BLACK MASS – Feast at the Forbidden Tree (2021)REVIEW

The basal inspiration, selfdom, and core ethos of Boston, Massachusetts-based thrash metal trio Black Mass is best summed by their most persistent taglines over these last nine or so years: “East coast thrash metal” and “All analog, no bullshit“. Their origin and ‘tude sets ’em on the right-hand side of the states, their music is speed/thrash metal rooted in a love for classic heavy metal songwriting, and now that they’re three albums into this gig they’ve found a new peak form without compromise in vision — A signature pathway which lives up to the old standards on their own terms. Too young to manage anything too precociously nostalgic but still bearing far better taste than most, “old school” thrash metal had always meant Black Mass‘ own gruff vision of metalpunk-spanked early 80’s Bay Area speed/thrash metal presentation with a heavy emphasis on riffs that bear weight, some measure of physical aplomb in every statement. The big step they’ve taken beyond 2019’s breakthrough ‘Warlust‘ with the release of ‘Feast at the Forbidden Tree‘ is the sense that these ideals are no longer necessarily expressed via a post-millennial ‘retro’ revisionism; The bombastic presentation and brutality of late 80’s ‘evil’ thrash is again traded in for the scratched-out guile of the mid-80’s but the songwriting takes a step further than juiced hesher oldies. Given appropriately crunched-up and present production values we are gifted an authentic and exciting thrash metal album as a result. The bluntest reality of it is that they’re more “metal” than ever on this record without taking themselves dead serious, and it sounds like they’ve having a Hell of a good time ripping through this record.

Apart from a couple of ‘Morbid Tales’-bent chords and a bit o’ Venom in their veins by way of the usual ‘Show No Mercy’ proxy it never made much sense to consider Black Mass “blackened” by my own standards, and I only say this for the sake of this music hitting the ‘right’ listener whom is far more obsessed with mid-80’s underground thrash metal than most anything ‘first wave’ blackened. “Nothing is Sacred” does growl it up a bit, though. That’ll be the deepest thought I’ll offer on this record. Lots of great referential bits, classic 80’s extreme metal and punk inspiration, all the right pieces you’d want to fuel a thrash metal record are here and shit blazes by fast… This isn’t far off the first impression I’d gotten of the band back in the day via the “Into the Lungs of Hell”-esque solo on “Black Mass” from their first album ‘Ancient Scriptures‘ (2015). As I went back through the trio’s discography from their 2012 demo ’til 2019 the gist of my reaction is that most everything I’d loved about Black Mass when discovering them on Bandcamp back in 2015 is still here but their signature solidified on ‘Warlust’ and now expands into a more capable entity on ‘Feast at the Forbidden Tree’.

All it took to get on board was one song. The Sheepdog-level screams and bent-ass Discharge meets Dream Death riffs on “Dead to the World” speak to the most primal urge speed metal has to offer as heavy metal music, this sense of physicality applied to the thrash riff has been a void in the sub-genre largely due to a total lack of 80’s hardcore punk education in youths today. Score one for however this’d trickled down into Black Mass‘ oeuvre because they get major mileage out of this intensity throughout ‘Feast at the Forbidden Tree’. “A Path Beyond” likewise hits upon this earliest metalpunk ideal, not quite motörpunk n’ roll but a shade of the No Mercy school of riffcraft, going as hard as New Jersey/Bay Area early classics but working in the best sort of thrash breakdown ~1:33 minutes into the song. It ain’t a crossover record by any means but instead think of a filthier post-‘Show No Mercy’ ’83-’86 era for speed metal, something like Hallow’s Eve that’d been right on the fringe of extreme metal but not quite wanting to breach into the void. The true standout moment on the record beyond “Dead to the World” is inarguably “They Speak in Tongues” which, I guess isn’t the first shade of primed late 80’s King Diamond/Mercyful Fate rhythm guitar work on the record but probably the most pronounced thanks to the phlegm choked narration and a melodic chorus which should recall a touch of Black Wizard‘s ‘Livin’ Oblivion’, where they’d taken a deep turn towards trad/speed metal influence. Anyhow, you get the idea, plenty here to love if you are well in tune with classic thrash and its major ’77-’83 influences.

Now that we’ve picked through the guts some, my recommendation and interest for ‘Feast at the Forbidden Tree’ is far simpler in reasoning than usual: Do I need another thrash metal record on my shelf? Yes, always. Is it going to hold up? Yes, this one has more staying power than ‘Warlust’ at the very least and at best Black Mass escapes a lot of the self-conscious trappings of many modern thrash metal bands who pander too broadly or land out of touch by virtue of well applied taste. Beyond that, they’re having a good time and still whipping out sharp-tailed speed metal riffs most thrash heads should be able to align with. Me? I’m a sucker for it, by all means Sheepdog scream your way into my collection. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (78/100)

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Feast of the Forbidden Tree
LABEL(S):Redefining Darkness Records
RELEASE DATE:September 10th, 2021
BUY & LISTEN:Bandcamp
GENRE(S):Thrash Metal,
Blackened Thrash Metal

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