Sometimes I wonder if perhaps The Bard, in all his wisdom, wasn’t pondering the nature of the chimerical beast that is death-thrash, when he posited the eternal existential quandary “to be, or not to be.” As a sub-genre, it’s practically unique in its representation of one sound’s evolution into another – the proverbial unwanted offspring left on the steps of the Abbey, Thalidomide and confused; a result of that one time you replaced blood with beer (thrash) and woke up next to a total swamp-donkey (death metal). Singapore probably isn’t the first country that springs to mind when considering the apex of ferocious heavy metal, but Assault‘s debut album, The Fallen Reich, is doing its very best to convince you of its worthy candidacy, by carving a thick slab of Gothenburg marbled death metal and thrashing the living hell out of it.
Now, I’m not usually inclined to include details of an album’s artwork, but if ever I’ve seen a cover illustration so aptly summarize its contents, it’s this one. Smoldering tanks emerging from the sockets and jaws of a decaying skull, flanked by combat knives… I could honestly just leave the review there. Fortunately, there is more than just the packaging to force the point. “Enslavement to Torture” introduces itself with some Forbidden styled crunch until Clarence Chong’s grizzled vocals invade the pitch – his mid-register delivery straddles the unholy union of genre’s comfortably, with enough intelligible venom to lay low a Cleopatra or Juliette ten times over. The final verses are reinforced by a guest spot from one Freddy Lim of Taiwanese titans Chthonic – the presence of his backing vocals on the track, and inclusion on the album in general, goes a long way in cementing the band’s potential.
Immediately noticeable are the assailing solos of lead guitarist Hanesh, who’s clearly packing more quality chops than your average (mad) butcher. His powerful input pervades each song, and combined with a riff style directly lifted from the Swedish melodic scene, elevates the material above that of the surprlus re-thrash acts, still plugging away at the same stale Exodus imitations. That’s not to say that there isn’t some classic influence in the rhythm section; “Genocidal Conspiracy” contains a bridge straight from the Kill ‘Em All cutting room floor, which makes for an interesting contrast with “Spawn of Rage,” whose shivering trem-picking and sporadic blastbeats, courtesy of drummer Noh who is certainly no slouch behind the kit, opts for a quintessential black metal design.
While, in the grand scheme of things, there isn’t anything particularly new being offered here, the compositions are water-tight and the delivery noticeably superior. The Fallen Reich is, however, only six tracks in length, and although the brevity does succeed in both highlighting the quality of the songs and delineating each track’s individual character, I’m a greedy bastard, and when I find that an album ends so fleetingly, I can’t help but yearn for what’s missing. And not in the “leave them wanting more” sense, either – I’m talking about the “woah – that’s not a full pint, top it up!” kind of bemused incredulity that goes hand in hand with being decidedly short-changed. The “what could have been” of it all is particularly frustrating, with diversity only hinted at in “Ghettos,” a slower, choppy number full of hammer-meets-nail palm mutes and another guest vocal by Fufu of Nothengal.
The brash production lends a rugged tone to the guitars, furnishing the inherent thrash of the title track and the At the Gates homage of “Final Solution” with a real legitimacy. However, aside from his one starring moment at the beginning of “Ghettos,” as with so many extreme releases today, it’s Syaz’s bass that is utterly enveloped by the mix. A habit, I’m becoming increasingly unimpressed with.
As if the name wasn’t enough of a giveaway, Assault have knowingly plucked The Fallen Reich‘s catalytic sound from the genre’s eternal state of flux, to deliver a professional sounding record of righteous riffs and vitriolic vocals. At no point does it reinvent the wheel, but it does succeed in resolutely slashing it. With a little more to go on, this a band worthy of notice, and have already earned themselves a spot on my radar o’ metal. After all, we thrash, therefore we are – that’s all you really need to know. Now, good luck searching for that band name on the internet…