Have you ever wondered what Lanfear would sound like if they played old-school thrash metal? How about if Atlantean Kodex had listened more to Exodus than Epicus Doomicus Metallicus? If you said yes to both those questions, then you are Steel Druhm and I claim my five pounds. But in case you are the one other person that answered in the affirmative: this might be the record you’re looking for. See, Lanfear guitarist Markus Ullrich and drummer Jurgen Schrank have joined forces with Atlantean Kodex singer Markus Becker under the pedant-angering banner Septagon and are eager to prove that, if you replace the partying and pizza-addiction with some songwriting depth and plenty of melody, there’s life in the poor flayed nag-carcass of re-thrash yet. So, how do these intrepid Teutons fare?
Honestly better than I expected. Unless it’s a group of wonders like Bloodbath, side-project homages to heroes are frequently self-indulgent snooze-fests, and while I enjoy Lanfear, I’ve never particularly understood the devotion Atlantean Kodex inspire in their doting fans. But Septagon keep things interesting by incorporating a broad range of influences and writing catchy, but not simplistic, songs with strong melodies. In fact what with Becker’s consistently clean vocals and the odd bit of twin-lead showboating, Deadhead Syndicate hovers over the edge of the thrash/speed/power metal border like an Artillery-powered blimp laden with Heathens, navigating clear of the Forbidden re-thrash Realm altogether.
Revolt Against the Revolution” – the first track proper after a throwaway acoustic intro – exemplifies this mix of styles and their knack for combining catchy hooks into more complex songs. Opening with an epic build, Becker’s simple vocal lines make their first appearance after two minutes, enhanced by layered harmonies and sitting nicely over the top of the thrashing guitars. We’re treated to another build and some guitar histrionics before the song closes, leading to the shorter “Exit… Gunfire,” one of the straightest speed/power metal tracks on the album with a super-catchy chorus that wouldn’t be out of place on a Persuader record. The diversity continues across the album, from “Ripper,” which hints at what Iced Earth might have come up with if they’d made Horror Show in the 80s, to the epic “Septagon Conspiracy” with its Vektor-like, spacey black metal breaks, to closer “Secret Silver Panorama Machine” that pitches Peace Sells… swagger alongside soaring power metal choruses. All packed into a neat forty minutes.
I’m holding back from giving this a ringing endorsement, fun though it is. Septagon distinguish themselves with their diversity and their songwriting skill may be superior, but the actual riffs and vocal melodies never quite attain that feeling of awesomeness you get when listening to Breaking the Silence, Twisted into Form or Endless War. Partly the riffs just aren’t as good – though to be fair all the good stock was used up by about 1991 – but partly this comes down to Becker’s vocal delivery. His voice, though tonally great, is too clear, and lacks the passion and edge required by the material. The odd slightly off-key note adds some grit, but the diverse songs are crying out for a more varied delivery – compare and contrast with the vocals on any of the above-mentioned records (especially Realm).
The production is also too clean – the guitars deserve more filth and the drums feel too dry, detracting from the authenticity and reducing that sense of danger thrash needs. But of course the most damaging aspect of the production is… the mastering! No prizes for guessing that this is heavily compressed, which contributes to the sonic sterility as well as severely limiting the impact of the well-crafted build-ups and breaks. And there’s clipping. Of course.
So while Septagon have produced a surprisingly enjoyable record, it doesn’t quite offer enough to guarantee receiving repeated spins. It’s nice to hear some retro speed metal that does things a little differently from the bloated re-thrash scene, and Septagon might just have it in them to produce a modern classic, but unfortunately Deadhead Syndicate isn’t it.