Master gets no respect. Considering they’ve been knocking around for over twenty years and The New Elite marks their 11th album, the band masterminded by Paul Speckmann has always remained a shadow dweller, eternally hovering on the fringes of the death metal scene’s consciousness. I doubt Mr. Speckmann cares one way or the other though, and he seems quite content to release album after album of speedy, slighty punky, old school American death metal (and I mean OLD school). Personally, I’ve always tended to think of Master as more thrash than death metal, since they play a style leftover from a time when death wasn’t all that different from thrash (1985-88). As with the last few albums (actually ALL their albums), The New Elite is overflowing with fast-paced thrash-death that will remind almost every listener of Death‘s Scream Bloody Gore, Possessed‘s Seven Churches or the old demos by Massacre. There are no bells, whistles, pomp, circumstance or frills of any sort contained within these eleven songs, just raging, thrashing energy and nasty-ass, deranged vocals. This isn’t Reign in Blood. Hell, it ain’t even “It’s Raining Men,” but it’s raucous, knuckleheaded proto-death with enough testosterone to reboot Arnold Schwarzenegger’s moribund acting career (or political career, whatevs). These old dogs won’t learn new tricks, but will happily maul the bejesus outta you every few years.
Master is a very reviewer-friendly band, since they require only the slightest of descriptions. All eleven tracks consist of fast and furious thrash riffs, pounding (but never blasting) drums and gurgling, vomitous vocals. There’s virtually no change of tempo from track to track and no attempt to “shake it up” or “expand their horizons.” Each song introduces you to a riff and then shoves it up your ass for three to five minutes. Thankfully, most of said riffs are respectable and a few are quite superb. The element that makes Master such a joy are Speckmann’s vocals. He perpetually sounds as if he’s on the cusp of a mighty dry heave and he has a hysterical tendency to trail off words into nonsensical gurgles (sacrificiaeeeerrrggg-BLAH!!). He frequently reminds me of a diet version of Chris Reifert (Autopsy) and that’s high praise indeed. His loony croaks singlehandedly makes the music worthwhile even when it gets overly similar (I’ve been banned from ever using the term “same-y” again by the powers that be).
While all eleven songs are fun and sure to cause an epidemic of thrashery, the standout for me is the ripping “Rise Up and Fight,” which reminds me of Whiplash‘s classic scorcher “Warmonger” (it also sounds a bit like the mega-ultra-obscure Piledriver). The quick picking riffs gel perfectly with the authentically rabid vocals and the thing just cooks from start to finish. “Redirect the Evil” has a nifty Cannibal Corpse feel to the riffs and Speckmann provides a little extra venom to the vocals for a satisfying blast of ugliness. The solo is so rough around the edges, you can’t help but love it. There’s a bit of an old Kreator vibe in the riffing during “As Two Worlds Collide” and the band seems extra fired up as they bash you with the musical equivalent of a carburetor attached to a baseball bat. Speckmann does his best to end words with puke sounds during “Guide Yourself” and “Twist of Fate” could have fit right in on Death‘s Leprosy.
Though operating as a power-trio, Master has a full, angry sound. Alex “93” is good at churning out hooky riffs to drive the songs along and he’s obviously influenced by the likes of Rick Rozz and King/Hanneman. His solos are unapologetically raw and crude but they fit perfectly. The drumming by Zdenek Pradlovsky is simplistic and follows a traditional, d-beat thrash template but he gets the job done. Again, the main draw for me is Speckmann’s spittle-heavy, frothy roar and he sounds flat-out great here. He isn’t the most extreme, the deepest or loudest roar out there, but he sounds truly berserk and caught up in the manic energy.
Weak points? Well, the utter lack of tempo shifts or diversity of any kind. Eleven tracks of full speed battery is a lot to sit through. There will be some who feel worn out by the fifth or sixth track and long for some type of stylistic break. I’m not asking for a power ballad or a hair metal moment, but a few slower, doomy segments wouldn’t hurt. I can also see this being too primitive, old-timey and one-dimensional for some. Despite its raw energy, this is a far cry from the bone rattling intensity of modern death metal like Blood Mortized or Hate Eternal. I suppose if one didn’t grow up with the classics that influence the Master sound, this may sound quite dated and obsolete.
Master‘s music isn’t complex and it certainly isn’t progressive, but they know how to execute this particular style very well. All eleven songs have their hooks and catchy moments and this is a fun throwback album (as are all their albums). If you want some mindless death-thrash with a healthy nostalgia factor, there is no Master beater (HA). Thanks for the memories Speckmann, see you in a few years for another mauling.