As Eldritch Elitist pointed out in his recent review of Antipeewee‘s Infected by Evil, thrash in 2018 often takes the form of exercise, rather than expression, as bands scramble — and fail — to recapture the magic of the genre’s ’80s heyday. As far as I’m concerned, thrash was over even before Metallica jumped the shark and became a hard rock band; Megadeth‘s Rust in Peace effectively obviated any attempt to further the genre (and art itself if you trust The Onion) back in 1990, and the thrash of the present day for the most part either ignores or emulates the record. But that doesn’t mean emulation can’t still be fun and Degrave are well aware of that fact. Their self-titled sophomore effort pays homage to the ‘deth and other well-respected thrash acts like Voivod, never reaching too far from its scrappy re-hashing.
To their credit, Degrave provides exactly what I want out of re-thrash: wild guitars, interesting songs, and a devil-may-care approach to it all. “Telegraft” kicks things off with aplomb, stringing solos together Megadeth-style around synchronized licks and a show-tune style ending. “Hatriot” kicks off with another deth-ism, the overly-long bass intro, and true to form you’d never figure out where the downbeat is due to a combination of odd timing and the fact that it sounds like the bass is being played backward for the first ten seconds. Between these bookends, the band unleashes a torrent of pure, if not always memorable, thrash.
The charm of Degrave stems both from its earnestness and from the band’s imperfect execution of the written material. Tricky opening riffs in “Telegraft” and “Grander Grandeur” fall just slightly out of time with the drums, adding a lot of character to the band’s performance and making the album feel planted within the aesthetics of thrash, a genre that’s never been about that studio-perfect take. Further confusion occurs in “Hatriot” when the syncopated main riff is backed by snares on the back beat. But this time, the band nails it, even though it takes levels of concentration usually saved for Meshuggah records to parse. Yet for all these little joys, it’s the written material itself that makes the album. These are solid songs, and the band feel just as comfortable working through seven minutes of riffs on “Tortured” as they do banging out the three-minute “New World Disorder” immediately after.
True to form, there’s little apparent studio wizardry going on with Degrave; the record sounds crisp and live, and though the vocals sit a bit too high in the mix, it only takes a song or two to get used to. Everything else about the album sounds great; lively drums, a well-placed bass, and guitars that shred and scream just when they need to. Add in a fairly dynamic master and you’ve got an album that sounds both thrashy and poised. In a way, it’s a microcosm of what Degrave have to offer: music that may be derivative and imperfect, but is at the same time very charming and well thought out.
It struck me at times that Degrave might have made an entirely average re-thrash album here that transcends mediocrity based only on the band’s perfectly imperfect regurgitation of the genre. If that’s true and I enjoy Degrave solely because I avoid almost all other re-thrash, so be it; I’m happy to be happy with this one cheesy record when (for medical reasons) I must listen to a pale imitation of the ’80s. Yet I’m convinced now that Degrave‘s dependable songwriting and palpable charm are the real heroes here, making for a record that even hardened thrash connoisseurs who have heard this all before can dig into.