Death-thrash is the ultimate extreme metal throwback, harkening to the days before death metal was death metal by re-investigating the genre’s roots and reinvigorating its gloominess and brutality through fast-paced, angry guitar abuse. It’s never going to push boundaries, but that’s not really the point – at this stage in its life, thrash has become ever more nostalgic for the days of yore, and what better way to tint one’s glasses rosy than to splatter them with blood. Memphis-based three-piece Shards of Humanity is ready to render those lenses opaque with their debut, Fractured Frequencies, a dirty, riff-obsessed tribute to the birth of death. Is Death-worship enough to pull them out of the rut of re-thrash?
If “Aphoticism” is your magic 8-ball, signs point to yes [You mean Magic Hate Ball. — Steel Druhm]. Its incredibly fast-paced shredding recalls Spiritual Healing-era Schuldiner riffs and its breakneck drumming matches both their intensity and variability. Guitarist/vocalist Todd Cochran’s throaty screams have a great mid-90s Death vibe while remaining distinctly his own and lying comfortably in the middle of the mix. By taking a lot of influence from the biggest names in thrash (there’s a bunch of Testament-ish tendencies here) and the pioneers of death metal, Shards of Humanity brings enough diversity to the table to keep things interesting throughout the album. If you want a more straightforward thrash song, “Astral Agony” is your go-to. Want something more diverse? Check out fantastic opener “Fractured Frequencies” or the album’s finale, “Suspension.” But despite few missteps in the songwriting department, there are distinct problems with Fractured Frequencies.
Like all death metal bands that want to disappoint me, Shards of Humanity has no bassist. Their three-piece setup uses two guitarists (one handling vocals) and a drummer, which doesn’t seem to quite get the job done. While there are no lackluster performances on the album, it still feels like all of the music was written for the band’s original two piece setup. Rarely are the two guitars fully utilized – the peak of their interplay is “Internal Rot,” which differentiates them more than any other track, but still sees both of the guitarists playing mostly the same riffs with a few flourishes to separate them. Even the discernable basslines, of which there are few, serve only to mimic the riffs an octave down. What’s the point of more instruments if you’re not going to use them properly?
Slight lack of low-end notwithstanding, this album sounds damn good. It doesn’t sound refined, dazzling, or even that well-produced. It sounds like fucking thrash. The guitars are big, shaky and gristly, beating riffs within an inch of their life and possibly a few centimeters further. The drums sound good as well; the kicks are meaty, the snare taut, but not too piercing and the cymbals are quite organic, if a bit quiet at times. Considering that the percussionist’s performance is excellent across the board, this is a huge boon to the music.
As much as I detest throwbacks, this is a damn good album and well worth the time of any death or thrash fan who wants something a bit different. While I doubt Fractured Frequencies is going to be on regular rotation for me, it’s a great debut for the band and it’s about as solid as Death-influenced re-thrash can be. Any album that inspires me to listen to Symbolic after it’s over is a winner in my book.