I feel ashamed to admit it, but I had never heard Germany’s Assassin before grabbing their new release, Combat Cathedral. Which is sad considering they have been in the scene for some thirty years. This, however, is understandable if one looks at the band’s sporadic release schedule (which is nonexistent between 1988 and 2005). If you read Almighty Druhm‘s review of Assassin‘s Breaking the Silence, you already know the unfortunate story that put the band on hiatus following Interstellar Experience. But when they returned with their 2005 comeback album, The Club, many a fan dropped jaw and exclaimed in unison: “wtf is this?” Though I give them props for rebooting and climbing back up from an independent outfit, The Club‘s “modernized” sound did not win over any long-time fans. Thankfully, as described by Steel, 2011’s Breaking the Silence proved to be a proper comeback. Breaking the Silence is nowhere near the awesomeness of debut, The Upcoming Terror, but it was a respectable release that felt like Assassin. And that is also the best way to describe Combat Cathedral. It’s a decent addition to the Assassin discography, but probably only worth it for the hardest of thrash enthusiasts.
There are, however, a few things that could cause trouble for all you Assassin elitists. The first being that Combat Cathedral‘s production is about as clean, slick, and overly-compressed as The Club—let’s be honest here, the band’s rawness is their charm. The second (potential) issue is the absence of longtime vocalist, Robert Gonnella. Though the Assassin riffage is still there, the post-The Ritual Chuck Billy-meets-Athera (Susperia) barks and growls of Ingo Bajonczak adds a twist the band’s sound; resulting in an end-product quite different from the chaotic, punkish Dave Brockie attacks of Gonnella. Not a bad thing, but the vocals add a toughness more typical for bands like Onslaught/Testament and less so for Assassin.
Regardless, the riffs are meaty, the bass is beefy, and Combat Cathedral is hung like a fucking horse. Every song is jam-packed with thrashtastic riffage that—though typical ’80s/’90s material—crushes and pulverizes everything, even the ants hiding in grout lines of my kitchen. Add the bullying assaults of Bajonczak’s vocals and the band’s/genre’s signature gang shouts, and you have yourself an hour’s worth of road-rage fuel. However, while songs like “Slave of Time,” “Whoremonger,” “Word,” “Sanity from the Insane,” and “Red Alert” standout above the rest, most of the album has a tendency to blend together. Perhaps the greatest offenders being “Frozen Before Impact” and “Undying Mortality.” Minus the Annihilator-esque vocal qualities on “Frozen Before Impact,” these songs sound so similar that, if you aren’t paying attention, you’ll miss your media player switching tracks.
Songs like the Testamental “Whoremonger” and herky-jerky Susperia-inspired “Ambush” use mid-song builds, carrying the song into angry tension before finally smashing over neck-breaking riffs—the former achieving this with greater effect. “Ambush” and “Word” have catchy choruses (basically just their song titles repeated with venomous hatred), but the concise, balls-to-the-wall arrangement of “Word” makes it the superior of the two (not to mention that badass “we are Assassin” vocal line). Likewise, the final two tracks (“Sanity from the Insane” and “Red Alert”) keep up the pace and aggression to the bitter end. “Sanity from the Insane” has similarities in approach to “Word,” but “Red Alert” is a stand-alone bruiser with a concluding riff that tops anything else the album offers.
You are sure to get some additional memorability from songs like “Slave of Time” and “What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Stronger,” but these tracks (much like the rest of the album) take a few spins to appreciate their better qualities; for instance, being potential candidates as B-side material on Testament‘s The Gathering. But when one steps back and analyzes Combat Cathedral as a whole, the album is a pretty typical thrash affair. Nothing ground breaking, nothing progressive, just a brass-knuckled crack on the bridge of your nose. And let’s not forget the greatest quality of Combat Cathedral: there are no songs about junk food or drinking Coca-fucking-Cola.
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 128 kbps mp3
Label: SPV GmbH