I worked a full-time retail job while in college, and let me tell you, nothing helps one become thick skinned quite like customer service work. Initially, enduring undeserved tirades from patrons is a day-ruining experience, but after a year or two of dealing with entitled pissants on a daily basis, the anguish turns to utter apathy. Much is the same when it comes to familiarizing oneself with metal’s more aggressive realms; what once seemed shockingly violent in its basest of forms eventually becomes a mundane component of a balanced metallic listening diet. So what is a thrash metal band to do, then, when they want to play fast, angry material while keeping things fresh? In Infraktor’s case, the solution is simple: double down on the hostility, nuance and innovation be damned. Shockingly enough, this doesn’t make Exhaust a particularly engaging experience, despite offering some short-lived thrills.
Made up of current and former members of various Portuguese acts including Echidna and Revolution Within, Infraktor has much in common with the latter band as it abandons any semblance of melody and nuance, filling the resulting cracks with buckets of riffs and ceaseless death growls. This grooving, deathy take on thrash metal delivers a strong first impression; the riffs start coming, and they don’t stop coming, bent to thrash rules but it hits the ground running. I think that Exhaust’s sheer riff count will be a match for just about anything released this year, and while the band’s chug chops might not be revolutionary, it’s kinda impressive that nearly all of them fall under varying degrees of “good.” As a forty-three minute exhaustive exploration of the five lowest frets of the fretboard, this could have been a lot worse.
On the songwriting front, that’s all I can really say for Infraktor. Their arrangements are consistently solid, but this consistency is bred from homogeneity. Tracks blend together into one massive catalog of riffs, and although tempos reasonably vary between songs, they are all so tonally similar that I’m not sure I’d be able to detect when new tracks begin if it weren’t for the few seconds of silence between them. Exhaust tries its damndest to make an impact despite its extremely limited playbook, and as a result feels like it’s practically begging for an injection of personality; there’s hardly any lead guitar work utilized, so each little lick feels like a fleeting gasp for breath amidst the endless ocean of bludgeoning rhythm work. It’s not bad by any means, but each listen found me searching aimlessly for something to grab onto to properly hook me, and Infraktor never once threw me a line.
From a technical standpoint, Infraktor fairs far better. The one-note vocals of Popas threaten to drag Exhaust further into monotony, but guitarists Ricardo Martins and Katito elevate the proceedings with impressively tight riffs, while drummer Francisco Martins displays instrumental initiative through surprisingly smart performances, especially in mid-paced tracks like “Exhaust.” The production is also relatively solid; the master is crushed even further beyond what the modern standard typically allows, but the mix is fairly well balanced despite an utterly obscured bass, and the guitar and drum tones are meaty and impactful.
Production and performances can only carry an album so far, though, and Exhaust just doesn’t possess the variety or creativity to help it stand out. Unless this somehow happens to be one of the first metal records you ever hear, Infraktor will only impress as a reasonably capable diversion, the kind of brainless experience that, under the right circumstances, can serve as a nice palette cleanser between deep-dives into more fulfilling offerings. I could see more instrumental and compositional variety working wonders for this band in the future if successfully coupled with their relentless kinetic energy, but by the time that day arrives – if it ever arrives – I doubt I’ll remember a single riff from Exhaust.