ALGEBRA – Chiroptera (2022)REVIEW

Conjured on the northern lakeside port of Lausanne, Switzerland circa 2008 or so, Algebra has been the product of adaptive persistence by way of guitarist/vocalist Ed Nicod and perhaps not in a desperate sense but, in recognizing that each release from the band has a footnote or two in terms of who and what hands inspired the personal touch at their grindstone beyond classic thrash and early 90’s metal. The last ten or so years of the band’s history are probably most worth elaborating upon as a side note, with an abrasive work relationship clogging the veins of (‘Feed the Ego‘, 2014) leading to the vocalist’s departure, who’d taken a job in South America for a few years before returning to find the band almost done with a third full-length (‘Pulse?‘, 2019) but ready to call it quits afterwards. He’d stepped in to finish it and decided to push on with the band afterwards. Interesting enough circumstances behind a record I’d reviewed favorably and included on my top 75 or so releases of that year, it remains one of the more memorable nowadays prog-thrash adjacent metal records of the last several years. Ah well, it might seem like it but we’re really not getting ahead of ourselves here since it shouldn’t be too hard to describe what Algebra have always done and consistently improved upon with each release: Disruptive, energetic thinking man’s thrash metal is yet the best way to describe their fourth full-length album, ‘Chiroptera‘.

They won’t know who hit ’em. — Once again much has changed beyond the previous album in terms of the line-up, ‘Chiroptera‘ features a complete re-staff with the exception of Nicod who is now joined by second guitarist Nick Abery and session musicians for the rhythm section whom include Cenotaph‘s current drummer Florent Duployer and former Entombed A.D. bassist Victor Brandt. You’d think this’d make for a drastically different record in some respects but in fact we’re gifted a natural follow-up to ‘Pulse?‘ which is a bit sharper in terms of its production values and cut to a more reasonable length at ~45 minutes. It impresses me to no end that the entity has not only retained a certain stylistic continuity, a sense for late 80’s thrash metal with increasingly technical and progressive thrash tendencies, but improved upon each release despite various hands grasping and relinquishing control.

Alright man, what do they sound like, already? Algebra still read to be as basally guided by a hardcore punk/crossover built songwriting sense which’d developed from a style similar to the street-level barks of Mortal Agony and Mezzrow up towards the wry technical acumen of groups like Stone (Finland), D.B.C. and even landing a bit of the brilliant sharpness of ‘Nemesis‘-era Obliveon when their death metal senses tingle-up. If you’re not an ‘old school’ thrash metal elite-level scholar (and why aren’t you, eh?) these guys like the best of early Sepultura, Coroner, Forbidden and could easily take a comparison to later Deathrow on the chin. ‘Chiroptera‘ has all of the hallmarks that ‘Pulse?‘ hath brought: Lots of shouting, tons of riffs, timely social commentary, pure tact in terms of songcraft and typically landing the most in the pocket on their ~4 minute pieces. It’d be fair to listen to their debut mLP from 2010 and still hear the same core band but there’ll be no denying that the standard for Algebra since 2014 or so has been inarguable mastery of the form and with zero need to pander or ‘dumb down’ those high standards. Where we find the most growth this time around lies in their approach to melody.

As exciting as Algebra‘s fluid and absolutely satisfying focus on rhythm guitar arrangement is (see: “Resuscitation”, “Suspect”), the melody and/or chorus enriched centerpieces on ‘Chiroptera‘ once again shine as the hottest spots, the most glaring points of gem-like rarity within their oeuvre. For the folks seeking the late 80’s/early 90’s stomp-along heft of thrash metal’s near death experience a single like “Kleptomaniac” hits that ‘Arise‘-era Sepultura tight quota early on as perhaps the catchiest, or, most memorable cut of the lot but this is yet the first profound sentence within several paragraphs these folks have prepared on this record. From there you’ll get why I’d mentioned Stone when “Constricted” hits, if only for the vocal arrangement and the tone it creates in conveying a listless sort of melodic rant alongside progressive metal adjacent basslines, wandering about. We get the best of all worlds in equal and sometimes blended measure from that point on — the riff-centered hardcorish aggressors, the semi-melodic pieces, and the all out groove-thrash epics.

“Suspect” has a bit of everything girding its contribution gluing some of the more effective riffing on the record within harmonized spoken and sung accompaniment, which I suppose lands in mind somewhere between the best of European melodic hardcore (in the early 90’s punk sense…), records like ‘No Anesthesia!‘, and the aggression of death/thrash metal proper; I like this semi-melodic, more tuneful side of the band as it serves to expand beyond songs like “Addicted to Authority” which’d stood out on the previous album. Either the band’ve aptly recognized those strengths and fleshed them out on this record to great effect with purpose or just naturally leaned that way under new regime. “Eternal Sleep” is probably the biggest success in this regard, balancing their kinetic knack for the thrashing riff progression with that sing-along, semi-group shouted feeling vocal and outclassing the somewhat out of place (but similarly placed) late-album stinger “Concrete Jungle” (again, from ‘Pulse?‘).

Though I am clearly propounding a case for reinforcement built through iteration while solely considering the dynamic of arrangement and variety of vocal expression here, the bigger point is that Algebra have managed an album which sticks in mind for a bit longer than past efforts, it is otherwise a natural succession and (again) feels like an experience carved from the same ever-wisened hands that’ve kept the band going for nearly fifteen years. They’ve got an apex ‘modern’ thrash metal approach crafted by a hand which is never deleterious of respectable ‘old school’ authenticity in intent and now manage some characteristic expansion of melodic device to further expand their reach, striking a bit of gold along the way. With this point of view in mind ‘Chiroptera‘ could serve as a righteous pivot into bigger-deal works or cement their station among the few doing thrash metal proper in this day and age. Either way, they should absolutely keep up with this impressive, insightful intensity and continue to show ’em how. A high recommendation.

High recommendation. (79/100)

Rating: 8 out of 10.
LABEL(S):Unspeakable Axe Records
RELEASE DATE:September 16th, 2022

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