Those who know me barely at all or better can confirm that I will listen to anything. Indiscriminately. Without hesitation. Unless it’s thrash metal or doom metal or speed metal. With these three subgenres of my beloved I am picky, who knows why. Assassin belong to the thrash metal category. Established in 1984 under their current moniker (they spent one or two years under the name Satanica), Assassin only have a few titles under their bullet belt. This is due to a breakup in 1989, but after reuniting in 2002 the band has released material steadily every few years or so. Their sixth platter of Teutonic tonnage, entitled Bestia Immundis, aims to earn my favor. Do they make the cut?
For those scant few of you who do not know by now what German thrash metal sounds like, you can expect chunky riffs saturated in attitude delivered at a pace specifically designed to inflict pain. Sometimes what you hear is sloppy and unhinged, but more often it’s tight as a brand new rubber band, and there’s always an unflappable belligerence to it. Notable purveyors of such include Sodom, Kreator, Destruction and Holy Moses. Assassin sound exactly like the aforementioned bands, but something has always been missing from their formula to set them apart. That remains true regarding Bestia Immundis. The riffs are fair to solid across the board, the drumming is tight and vicious, the vocals acerbic as can be, with lyrics that need not challenge the mind as they attempt to challenge the status quo. In short, all things seem in order. And yet I sit, unenthused. Unstirred. Unresponsive.
There are many individual characteristics to like about Bestia Immundis. It’s chunky and direct, with a surprising amount of melody involved, albeit contained within scattered bursts. Assassin occasionally bring these basic attributes together and form songs that are quite fun. For example, the opener “The Swamp Thing” is a romp through the world of sci-fi quasi-horror themes and wrecking-ball riffs that age well across the song’s four minutes. “The Killing Light,” too, gives listeners the business with a killer chorus that is uncharacteristically melodic for such aggressive thrash, plus some cool guitar licks to boot. Catchy, well structured and tight, closer “Chemtrails (Part 2)” ends the near-fifty-minute record on a high note and encourages replays.
Most of the remaining content, on the other hand, encourages one of the following responses: sighs, snoozes, or oofs. “War Song” recall the glory days of Sodom‘s “Back to War,” eliciting sighs of nostalgia for those who were there, but not much else. “No More Lies” and “Hell’s Work” bring cookie-cutter thrash riffs and all the high-energy pacing expected without any of the bite, causing sighs of frustration at the untapped potential so clearly missed. Snoozes ensue when encountering tracks like “The Wall” and “Chemtrails (Part 1).” In the former’s case, the subject matter dates the track (Americans get one guess as to what that subject is; everyone else gets two because I assume we aren’t the only country with rocks under which one may live) and the song itself stretches itself beyond acceptable limits, resulting in an experience that’s sour from the start through to the end. As for “Chemtrails (Part 2),” it’s an instrumental of no consequence, hence snoozing. Lastly we have the oofs. The biggest oof comes in the form of the ill-rendered “Shark Attack.”1 Not only is that song utterly toothless (and sharks are supposed to have, what, up to fifteen rows of the damned things?), but it’s a jarring detour from the socio-political themes in the adjacent cuts. “How Much Can I Take” is similarly oof-worthy due to a clumsily executed call-and-response chorus and some uncoordinated guitar work.
As you likely deduced by this point, I had more negative things to say about Bestia Immundis than positive. Between the undeniable existence of far superior records from long-standing thrash standbys and the more interesting offerings that hyphenate thrash with death, black and what have you (see Antiverse, Vexovoid, Xoth, etc.), no room remains for reruns of a bygone era. If you are a fiend for all things good old-fashioned thrash, by all means devour Assassin‘s newest entry and know that it has at least a few good moments. Otherwise, just spin Tapping the Vein again. Oh, and by the way, the lot of you are gonna wanna read that there footnote I saw you skip earlier. Pitter-patter!
- “SHARK ATTACK,” blares the Slack trigger, signalling that, once again, I’m needed. Sigh. I was in the middle of … wait, what’s this?! A record featuring a song called “Shark Attack” and TheKenWord is reviewing it?! Alone? No. Not happening. So, in the time-honored tradition of lawyers everywhere, I’ve volunteered to contribute a footnote. Full disclosure, I’ve only listened to “Shark Attack” but I have to hope for Ken‘s sake that it is not representative of the album as a whole. What do you want from thrash? Riffs. Riffs. Oh, and more fucking riffs! Here you get a punk-driven bass and a really compressed drum line that combine effortlessly to drown all the riffage in a muddy – and presumably salty – puddle, until two minutes in when someone suddenly remembers they bought a pedal for their guitar last week. The dual clean-growled vocals are unobjectionable but the lyrics are best ignored. Overall, I think the amount of attention Assassin paid to “Shark Attack” is probably best summed up by the write up it gets in the promo notes, which simply say: ‘Self-explanatory.’ 2.0 – Carcharodon. ↩