This site has no shortage of writers that enjoy a good face-peel, so thrash albums typically fly off the shelves. Add a cute little “groove/” tag to the front and suddenly you can’t move that shit for a ticket to one of Doc Grier’s famous tea parties.1 But not all groove is equal, as the entirely serious Silius wants us to remember. Once upon a time, the genre actually added diversity and potency to a stalling thrash arena. Debut Hell Awakening is by no means throwback, but their energy calls to mind a bygone era, a time when groove wasn’t irradiated by two decades’ worth of failings.
If there’s a bright spot on Hell Awakening, it’s the riffs. Cut ‘em wide, cut ‘em tall, cut ‘em any way you like, main axeman Haui and partner-in-crime Mex have got you covered. Whether setting the table on “Seven Demons,” throttling down for some classic Pantera on “War Planet,” or shit-kicking through the Down-tinged “Kingdom of Betrayal,” Silius handily service the primary directive of all thrash hopefuls: riffs, riffs and more riffs. The Austrians avoid simple Pantera worship by spicing their groove with a southern flair and zipping through more thrash influences than you can rattle a snake at. Highlight “Message in a Molotov” draws the album’s consistent Metallica presence to a ripping conclusion by balancing it against Testament and some down-home grooves. The best songs on the album tend to be fast – big shocker, I know. However, they succeed primarily because Silius build an identity around that speed without sacrificing the strength of their grooves. Alongside a contemporary like Voice of Ruin, another band with noteworthy guitar-work but simplicity and identity issues, the stellar riffcraft of Silius shines all the brighter.
It is unfortunate then that Mottl’s vocals are so burdensome. If the goal here was to debase an already tired groove standard to total unpalatability, everyone involved deserves a gold star. The attempt to stuff some Steve Souza into his Phil Anselmo is apparent, but it achieves none of the very basic things that a vocalist needs to be successful. There’s no charisma, no catchiness, no aggression, no weight. To his credit, Mottl can carry a tune, but that’s as generous as I can be with coarse tones that could be sold as sandpaper for the ears. Even disregarding the vocals, Hell Awakening is uneven. As strong as the riffs are – and there are instances where they falter – the album sometimes lacks the cohesion to tie it all together, resulting in a disparate sound that sometimes feels like it doesn’t fit.
The end result pits riffs in a constant tug of war with the vox for the soul of the album. “Message in a Molotov” handily wins the contest by relegating Mottl to the occasional scream and letting Haui and Mex do all the work. “Tool of Destruction” takes a different tack, slowly grooving through a track that sees Mottl largely shift away from his standard fare to a surprisingly solid spoken stance similar to Anselmo’s on “Suicide Note, Pt. 1.” These incidents suggest circumventing Mottl’s presence is entirely possible, but it’ll require a full bag of tricks and likely be more trouble than it’s worth. The production treats the guitars well — the tones handle both sultry groove and blistering thrash with equal ability — but the drums punch well below their weight. What about the bass, you say? Nearly non-existent, with not so much as a bar-end noodle on any of the full speed tracks and barely hanging on to quieter parts of “Kingdom of Betrayal.”
In a just world, Silius could subsist on riffs alone and I’d hit this with a 3.5 and move on. In the shitty funhouse dimension we’ve got, the quality riffcraft is a great start but cannot overcome its surrounding deficiencies. Moving away from groove’s tradition of relying on magnetic frontmen would hardly be a bad move; Silius have a good riff base to work from. But being forced into that decision puts the band in a much tougher decision. It’s a shame because Hell Awakening’s riffs pack a head-snapping wallop a cut above the other beefy thrash albums I’ve heard this year. It’s the rest of it that needs work.