While the cliché has been beaten into the dust, came again, and was beaten further until it returned unto the dust, let me use it just one more time: death-thrash is like pizza – even when it’s not great, it’s still good. This little corner of the metalverse has given me the two things I crave when listening to metal – riffs and energy – in spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds. This is because, by and large, death-thrash doesn’t lose sight of writing actual songs and tends to avoid anything approaching experimentation, which is to its advantage; why tinker with great riffs and high energy? Maligner, a new death-thrash band from Sweden, have decided to enter the arena and test out their arsenal of riffs.
Death-thrash from Sweden reminds of one band and often one band only: Merciless. The Awakening remains one of the more vicious metal records ever recorded, and Maligner have clearly taken some influence from their legendary countrymen. That said, there’s a lot more here in terms of influence. Gene Palubicki’s Angelcorpse-meets-thrash project Blasphemic Cruelty sounds similar in a lot of ways, which leads me to believe that Maligner are Angelcorpse fans and have found that influence works in death-thrash in one particular way. Old Sepultura, here meaning pre-Arise, is another band Maligner are obviously fond of. There’s also a lot of old – meaning pre-Human – Death influence going on to bolster the death side of the death-thrash equation.
If you think this sounds good, we think a lot alike. If that’s true, you’ll find plenty to like “Disposable,” a song which is anything but. This is largely due to the guitar solos, of which there are three. The first is played over the clean guitar intro, and is almost bluesy in an understated way. The second is a harmonized segment that’s almost pure Death, and that’s a good thing here. The third is a brief dive-bomb followed up by a spastic bit of shredding, comparable in style but paling in quality to Gary Holt’s recognizable approach. “Salvation” has a midsection riff which aims to curb-stomp anyone in earshot, and is my favorite lead on the record by a long shot. There’s even a bit of that Palubicki end-of-measure shredding that made Blasphemic Cruelty interesting, and it works rather well within that context.
The biggest issue Maligner has is that everything needed for a great death-thrash record is here minus that beating heart which drives the blood through the veins of genre classics: truly killer riffs. “Mental Breakdown” is fast, even bordering on frantic, and the energy is there. Unfortunately, its main riffs are largely rote and forgettable, creating the bizarre experience of enjoying what you’re hearing but not being able to remember a note afterwards, and then wondering why you enjoyed it in the first place. “Into Oblivion” has a chorus that’s Death minus the thrash, reminding me of the better Cist and sounding rather jarring in context. “Oath-Bound” shifts almost all of the focus during its chorus to the vocals, embarks on a strange midsection which sees Maligner trying to be Suffocation for a second, and finally moves from a lackluster staccato section to a solo that’s not melodic enough to be guitar heroics nor chaotic enough to be the classic cat-strangler Slayer style of lead. It’s just technically impressive but forgettable, a statement which can accurately be applied to much of Attraction to Annihilation.
I’m left with a record I feel like I should like more but simply can’t in Attraction to Annihilation. It’s entertainingly fast, but tends to overuse nondescript tremolo-picked riffs which fail to make themselves noticed. Songs are structured coherently, but have an impressive amount of variation; this speaks to good songwriting skills in the technical sense. Also impressive is the band’s instrumental skill, but this unfortunately leads to an overabundance of riffs that sound more clinical than punishing, which is decidedly a bane for this style of music. Maligner’s best riffs are often their more chuggy ones, but these are used sparingly to make room for fast and technical showcases that make little impression beyond the fact that I’m impressed by Maligner as musicians. With all of the above said, I’m absolutely not prepared to call Attraction to Annihilation a bad album, because it’s not. It’s merely an ephemeral one, which will leave memory and rotation as quickly as it entered both. The band’s skill and energy nonetheless prove exciting for the future, but for 2018 there’s myriad better records.