If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The saying, as American as “You bet yer ass,” sums up the modern “evolution” of thrash. Aside from a few tweaks, bands today shred much the same way they did 30 years ago, and that’s just the way Panikk like it. The Slovenians sport the same retro-thrash sound fans have been subjected to for over a decade, now complete with an Eastern European accent. This schtick may not be tired, not just yet, but there’s no doubting its age. It’s up to sophomore effort Discarded Existence to prove Panikk don’t belong on the shuffleboard circuit.
“Instigator of War” opens by quickly checking a lot of retro thrash boxes. Gašper Flere and Jaka Črešnar share the spotlight, ramping up their thrash attack with gang shouts, heavily accented lead vocals and hard-edged Bay Area riffs. Flere’s mic skills cut quite the peculiar image, filtering the youthful looseness of Vio-lence’s Sean Killian and cadence of Gama Bomb’s Philly Byrne through a distinctly foreign pronunciation. For his part, Črešnar eschews long strings of Lich King-style picking in favor of thicker, chord-based riffs without abandoning tasty tempo shifts and breakneck passages. Like Havok and Violator before them (and Municipal Waste before them), Panikk furiously chips away at the crossover-pliable monuments erected by Vio-lence and Exodus way back when. The track never feels long in the tooth despite a six-minute run, but it lacks culmination thanks to some of the weaker solo-work on the album. Fortunately, the Flere-Črešnar brain trust excel at churning out meaty riffs across Discarded Existence’s 40 minutes, starting with the vicious intro to follow-up “Sedated in Utopia.” Head-bangers “Individual Right” and “Eyes Don’t Lie” lead a pack of tunes both satisfyingly consistent and capable of offering a nougat or two to chew on over the course of the listen.
But try as I might, I can’t shake the feeling that Panikk need something else to put them over the top. Discarded Existence suffers most notably in the memorability department. Very little of what they do stands apart from the pack. Good riffs, but not transcendent; up-and-down solo-work; ensemble instruments present and accounted for; I simply cannot divine a prominent, defining success the way I can with Panikk’s contemporaries. Their most striking characteristic, the vocals, grate more often than grin. Where Gama Bomb offered high times and pulpy laughs and Lich King flipped off black metal (and their own fans), Panikk touch on abortion (“Individual Right”), current events (“Sedated in Utopia”), and society-at-large (Every Other Frigging Song). This stone-faced seriousness offers no real charisma, a problem only compounded by Flere’s singing/shouting/sneering. His accented vocals command most of your attention but derive their memorability mostly from distraction. Straining through occasional ESL hiccups — “People follow me, I’m a city!” — seemingly every lyrical tack on Discarded Existence bears a lack of enunciation and a hammer-meets-nail bluntness that vacuum the charm out of the track. Without complexity or eloquence, and without additional vocal merit, Panikk are at their best when they let their music talk instead of Flere.
Truth be told, Panikk’s attempt at retro thrash appeals to me more than the other thrash camp being run into the ground. I adore the recent work of folks like Havok and Lich King, and the floor for my enjoyment within the genre is surprisingly high. As such, I find myself rooting for Panikk, in spite of the negatives. Their 24-hour riff buffet is open for business, with Flere and Črešnar serving up delicacies in heaps and mounds. Their tracks develop well and rarely grow stale, with even average tracks like “Rotten Cells” and “Reconstruction” growing into their five minute plays. The consistency of Discarded Existence goes a long way toward making the album a repeat listen.
Panikk’s path forward reminds me of Suppressive Fire’s initial forays; both bands started small before improving in notable measures. Incremental steps might not yield immediate satisfaction, but with time Panikk could develop into a bonafide success. If Flere finds a happy middle ground between “memorable” and “lurid” (and finds someone else to write his lyrics), his vocals may yet blossom into a boon. For now, Discarded Existence flash enough quality riffs and show enough promise to keep me intrigued. If they unearth a musical raison d’etre before their next entry, all the better.