RHYTHM OF FEAR – Fatal Horizons (2022)REVIEW

The goofy revisionist history of United States thrash metal often depicts it as an enduring legacy which matured in earnest, ripened with age only to leave a distinct mark upon heavy metal, yet in truth it was a too-extended wave of trend that’d developed into excess egotism and opportunism too shortsighted to re-grasp said legacy after it’d rippled across the entire world. Populism, rockstar bullshit on the part of the original big-deal groups ensured power eventually transferred away from raging fools unfit to pass it on. An eternally open gap in distinctly North American heavy metal was then filled by bad groove metal, cheap ex-scenester grifts, and (eventually) a load of weak comeback albums from crews who hadn’t had the knack, an inkling of a riff, or the notion of rebellious youth energy since 1992 when they’d first dropped out and moved up. The influence of the real stuff yet persists, placing those high standards into the hands of fresh minds as history cycles back into its own exponentially dehumanizing sociopolitical repetition, which means we’ve been hit with a regular cyclic reinvigoration of the classic thrash metal impetus and maturation over the course of the last thirty years, albeit in variously capable hands. Some get it absolutely right off the bat, most produce diminishing returns on nostalgia and a few, like Jacksonville, Florida-borne thrash metal quartet Rhythm of Fear just –do– it, strike right at the guts of a modern equivalency of classic late 80’s United States thrash metal at its aggressive mid-pit level of presentation, leaning into the nuances available to groups that’d arisen in the twilight of thrash metal phenomena for a sort of last word, last gasp, last wave statement. Their second full-length album ‘Fatal Horizons‘ is a post-millennium classic thrash metal nerd’s ideal kinda gear, wherein latent high-energy crossover thrash spiritus can be found possessing a sophisticated peak thrash metal ‘tude and proficiency that is easily read from a mile away and delivered at a streel-level attack far from the hifalutin arena-sized wank of old.

Formed in 2010 just as the early 2000’s classic thrash revivalist boon was fading hard in terms of public interest Rhythm of Fear were raised up on hardcore punk and hadn’t yet kicked into full crossover-thrash gear off the bat, you should get a late 80’s/early 90’s NY hardcore vibe from the ‘Ancient Deception‘ (2011) demo even if the riffs do hit upon thrash buzz here and there. Fantastic snare sound either way. Though Power Trip‘d broken out by the time the ‘Mass Illusion‘ (2015) EP hit these folks were going another way, landing a New Jersey by way of San Francisco kinda ex-hardcore band gone thrash feeling, still shorter and to the point songwriting but a generally tightened Excel-esque rub to it. Once they were ready with a full-length (‘Maze of Confusion‘, 2016) it was clear these guys were ready to push more completely into the thrash metal realm and start leaving behind the quick chop of crossover-hardcore. Though it was an average record in terms of the riffs being kinda straight up a lot of what’d been hinted at on ‘Mass Illusion‘ was fully fleshed on Rhythm of Fear‘s debut with songs like “Ask the Tarot” showcasing Jay Santiago‘s knack for both melodic and hard-shouted vocal leans. There was some real conviction there but the album never stuck with me, resembling the Nuclear Assault, Testament, Sacred Reich side of thrash which I’d never warmed up to completely for its cartoonish character. From that point I believe several members became part of the live line-up for the revival of Leeway so the next EP (‘Ritual Dementia‘, 2019) wouldn’t hit for a few more years, now leaning on the big-loud ‘Nightmare Logic‘ level production values of the era and getting noticed more often for it. Good look, great sound, they were readied up.

