Thrash metal is considered by many to be a one trick pony – it’s fast, aggressive, and socially relevant, but suffers from a lack of variety. Thrash fell from it’s place as the most popular subgenre and eventually gave way to the cultures of death metal and black metal after the masses got tired of it. But that’s where acts like Holycide come in – thrash may not be the king of the subgenres anymore, but it hasn’t been done to death. Even a small bit of deviation from the generic sound can be enough to make a thrash release sound fresh, and Annihilate… Then Ask! is filled with just enough flavor to separate itself from the sea of uninspired modern thrash.
The album kicks off immediately with strikingly clean production that features the classic thrash guitar tone, albeit tuned a tad bit lower than usual. The vocals are also a bit dirtier and deathier than average; I would describe them as rough and primitive instead of the traditional shouting. This, while creating a more distinct sound, comes less range and vocal variety.The clean production leaves the band vulnerable and with nothing to hide behind – if they sucked, there would be nothing to hide behind. Fortunately, Holycide doesn’t suck, and the clean production instead showcases their technical skill in all it’s glory with the lightning fast complexity of these songs. Complexity, however, is something that I’ve become skeptical of in thrash. Some bands like to take simple riffs and then play them quickly enough to give the illusion of a technical riff. Fortunately once again, this is not the case either. Annihilate… Then Ask! is littered with plenty of simpler riffs (such as on the title track, or during the verses of most tracks), but this variety helps the sound rather than hurting it. Regardless, if you’re looking for skill, there are more than enough complicated riffs to compensate for the abundance of tamer ones.
Numerous influences are drawn from all different directions and strung together by Holycide; the most interesting of these being the hints of death metal scattered across songs. Towards the beginning especially, some songs feature brief riffing played considerably higher than everything else, in the vein of some old school Cannibal Corpse songs. It sounds really cool when contrasted with the thrashy and straightforward style of everything else. In addition to death elements, the punk elements on the release are undeniable, if the socially/politically charged cover art didn’t make it obvious enough to begin with. The thrash and borderline death metal riffs that open the album start to bend as the record progresses, and by the middle it’s a full blown crossover thrash record. This “crossover” is highlighted by the marriage of the previously mentioned technical riffs and simple riffs: the former represent thrash, the latter sound more like punk riffs. Funny enough, the track with the most punk-sounding title, “Leather Spikes Chains & Blood,” ended up being one of if not the most metal-leaning song, as far as influences go.
Annihilate… Then Ask! is a great thrash album at heart, but it suffers from the issue that dethroned thrash in the mid to late eighties in the first place. Simply put, it gets repetitive. There’s not a lot that can be done to remedy an issue like this, as anything with a consistently fast tempo will get tiresome quickly, and it’ll usually happen before the record ends. In this case, it happened by “Bonebreaker,” only halfway through the album. The song structures are especially simple and straightforward at this point, contributing nothing significant or lasting to the album as a whole. However, the final two tracks make a fully successful and quite frankly, impressive turnaround and give the album a spectacular and interesting ending. The weakness of the album lies in the middle tracks, but Holycide is able to redeem the album before it’s too late.
Holycide makes for a solid representation of the evolution of thrash – the defining characteristics of the subgenre are omnipresent, but it’s clear that these Spaniards aren’t afraid of experimentation. Annihilate… Then Ask! manages to sound classic and fresh at the same time and, despite some expected imperfections, makes for a worthwhile modern thrash release.