AGGRAVATOR – Unseen Repulsions (2021)REVIEW

Thank fuck San Antonio, Texas classicist thrash metal troupe Aggravator were able to weather their way to a Mark II configuration beyond tragedy and revive in good form. For their first ten years of existence they’d been a quartet, originally founded and lead by vocalist/guitarist Derek Jones and drummer Mike Cortes, who’d eventually become known for an aggressive style of thrash divergent from the hardcore/crossover popular in their area. Back then (and now) it’d be appropriate to liken their sound to early Ripper or Hypnosia, a ‘Terrible Certainty’-boosted kind of attack that isn’t afraid of death-thrash heaviness when called for. After two full-lengths their reputation was solid, particularly with ‘Sterile Existence‘ (2016) feeling like the definitive statement for the Aggravator sound up to that point. We will have to consider the end of that Mark I era the ‘Aggravator‘ EP from 2019, which I’d favorably reviewed when it released, due to lead guitarist Jesse Lopez‘ unfortunate passing in 2018. Their sound was headed in a more aggressive nigh death/thrash metal attack on what would have been their third record and the two guitarists combined inclinations had clearly hit a high point; Alas, the respectable choice to finish the pieces with Lopez’ work for an EP and then regroup made good sense.

With that first decade sealed and a new chapter forced on ’em, the band appear to have kept as busy as possible beyond a trying end to 2018 followed by a bittersweet 2019 release and then… an additional year of global Hell. They’ve since signed with ever-expanding Belgium based Empire Records (Distillator, Chemicaust, Terrifier etc.) and cranked out this latest record, ‘Unseen Repulsions’, a six song EP with a cover song and a re-recorded track from their earliest days. Although it is the start of something new the results aren’t drastically different since basically all the same crew are here in terms of production and performances with the major change being bassist Tristan Hernandez handling the lead guitars on most songs. They’re still a damned killer thrash metal band but the riffs have mutated onto a slightly different thread. In direct comparison with ‘Aggravator’ their earlier straight-forward (again, Hypnosia-esque) brutal thrash metal sound is emphasized and some of the more ornate death metal influences of that previous EP lean away from the proggy death/thrash spectrum towards the extreme aggression of what I’d describe as ’88 thrash — Rigor Mortis, Gammacide, Devastation where the United States underground attack had the scent of death metal to it while thrash was still the major mindshare. It isn’t a reversion or regression on Aggravator‘s part but a slightly different pivot point for their edged-up death/thrashing qualities.

The four major pieces here kick off with the sole single and title track “Unseen Repulsions“, an skin-masked chainsawing bastard of an opener that blazes through its 3:33 minute rip with Aggravator‘s characteristic bile, a peak Kreator-sized composition meant to showcase their imposing riff attack while presenting an underlying groove, if you don’t know this band you love Invocator‘s ‘Alterations’ demo definitely check in here at the start. “Fragmented Identity” is a slower, groovier beast which gives Jones a chance to snarl and bark from a more readable angle. It feels hardcorish at first but the same way that ‘Epidemic of Violence’ does. They’ve always been great at this brutal spectrum of thrash so, any comparison with the past does ultimately find this record as on par with their visible progression already. Hernandez‘ bass tone and performance is the big plus here right off the bad. nice springing punch to it and never overbearing but, defined enough to lead some of the riff runs on “Infinite War” into appropriately twisted directions. This main block of songs is the right direction, the good stuff and a more than worthy chunk of what Aggravator do best.

Took me a while to figure it out, thinking it might be a NWOBHM-sourced deep cut but “Bounty Hunter” turns out to be Aggravator‘s version of the opener from Molly Hatchet‘s self-titled ’78 debut, giving it a raw ’86 Sacrifice kinda snarl but keeping the heavy rock swing of it to some degree. This speaks to the part of my brain that’d grown up kinda hating Megadeth‘s goofy “end of Side A” rock covers and appreciating them later on. The final track, “Seven Swords”, should be more easily recognized to die-hards as it is a new version of the closer from the band’s first full-length (‘Age of Combat‘, 2012) which is likely out of print unless the (recently revived) Dead Center Productions label still has any copies. I appreciated the inclusion of this song because it emphasizes the difference between their compositional style back in 2010-2012 versus today, showing a bit of growth but also their steadfast dedication to legit thrash metal style. If ‘Unseen Repulsions’ is a hint as to where the next Aggravator full-length is headed, sign me up because they still rule. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (80/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Unseen Repulsions
LABEL(S):Empire Records
RELEASE DATE:April 16th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp [All Formats]
GENRE(S):Thrash Metal,
Death/Thrash Metal

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