Like other hybrid genres, death thrash is inherently diverse. On one hand, you have bands like Deceased and Vader who throw occasional thrashy riffs and old school guitar leads into a classic death metal template; on the other hand, you have bands who take Testament-style thrash as a foundation and stack on harsher vocals and heavier riffing characteristic of death metal. Italy’s Methedras fall into the latter category. The style they play has never really exploded in popularity the way retro-thrash did a few years back, which may explain why Methedras have remained relatively unknown despite forming in 1996 and releasing three full-lengths in the 2000s. Their newest album, System Subversion, marks the band’s return after a five year absence following 2009’s Katarsis.
Regardless of the amount of time since their last album, Methedras’s experience is evident on System Subversion. In opener “Subversion,” the band kick in with a Pantera-esque chug before descending into a flurry of frenetic riffing that slows only for some additional chugging and slamming chords that burst in for the finale. Tracks like “Thrown Away” and “Brawl” are further testaments to the songwriting prowess here – the former with a quick cyclical riff that crescendos before collapsing into a headbangable verse, the latter coupling fast guitar-work with a rapid-fire chord progression that’s backed by uplifting electronic tones. These electronic embellishments are found in other tracks as well, most notably “You Got It,” where parts sound like someone is frantically adjusting radio dials in the background. While odd, the electronics give the record a unique and contemporary flair and remain subtle enough to avoid detracting from the music.
The vocals, however, are anything but subtle. Opting mostly for a deep gruff shout with a bit of Southern-style attitude (think Randy Blythe if he were to front a death metal group), they’re aggressive and comprehensible, and usually complement the music well. Usually. Unfortunately, several of these songs feature a chorus consisting of bellowing clean vocals that add little to the compositions. The choruses aren’t intolerable and don’t disturb the flow within a song, but they don’t feel necessary – particularly on “Dead Memories” where the chorus’s mediocrity is immediately apparent once the singing stops and the riff in the background is allowed to shine through in all its glory.
Fortunately, the production only enhances riffs like this. With a clear and sharp sound, the guitarwork carves its way through and serves as the prominent element. It’s also refreshing to hear modern production that isn’t brickwalled. Although System Subversion is nearly 50 minutes in length, one can listen to the whole thing from front to back without experiencing any fatigue on the ears sound-wise.
That being said, 50 minutes is awfully long for an album of this style, and while the production won’t tire one out, the music itself might [The condition commonly known as “thrash fatigue.” — Dr. Steel, M.D.]. There isn’t any dip in quality throughout, but there aren’t any real highlights, either. The songwriting is strong, the riffing is generally enjoyable, the interplay between the drums and guitars is tight – but, truth is, most of the material is unremarkable. A bit more diversity would have been welcome. Other than the grooves in opener “Subversion” and closer “Distorted Emotion,” there’s a noticeable lack of quieter or slower moments – not required for a thrash album, sure, but their inclusion wouldn’t have hurt on an album this long. Even the closer misses its opportunity to stand out. Instead of a triumphant finish, the band slogs through a fairly typical track before limping away as a barely-decent riff fades to silence.
Overall, this is a good album, but it’s not high enough quality to leave a lasting impression. Fans of bands like Legion of the Damned who can tolerate some iffy cleaner vocals will enjoy this as a solid example of modern death thrash. It’s competent, it’s well-produced, it’s high-energy – but unfortunately, it’s far from revolutionary. Methedras can write a decent song, but that isn’t enough for them to claw their way out of the underground and into worldwide prominence.