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Album Review: Slaughter Messiah – Cursed to the Pyre

It looks like I’m to be IMV’s designated EU Ambassador because I haven’t left the continent all year as I find myself turning my sights towards Belgium once again.  This time we’re eschewing all concepts of restraint and diving headfirst into some blazingly ferocious thrash metal with the Wallonian four-piece, Slaughter Messiah.

These coq hardi lads have been around and kicking in some form for over a decade now. And honestly, I probably could’ve guessed that since this sounds straight out of 2008, and that’s not exactly a compliment when you take in the rest of the paragraph.  Y’ see, for those who weren’t around or somehow completely blanked this era out of their minds, old school thrash metal made a huge comeback in the mid-late aughties on the backs of bands like Municipal Waste and Warbringer (who were awesome) and also a slew of others like Evile, Bonded by Blood, Fueled By Fire, Violator, Mantic Ritual, and Lich King (who were… also bands).  I and others have dubbed the style “rethrash” since the basic idea apparently never evolved further than ripping off Exodus and Kreator, and the whole genre jumped the shark sometime after Evile’s debut. The metal world collectively lost interest once Vektor debuted and reminded everybody that thrash is at it’s best when it’s pushing boundaries instead of recreating them.  It was a played out retread of a played-out genre, and nobody had any new ideas.  A flame that burned half as bright and a fraction as long.  Slaughter Messiah formed around the time of complete oversaturation just before the flameout of the genre, and I believe it’s not a coincidence that it took them twelve years to finally get around to releasing Cursed to the Pyre.  The fervor of the genre died down, the backlash wore off, and now they’re here with their debut LP to kick some ass without the stigma surrounding them.

And honestly?  That’s a pretty great thing because I like this quite a bit.  If this had released in 2010 or whatever, I’d probably just waved it off as another Merciless Death style bargain-bin thrash turd. But now, without the surrounding context of everybody and their mother trying to do the same thing (instead they’ve all coalesced into the Jangleblack Monogenre), they come off as a breath of fresh air.  This is just good old meat-and-potatoes thrash presented in an especially vicious manner with big heaps of black metal thrown in for good measure.  Cursed to the Pyre is loaded with ferocity, with very few moments of respite in between a seemingly unending salvo of razor-sharp riffs.  It doesn’t have a whole lot of individual standout moments or elements, but the holistic picture of the band is pretty darn good.  “Pyre” is probably the best song, likely because it starts off so slow and moody, really letting their black metal sense of melody shine for a moment before the verse riffs tumble through the wall and start ripping faces off.  A good point of comparison would be Nocturnal Breed’s Fields of Rot, one of the standout releases from that bygone era that also kept things wicked, vicious, and violent from start to finish.

The vocals are a sticking point for me, though.  While they don’t utterly cripple the album as bad vocals can so often do, they are clearly the weakest link.  I hate to namedrop him twice in a row now, but this sounds like Ashmedi doing a Zetro impersonation.  He’s got that same monotone, bratty snarl as the vaunted Exodus frontman, but with a dash of Ashmedi’s more sinister delivery.  It reminds me of Merciless Death, who had equally weak vocals but fell into the dustbin of history because their riffs weren’t any better.  Slaughter Messiah, on the other hand, has excellent riffs aplenty.  Tracks like “From the Tomb into the Void” and “Fog of the Malevolent Sore” deliver riff fiestas on par with Dark Angel and Kreator’s best moments.

I realize I probably spent more time griping about a scene that more or less doesn’t exist any more than directly focusing on the album at hand. But, I really can’t paint a clearer picture of what Slaughter Messiah sounds like than drudging up those old memories and saying, “Like this, but better.”  It suffers some of the same problems in the sense that it’s pretty one-dimensional and mostly reuses ideas you’ve heard a million times before, but it’s executed very well.  If you’ve ever had a Witchaven patch at some point in your life, you’ll probably thrash your ass off to Cursed to the Pyre.  I know I certainly did.

Cursed to the Pyre will be released on February 21st, 2020, via High Roller Records.  It can be preordered here, in a “transparent piss yellow” LP if you so choose.

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