ‘Countdown to Extinction’-era Megadeth moment to a record that’d already been showing considerable personae. Modern melodic thrash metal aiming for the most classic veins of the craft is not unheard of today but, there is something to be said for the band that goes as over the top as possible in the right way. Of course I’m referring to the vocals, as I guarantee the shrieking back half of the album (see: “Interplanetary Extermination”) will test the ears of even the most resolute hesher. At that point he is just gunning it to ten on every line and it’ll wear on folks a bit unless you’ve got your heavy metal head right. I personally love the Toxik and Watchtower side of thrash where the vocals are cranked and probably wouldn’t be as keen to Exarsis if they weren’t pushing for this angle and creating viably melodic songs, at least in terms of post-2000 thrash metal. Granted there is a distinction to make where thrash guitarists today tend to lean into what I consider pop-punk chord progressions… Anyhow, I didn’t fully fall off the fence and into ‘Sentenced to Life’ until I’d spent some considerable time with it, eventually appreciating this old-meets-new take on power/thrash and the catchy, affected traditional heavy metal that results.
The flood-like exuberance that threads the first seven tracks (well, six minus the intro) on ‘Sentenced to Life’ amounts to remarkably clean and cutting stuff. Though they’re all pretty ace classic thrash influenced songs “Aiming the Eye” is where Exarsis really set themselves afire via a brief hit of technical riffing to start before unleashing a set of riffs that best illustrate the mid-to-late 80’s speed metal mindset in hand; Everything good ‘n outrageous about Exarsis is in that song but the aforementioned singles, opener “Another Betrayal” and “Mouthtied”, point towards the consistent growth of the band from ‘The Human Project’ through today. Once we’ve hit the last three songs on ‘Sentenced to Life’ the solid flow of the album finds some instability as a set of faster wail-and-bangers feel like a missed opportunity to expand upon the dynamic they’d developed in the middle of the album. This creates a very distinct peak of interest that leans towards the experience being front-loaded. No major crime committed when we consider thrash metal as a whole but it does feel like all of the best ideas had hit once “One Last Word” fired off, no pun intended. It might sound raw to suggest that ‘Sentenced to Life’ is one of the sharper niche thrash records from 2020 yet certainly not destined to be a crowd pleaser in terms of mainstream thrash interest but from my point of view it is high praise. A moderately high recommendation.
|TITLE:||Sentenced to Life|
|RELEASE DATE:||November 27th, 2020|
|BUY & LISTEN:||MDD Shop [CD]|
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