Algebra is an emotionally loaded word for old Holdeneye. On one hand, it reminds me of the fact that I possess a bachelor’s degree in mathematics that I’ve never used and reminds me that the process of procuring said degree through attending courses like Abstract Algebra totally sucked all of the enjoyment I once had for the subject right out of me. On the other hand, the word reminds me of how I finally worked up the courage to ask the future Mrs. Holdeneye to our high school homecoming banquet (we weren’t allowed to dance in Baptist school, because Satan). Being the pragmatic woman that she is, she agreed on the condition that I help her with her Algebra II homework. So, in a way, my children owe their very existence to algebra. All of this history left me no choice when a promo with this band name appeared in the bin—I simply had to solve for x.
On their third full-length, Pulse?, Swiss thrashers Algebra explore some science not-so-fiction topics like artificial intelligence and robots through a groovy yet technically proficient thrash lens. Chaos Edy handles lead guitar and vocal duties. His grunts are reminiscent of those of Max Cavalera, and when combined with the bouncing and aggressive riff style of Phil Void and the lyrics warning of future societal calamities, you can’t help but feel that the spirit of classic Sepultura is being conjured. Add to this base the ability to create intricately technical yet catchy tunes like countrymates Coroner, a sprinkle of the epic exploration found on the early Metallica records, and a massive but spacious modern production, and you’ve got a recipe for a potential modern thrash classic.
The first minute of embedded track “Digital Master” tells you almost every thing you need to know about Algebra and Pulse?. Tony Sharp is an absolute monster on the drums during the intro and Mat Jass’ bass is omnipresent as a main riff emerges that carries the song into nearly crossover thrash levels of headbangability. Then Edy’s unique lead style rears its head with a classic harmonized thrash solo that’s laced with odd little uplifting passages, making the song a fresh take on a tried and true genre. “Quantum God” features a fantastic melodic intro that allows each and every band member to shine before dropping into a driving Slayer riff, and “Addicted to Authority” explores some Brave New World concepts with some leads and rhythms that would bring a smile to Dave Mustaine’s face. The title track is the record’s most ambitious eight minutes with a furious front half, a solo that almost hints at surf guitar, and a final few minutes that sound like they belong in one of the classic Metallica instrumentals.
The only misstep arrives in the form of “Concrete Jungle,” a track that uses some vocal harmonies that land a little flat and sound like a bad version of something you’d find on a second generation grunge record. The record closes with a competent cover of Sepultura‘s “Dead Embryonic Cells,” but on an album that clocks in at 57 minutes, it feels unnecessary. Cut the cover and “Concrete Jungle” and you’re looking at possibly the most lethal and fresh look at thrash metal to be found in 2019, a fact aided by a monster production that gives enough space for the bass to cut through while still allowing the guitars and drums to land with crushing impact.
Don’t ask me to show my work, but if Pulse? = x then x = one of my favorite thrash albums of the year. While Inculter absolutely nailed the classic thrash aesthetic and maintains the genre crown for 2019 in my eyes, Algebra shows what you can do with thrash when you push it forward with modern production techniques and a focus on unique songwriting. The aforementioned flaws keep me from going higher with the score, but I’m going to go ahead and predict that Algebra will eventually discover the equation to produce a true thrashterpiece. In the meantime, there’s more than enough here to set your pulse
? a racin’.