OK, so this week’s selection is a little too obvious. Against my better judgment, I grabbed Missa Pro Defunctis because I love Slayer‘s Reign in Blood. Also against my better judgment, I chose Reign in Blood‘s newest release without hearing a single note. While this could turn out to be an AotY pick, most of the time, grabbing something by instinct rather than logic is a bad idea. For instance, going to the convenient store to get a case of beer and finding a twelve-pack of Bud Light at a ridiculously low price. Then, when you get home, you discover that you bought Bud Light Minis.1 But, like the infamous Grymm‘s Grab Bag, once selected, you’re committed. So, will my drunken pick of Missa Pro Defunctis be a case of Bud Light at fifty cents a bottle or is it a disappointing case of Minis?
One thing’s for sure, I’ve wasted my timer tying Slayer into this review so I can make fun of their bonehead fans. Reign in Blood sounds almost nothing like Slayer. Missa Pro Defunctis, like its predecessor Diabolical Katharsis, is black metal with a healthy dose of thrash metal licks. I know Slayer teased a blackened sound in their long-ago days but this ain’t it. With a vocal style akin to the rasp, shriek, whisper, and desperate scream of Aldrahn, and a writing style that alternates between pummeling fast to chugging slow, Missa Pro Defunctis is far-removed from its namesake. Ten years since the debut, Reign in Blood are back with their strongest work yet. Not to mention, a release that has shot up ole Grier‘s list of 2019 favorites.
After invoking the ancient ones with the short, instrumental opener, “Dawn of a Dying Soul” brings the house down. It’s raw, nasty sound streaks across the sky like black lightning. And the storm only gets more intense when the tremolos morph into thrash licks that get the ole noggin’ bobbin’. For more thrash worship that’ll bring even the great Cthulhu up from the depths, look to the opening moments of “Domus Mortuorum” and the closing ones of “Anima” and “Wolfhour.” While the former is a barrage of California-styled riffage, the latter two have massive Thorns in their paws.
And while that would be enough to keep me interested, Missa Pro Defunctis is more than a typical black-thrash record. For instance, “Domus Mortuorum” might seem like a by-the-numbers thrasher until, well, all the thrash falls out. In its place is a chanting chorus that could wake the dead and a surprising collection of intertwined guitar leads. The latter, in particular, is a pleasant surprise from a band of this caliber (a theme that carries over to the slow, hard-hitting “Wolfhour”) But, like “Domus Mortuorum,” the title track is as unpredictable. In actuality, it’s the real eyebrow-raiser of the album. Its mid-tempo drive and thundering, Aldrahn-like chorus make it bigger than all the others. Especially when you feel and live the build on the backside of the song.
On top of the blistering-fast thrash and the methodical doominess, there’s also a good deal of melody and old-school black metal on the record. While “Dawn of a Dying Soul” has a touch of melodic flare, “Black Hole” and “Metamorphose with the Universe” have the rest. “Black Hole” is an impressive rollercoaster ride of fast and slow ascensions and descensions that buries the listener in emotion. Then you approach the opening riff of “Metamorphose with the Universe,” which like the early days of Mayhem and Darkthrone. But, once that subsides, beautiful guitar work, with the alternating rasps and screams of torture, takes its place. “Metamorphose with the Universe,” along with many of the already-mentioned pieces, is a surprising number for a black/thrash outfit.
Well, as you can tell, these Germans have surprised the hell out of me this week. When one compares it to other black/thrash groups, Missa Pro Defunctis packs on layers (doom, melody, and chugging thrash licks) that few dares to attempt. And, when one compares Missa to the band’s debut, this new record blows the old out of the water. Now, don’t get me wrong, there’re still moments of predictability (“Dawn of a Dying Soul”). But there’re plenty of shocking moments that’ll keep you coming back for more (“Anima,” “Wolfhour,” “Metamorphose with the Universe”). Reign in Blood have outdone themselves with Missa and, at the moment, there’s a good chance it’ll appear somewhere in my year-end accolades.