When taking stock of the last twelve years of Rhythm of Fear‘s development it is clear they’ve taken it upon themselves to attack more of a pure thrash metal perspective without losing that semi-melodic, hardcore punk influenced aspect of their sound. You can tell at least some or all of ’em are thrash fanatics, stuck on it and pushing for that high level of craft. The 4-5 minute thrash metal song is the reward reaped for that obsession, as we’ll find cracking into ‘Fatal Horizons‘ though one shouldn’t expect ’em to land with a ton of variety in mind, there’ll be no thrash ballad or late album instrumental just a clip of about twelve songs that hit roughly the same. With this in mind it makes good sense that they’ve name-dropped Slammer, Cyclone Temple and Forced Entry as points of interest and influence but only insofar as those were post-‘…And Justice For All‘ era thrash metal records with some latent (or pronounced) Bay Area influences, but I’d rather point to early Xentrix, Testament and ‘The American Way‘-era Sacred Reich for something slightly more directly comparable. The pace is up, they’re definitely shouting more but you get my drift — Not necessarily technical but entirely on point, not cranking out alt-metal choruses in every song but at least managing something tuneful and aggressive at every turn. No metalcore riffs, no funny tough guy lyrics, and overall a proper form of thrash with a defiant punkish spirit nearby the thinking man’s era but before virtuosity pushed into prog-thrash.

Dedicated thrash metal fans won’t find any barrier waiting for ’em on the way to ‘Fatal Horizons‘, they’ve loaded the record with too many interludes for the sake of breaking up the running order enough to not read too samey but otherwise they whip into it and blaze at it for about ~45 minutes. Most songs are traditional in affect but rely on pronounced groove for the majority of the riff voicing, the guitar work is both impressive for its performative classic standard but generally repetitive in statement and unable to find many profound points of interest beyond heavy hardcore grooves and a number of memorable choruses or standout verses. Opener “Obsolescence” gets in there, hitting a little extra reverb on the vocals and cueing the listener to start their countdown to the inevitable wah-pedal tipping solo trade-offs but generally making the right kind of high energy fuss up front and with a serious enough tone on a song which deals directly with addiction. My favorite pieces on the album beyond the black hole steeped progressions of “Fatal Horizons” and the opener actually hit back-to-back as “Simulated Times” confronts the surreal reality of today with the simulation hypothesis in mind, and “Tears of Ecstasy” basically just hits me for the sake of the slightly more memorable cut of the rhythm guitars as they push a few extra notes into a stomping groove in emphasis of the chorus. Beyond those choice cuts the album generally dodges between three modes.

Few pieces on this album take their time and ask for space to develop beyond big grooves and hardcore cuts, leaving no room to duck out and stick in my head. Instead we find Rhythm of Fear operating within two general modes, or, types of pieces: The moshable mid-paced Testament style stomper with an anthemic touch (“Parasomniac”, “Tears of Ecstasy”, “Self Destructive Brain”) common to the best of Bay Area/New Jersey thrash metal in the late 80’s and the other side of the spectrum lands the hardcore influenced crossover thrash songs that shore things up around three minutes before stepping off the ride. This’ll be familiar with fans of groups like Evildead and ‘Survive‘-era Nuclear Assault alongside most modern thrash metal in this vein but I’d found it created a need for variety as the record began to push into Side B. Throw in a handful of 1-2 minute vignettes/interludes and the focus of the album begins to fuzz a bit after the first few spins through.

Do I need another ~47 minute throwback thrash metal album in 2022? Yes, but frankly for the sake of starvation for the sub-genre and, sure, because Rhythm of Fear operate at a proper professional standard in terms of high-quality production values, contemporary approach, and well curated artwork from artist Mario Lopez. We’ve got pro work going on here worthy of several listens by way of conviction up front, most of their work landing at least somewhat catchy. Clearly their most considered and personal work to date, ‘Fatal Horizons‘ marks a strong step up for these Floridians no matter where you stand with the style, and even if I don’t think this is cutting-edge or particularly original for thrash metal it listens well on repeat and should be a good time for anyone yearning for proprietary classic trash metal/crossover void of any raw trendage tagging along. A moderately high recommendation.

Moderately high recommendation. (76/100)

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.
TITLE:Fatal Horizons
RELEASE DATE:October 14th, 2022

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