The one man thrash brigade is back! That’s right, Joel Grind has crawled back from beyond (Oregon) to hammer us with yet another splatter platter of ugly, primitive but oh-so-good 80’s retro thrash. Mr. Grind has been mucking about as a one-man-band in the retro world since 99′, which makes him one of the originators of the ongoing thrash revival. Whether you love him or hate him depends on your tolerance for thrash and reliving the past. Regardless, here on album four, Conjure and Command, he makes it clear he’s not going away anytime soon. Conjure is yet another huge slab of golden age thrash, written by a true fan of the style for fans of the style. As the album unspools, the listener will hear references to all the great 80’s thrash icons and it plays like a thick, meaty stew loaded with Bay Area and Germanic ingredients. Its almost as if Mr. Grind stumbled across a creepy, Ed Gein style yard sale, the kind with plenty of scary old dolls and strange stuffed animals. Tucked away in the back was a bloody box loaded with the missing riffs of Kreator, Slayer and Destruction. Needless to say, that box was plundered mightily during the making of this album. If thrash gives you a rash, here is your chance to flee. If you feel the need for speed, read on.
To get a flavor for the base sound of Conjure and Command, imagine Bathory opting for a thrash approach on the early albums like The Return. Its a raw, nasty and caustic sound that mixes thrash with crusty punk and it’s glorious! The riffing veers closest to old Slayer but Sodom, Kreator, Exodus and even old Metallica can be heard at various point. Opener “Judgment Awaits You” is all frantic, neck breaking speed with evil riffs and vicious vocals by Grind. “Agony of the Damned” features slow, filthy grinding counterpointed by a melodic lead right off Ride the Lightning and it works damn well. “Bitch” has a classic Sodom vibe (including the theft of the drum lead from “Ausgebombt”) and “Nowhere to Run” has irresistibly catchy but heavy-as-fuck riffing from start to finish. The highlight is either the truly vile sounding “I Am Disease” or the more rocking “The Liars are Burning” but make no mistake, all the songs are old school thrash brilliance. Like all great albums, the devil is in the little details, like “I Am Disease” at 2:16 where it sounds like Grind spontaneously injects a “Hail Satan” right before a break. It makes me smile every time. Adding to the fun, Grind lugs out every possible lyrical cliche from serial killers to devil worship and lovingly pays homage to all.
The guitar tone is eviscerating and sounds like it has a loathsome disease clinging to the strings. You see, Mr. Grind understands that thrash doesn’t work when the guitars are overly clean and sterile. Whether going for quick thrash picking or slow, sludgy riffing, his guitar work is the big attraction here and there are so many skin lacerating riffs, it will shock and awe you (every song is a riff wonderland). Grind’s vocals are also a big part of the charm. He has a rough, raspy shout that falls somewhere between Paul Baloff (Exodus) and Millie Petrozza (Kreator) and he even pulls out a black metal croak sometimes. This is the first album where Grind has some help and the drums by Nikki Rage and bass by Philthy Gnaast play a big part in the album’s success. Everything sounds great and the flavor of the 80’s is nailed to the wall time and again. Likewise, the raw production is exactly what is needed to let the songs moulder, ferment and foment. It sounds as it should: toxic.
Look, I know many are tired of the retro thrash trend and I’m aware you can’t spell retro thrash without rehash. In all honestly, I’m growing weary of it too but when a real barn-burner of an album comes along and you find yourself replaying every song after the first listen, there’s no point in whining about trends or originality. The fact is, this is the most pure and also the most fun thrash album of the year and its every bit as good as the stellar An Overdose of Death opus from 2008. Paul Grind is an absolute thrash monster and from one fan of the genre to the other, thanks brother, keep grinding!