I know this will be a shocker to many, but it appears that Dr. Grier‘s second review of 2016 is a thrashy one. This time, however, it’s not a by-the-numbers release of straightforward Metallica, Slayer, or Exodus brown-nosing. Instead, Raw delivers thrash on a death backdrop with a permanent varnish of punkish accents. On paper it’s just the right combination of elements to instill those tingling feelings one gets when the urge to smash shit arises. Much like the name, Raw‘s songwriting is a simplistic delivery of crushing riffs and thrashy breakdowns, frenetic guitar work and sporadic soloing set at a steady 1000-mph, resulting in concise song and album lengths. Raw self-released their first record (Moshpit) in 2009 before signing to MDD Records for Rawzilla, and these German thrashers open up the New Year with their most finely honed effort to date: Battalion of Demons. But what does “honed” mean for a band that’s on their third album of the same material? The word suggests consistency but, beyond that, it means you’re either gonna love Battalion of Demons or hate it.
The title track gets the heart-o’-pumping with bludgeoning death-crossover flavorings, alternating rasps/growls (which remind me of Ghoul/Impaled), and a punky “upbeat” character. For those familiar with the band, you will not be disappointed by the thrashing, head-banging chugs found in the midway breakdown of this three-minute assault. “Battalion of Demons” is a decent opener and a good representation of what to expect, both on Battalion of Demons and their two previous releases. Sadly, however, there are only a few tracks equally as compelling as the opener. The others either fall just below the watermark or miss it entirely.
Other ditties worthy of a listen are “Shell Shock,” “Dark Clouds,” and the closer, “Rawmetal Thrashsquad” (autocarrot be damned). “Shell Shock” is a no-fuck-around thrash number with a house-toppling breakdown and a concluding riff with a sweet touch o’ death meant to leave swelling and discoloration above your cheek bones. “Dark Clouds” sports some pleasing deathisms, the word “fuck,” and the goose-bump inducing “dark clouds!” ejaculation from vocalist Philip Lehmann. The closer, on the other hand, fashions some old-school riffage, loads of gang shouts, thrashing solos, and the kind of bludgeoning expected from the bastard child of a Ghoul/Toxic Holocaust one-night stand.
As mentioned, the other tracks aren’t quite up to snuff, and the main problem is the lack of diversity throughout (and album-to-album, for that matter). “Career Decisions” lets the bass guitar rule the day, but the song itself is too predictable. The vocal diversity of “Stop Asking” stretches beyond the limits of the standard rasps and barks, resulting in downright aggressive fervor, but the songwriting doesn’t support it. And though the idiotically titled “Death Bacteria” and “Full Speed Ahead” roam into melodic territories, these tracks still leave much to be desired. I can’t believe that a twelve-track, thirty-minute record overstays its welcome—especially in comparison to the twenty-track, fifty-minute debut—but Battalion of Demons impresses in this regard. If Raw dumped mediocre tracks like “Start a Cult” and “Life Sucks” perhaps the replay value would increase. This leaves the listener with the impression that while Battalion of Demons is honed, it’s not quite “honed” enough.
Finally, the biggest issue is the mastering job. While the recording and mix provide the sound you expect from a band called Raw, the heavily compressed end-product makes it a painful listen. Running it through my spectrum analyzer leaves a window of solid blue as every note clips straight up to the atmospheric ether. Setting the problems aside, fans of the band should be pleased and newcomers looking for a (mostly) compact delivery of thrashy, punkish raucousness may get something out of Battalion of Demons.