Rigor Mortis is about as cult a name as there is in the annals of thrash. Unable to capitalize on the genre’s first wave in the mid 80s, the band’s 88′ debut was a wild, almost cartoonish dose of speed with death undertones that arrived just in time for the entire thrash genre to start the trip over the proverbial cliff due to oversaturation. Adding insult to injury, they were unable to manage a timely follow-up until 1991, by which time the cats were out of the thrash bag, Nirvana ruled the roost and metal was in full retreat back to the underground. Now a mere 23 years after their last output, we get their comeback album, Slaves to the Grave, but even this didn’t arrive without tragedy, trials and obstacles. Though the album was completed in 2012, original guitarist Mike Scaccia died on stage shortly thereafter. Then they had difficulty nailing down a distribution deal and ultimately, the band had to resort to crowd funding.
Two years later, Slaves finally sees the light of day, now acting as a tribute to Mr. Scaccia and surprising, the ravages of time have scarcely touched their old timey sound. They’re every bit as manic as ever, especially with Bruce Corbitt (Warbeast) making a triumphant return to the vocal slot, resulting in much hysterical shouting, slobbering and foaming at the mouth. All that time lost in limbo did allow the band to add a few new textures and wrinkles to their core sound however, some of which are rather surprising. Though I didn’t expect much from this, it’s definitely one of the biggest surprises of the year.
You won’t need to wait long to be impressed, as opener “Poltergeist” uncorks a shit ton of frenzied, swarming riffs rooted in early death and black metal. Corbitt sounds both threatening and oddly comical as he comes unglued, and Scaccia’s solos are berserk, whammy heavy exercises in excess. At the halfway point the song abruptly shifts into a three minute solo by Scaccia that’s extremely melodic, trippy and thoroughly beautiful. It makes almost no sense from a song writing perspective, but it totally works and you have to doff your cap to the wily vets for pulling it off.
Things get much more conventional thereafter, with “Rain of Ruin” delivering jackhammer riffs and staccato drumming as Corbitt blathers his lunatic manifestos. It isn’t innovative, but big points must be awarded for their knuckle dragging enthusiasm. Much better is “Flesh for Flies,” which is like old Dark Angel on meth and bath salts. It’s a suffocating, relentless assault of hyperactive riffing and vocals that rival the old Carnivore albums for bombast and balls (“I’ll grind your bones, I’ll eat your soul, I’ll use your skull for my dinner bowl”). It took me a few days to realize who this reminded me of, and that’s equally long forgotten Blessed Death and their zany Destined for Extinction platter. Also irresistible is the marriage of ear candy NWoBHM riffing with thrash on “The Infected.”
Is it a complete success? No, since they drop the ball with the poorly conceived and WAY too long closer “Ludus Magnus,” which is loaded down with Grade Z voiceovers inspired by Gladiator and Spartacus. They’re bad enough to make the voice acting on the Rhapsody of Fire albums seem Oscar worthy and they utterly ruin the song. It’s a terrible way to end a really enjoyable album and I’m unsure what the band was thinking here.
Slaves is a bittersweet showcase for the late Mr. Scaccia’s talents and when you hear this guy rip things up, you’ll understand why Al Jourgensen recruited him to help out on his many musical projects from Ministry to Revolting Cocks. The man could really shred and even in the limited confines of a thrash album, his talent looms large. His solos are often savage, but loaded with cool ideas and when he actually takes the time to flex his chops, the results never cease to impress (2:21 and 4:28 of “Bloodbath” for example). It’s a window into what a thrash album would sound like with Joe Satriani onboard and that in itself makes for a worthy listen. Of course, the passing of such a talent also makes this a buzzkill, but at least fans have this final dose of stellar musicianship to remember the man by.
It’s great fun to hear Bruce Corbitt on vocals again and as he throws himself into his performance with manic glee, and you can tell he’s loving every minute of it. Oddly, as he’s aged, his vocals have become shockingly similar to the late Dave Brockie (AKA Oderus Urungus of Gwar). At times this makes things sound a bit more cornball than intended, but it’s a small matter and gives the album an added sheen of lunatic fun.
Comeback of the year? They’ll have to fight with Godflesh for that honor, but this a very good return by a band I considered dead forever. Old school thrash with a tongue-in-cheek attitude and a progressive touch is a rare bird and the value of such a brainlessly fun album shouldn’t be overlooked. Hear this wicked biscuit and rejoice! Rest in peace, Mike. Way to go out with a bang.
DR: 7 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbp MP3
Label: Self Release
Release Dates: Out Worldwide 10.07.2014