Degradation // Juggernaut
Rating: 2.5/5.0 —Sandbagged!
Label: Self-released
Websites: www.degradationband.com/
Release Dates: Out now!

So here’s my first official review of 2012 and Steel Druhm must report that the retro-thrash wave has spilled over into another year. Whatever your opinion of such spillage may be, like every trend, some of that deluge is good, some is really bad, the majority floats in the middle. With their debut full length, Chicago toughs Degradation find themselves somewhere in that big middle, drifting toward the good side of the river but not quite able to reach the shore. Enough with the nautical metaphors. This is steady but mostly unexceptional thrash like they used to make in the second and the dreaded third wave (Gothic Slam, anybody?) of the original thrash explosion. Scattered across this fairly short, fly by album are traces of Slayer, Metallica, Testament and even mega-obscure Faith or Fear. It’s a Bay Area thrash revival with the odd piece of the germanic school sprinkled in for flavor (think old Deathrow). Despite the energy and enthusiasm the band brings to the material, I was never able to fully buy into Juggernaut and after repeated listens, some of the tracks just go by without registering in my thrash receptacle (located just under the spleen). I’m not sure if its thrash fatigue or what but this album just doesn’t resonate, though there are some quality moments.

Opener “A Necessary Evil” pretty much tells you all about Degradation. It’s no-frills, zippy, semi-melodic, 80s thrash with plenty of speed and vocals somewhere between James Hetfield and Chuck Billy. The riffs are respectable, the solo breaks are nice and everything gels just fine. Sadly, for me, the main redeeming feature of the song is how the chorus sounds like “unnecessary evil” which I find hilarious for some reason. The title track steps up the aggression with some pretty impressive riffing and solos (listen at 2:08), as does “The Reckoning” with its borderline black metal mixed with Slayer riffs and copious F-bombery. The balance of Juggernaut blasts along the same musical Autobahn with varying degrees of engagement and interest (“Rise to Fall” and “Trail of Sin” are both fairly catchy). They even tack on a cover the The Crown‘s “Executioner, Slayer of Light” for good measure and its nicely done.

While everything works in a workmanlike manner, few elements will jump out at you. Mike Hartman and Alex Manske are more than competent riff-meisters and flex some decent muscle on solos but it’s nothing new and it’s been done and redone. Even the vaguely neo-classical moments later on the album are nothing new. The vocals are also workmanlike, without anything exciting to recommend them. What works to Degradation‘s advantage is the overall brevity of the album. Since it’s around thirty-minutes and most songs are under four minutes, Juggernaut just blasts by in a fury and its all over before you know it. Unfortunately, I found myself continually losing attention and focus even over its short span (Reign in Blood it ain’t).

There’s some potential and some talent here and I’d take this any day over core-ish modern thrash, but it feels incomplete. Maybe retro thrash diehards will find this irresistable but I find this unessential and fairly generic. Maybe next time they can find the missing ingredient and create a real thrashing firestorm but Juggernaut doesn’t live up to its imposing name. A slightly soggy start to 2012.

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