Retro-spective Review: Holy Terror – Terror & Submission/Mind Wars

Holy Terror // Terror & Submission/Mind Wars
87′ and 88′ via Under One Flag Records

Its time to defile the crypt of metal once again and Steel Druhm is the best defiler ever! Today, I present not one, but TWO classic releases from a time long ago that deserve a second look. I speak of Holy Terror, the Los Angeles based progressive thrash unit that featured former members of Agent Steel. During their all too brief existence, they released two excellent and unique thrash platters which received a fair amount of critical acclaim. While clearly a part of the 80’s thrash wave, they definitely stood out due to their unique and compelling approach. Sure, they played fast, but they had an intrinsic intelligence about them and a veneer of class that most of their contemporaries entirely lacked. They didn’t really sound like anyone else so comparisons are pretty useless here. While both albums delivered excellently written songs with ample aggression, they also had that certain something that makes a band special. It can’t really be quantified, they just had “it.”

Their Terror & Submission debut stopped me in my tracks upon first listen way back in 87′. The way “Evil’s Rising” opens with creepy guitar screams and then plunges into a determined thrash assault grabs your attention, and vocalist Keith Deen makes sure you stay attentive. The man was a special vocal talent and instantly became one of my all time favorites. Blood curdling screams, pristine, powerful singing, raspy and commanding shouts, he could do it all with aplomb. On top of his obvious ability, he had the coolest (and weirdest) way of enunciating and it really added to his charm. In most songs, he employed harsh shouts and screams until the chorus, when he would transition to a cleaner delivery. Listen to the melodic approach in the chorus of “Evil’s Rising” and you’ll get the general idea what he was capable of. The man had a gift and its a shame he only appeared on these two albums.

Other highly worthwhile songs include the epic and enormously catchy “Mortal Fear” (listen to the great vocal harmonies at 2:00), the powerful thrash pseudo-ballad “Distant Calling” (love the ascending and descending chords here) and the godly “Alpha-Omega-the Bringer of Balance.” This one appears in my “best metal songs of all time” list so I obviously love it and its one of the most dramatic thrash songs ever. This is a stellar album from start to finish and concludes with the oddball “Guardians of the Netherworld,” which is purely traditional metal with power metal influences and its a cool change of pace with wild guitar-work.

The guitars of Kurt Colfelt and Mike Alvord are extremely heavy, but also very tuneful and melodic. In fact, this album is an air guitarist’s wet dream. They shred, rip and wail  away on every single track and their talent is undeniable. Also beyond dispute is their songwriting savvy. Thrash isn’t easy to make catchy and memorable, but these guys made it seem effortless. In fact, this is probably the most memorable thrash album I ever heard. You can’t hear 2:40 of “Tomorrow’s End” and go back to thinking Anthrax is catchy. Sorry, Scott.

Their Mind Wars follow-up retained all the elements that made them so great but it was a  darker, angrier album. Opener “Judas Reward” has a fast and deadly approach and Deen sounds positively berserk and even crosses into near-death metal vocals at times. The excellent “Debt of Pain” also blasts along, but has a very sing-song melodic chorus. The standout for me is “The Immoral Wasteland” with its slower, almost Maiden-esque galloping tempo. It has a chorus that sticks in the brain forever and Deen’s odd vocal phrasing and enunciation is priceless. Other classics include the bitter and cynical “No Resurrection” and the frenzy of “Christian Resistance” (Deen goes completely insane with screams and shrieks at 2:08 and it’s impressive to say the least).

Between Deen’s outstanding vocals and the exceptionally melodic, but thrashy fretwork, both albums have to be considered classics. Because Holy Terror had such a brief life span and never had a chance to get the following they deserved, these albums have almost completely fallen off the metal radar and that has to change. Of the two, I favor Terror & Submission, but both really need to be heard. I doubt anyone will be sorry if they give these guys a chance. Support ancient metal and let’s get a freaking reunion album!

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