I may be a big ol’ dork for it, but I fucking love karaoke. The local rock bar has organized a few Heavy Karaoke nights, where the list includes the likes of Amon Amarth and Bloodbath alongside the usual Bonnie Tyler and Aerosmith. There’s something about getting on a tiny stage and growling your best rendition of “Twilight of the Thunder God” in front of an audience too drunk to care about the quality of your voice, and loudly applauding a shy and visibly shaken girl for a surprisingly good Nightwish performance is downright wholesome. That does not, however, mean I want to be reminded of karaoke when I listen to an album. Destiny Awaits, the debut of Australian retro thrashers Armata, does exactly that.
Armata stepped right out of the mid-’80s with Destiny Awaits. Their sound is comprised of two major contributors: early Metallica and Megadeth. In fact, these two join forces in vocalist Dylan’s throat, hovering somewhere between Mustaine and Hetfield like the world’s most ironic hate-born offspring. The sound is most closely aligned with the raw energy of Kill ‘Em All, less so the more sophisticated later albums (“later” meaning before they went off the rails, obviously). It’s mostly fast-to-mid paced material, with dryly crackling drums and a focus on snappy triplets and sharp riffs.
The problem with retro thrash is, we’ve heard it all before. Literally in this case, because several tracks blatantly crib from classic thrash songs. The riff in the first half of “We Failed” barely differs from Megadeth’s “Symphony of Destruction,” while “Affliction Humanity” gets real cozy with Metallica’s “Battery.” This copy-pasting behavior makes every riff suspect of plagiarism, and I don’t throw that term around lightly when it comes to music. But even when they’re not sucking too directly from the teat of their forebears, close inspection of the music reveals a host of details gone wrong. Several solos skid off-track. The drummer messes up a few transitions. It’s sloppy playing, and when you’re aping some of metal’s most classic bands you better make sure your chops are up to the task.
But what about the karaoke factor? That has to do with the production. You see, that local rock bar doesn’t actually have the karaoke (i.e. vocal-free) versions of most of the tracks in their record bank. In order for the participants not to have to compete with the sound system, they turn down the music a bit, so the vocals of whoever’s on stage are much louder than the music. Now, I’m usually fairly lenient towards mixing vocals too high, but the way Destiny Awaits is mixed strongly reminds me of those karaoke nights, with the music way down and the vocals way up. It’s one of the worst mixing jobs I’ve heard, and inconsistent too; the bass is very present one song, almost gone the next, and though the vocals are always far too loud, the issue is notably worse on “Toxic Mutant Overlords” than the title track, the very next song. Having a great DR score doesn’t mean a thing when the mix is butchered this bad.
The inconsistency in the execution and the production made me wonder whether all of the tracks were from the same recording session. Lo and behold, several tracks were also featured on their previous EP from 2015, and from the sound of things, they were not re-recorded for the full-length. With a band this young, over three years of development makes a lot of difference, and I’m convinced they could have made a tighter, more consistent album, with fewer glaring flaws, had they bothered to make a new recording of their old tracks. It just seems lazy, and if there’s one moment not to be lazy it’s when your band is in the studio for your debut album. However, it still wouldn’t have fixed the blatant aping in the songwriting and the terrible balance in the mix. Armata need to get their shit together and apply themselves if they ever want to play their way out of basement bars.