Retro-spective Review: Powermad – Absolute Power

Released: 1989
Label: Warner Brothers

Powermad_Absolute-PowerThe third and fourth waves of thrash washing ashore in the late 80s and early 90s saw their share of dead fish and used condoms. But even amongst that flotsam were a few hidden gems that had they arrived a few years earlier might have been regarded as genre classics. Powermad’s sole full-length was one of those ill-timed pieces of precious driftwood. Absolute Power was a slick, surprisingly mature debut loaded with high level progressive playing and even higher writing standards. It was the rare thrash album that offered catchy, extra memorable hooks along with legitmately heavy, accomplished and convincing music, borrowing the best elements of Megadeth, Testament and Annihilator to craft tunes often more memorable than what their infuences were churning out. Despite having a song prominently featured in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (and having Nicholas Cage slam dance to it), Powermad weren’t able to grab a foothold in the rapidly fading thrash genre, and with no follow up forthcoming, they quickly faded into oblivion. Though the band was a tragic flash in the pan, the album they left behind is easily one of the most overlooked and underrated thrash outings of the 80s and it’s high time they get some recognition for it.

Things get off to an aspicious start with the raging, Nicholas Caging speed of “Slaughterhouse” with its very Megadeth-y approach to riffing and song structuring. Luckily for Powermad though, they had the talents of Joel DuBay on vocals instead of the sneering and jeering of Mr. Mustaine. DuBay could actually sing and had an effective thrash bark as well as ear piercing screams rivaled only by Mark Osegueda of Death Angel. From there you get the album’s “single” in “Nice Dreams,” which paired a truly unforgettable riff with very catchy and melodic vocals punctuated by wild screams. This song had a sporadic run back in the waning days of MTV’s Headbager’s Ball and it could have become a staple of hard rock radio with a better push.

POWERMAD OLDAs the album progresses things get even better, with the heavy, Wargasm-like crunch of “Return to Fear” which evolves into all sorts of interesting riff patterns and sweet melodic flourishes, really showcasing the talents of DuBay and Todd Haug. The galloping riffs of “Test the Steel” cannot be fucked with, and “Plastic Town” harnesses the same morose, melancholy sensibilities Metallica would dabble in on classics like “One” and “Nothing Else Matters,” and though at first blush it appears to be a simmering power ballad, the band keeps it righteously heavy. It features a strange, uneasy anger alongside the sadness and it works like a charm thanks to the insane screams of Dubay. “B.N.R.” is a barnburner with sick guitar work and another top-notch vocal performance, “Failsafe” sounds like something vintage Testament could have done, with DuBay adopting an eerily dead on Chuck Billy delivery, and “Brain Storms” has a quirky, herky jerky style that calls to mind Killing Technology era Voivod.

Every song is slick and highly enjoyable and the album flows better than 95% of thrash albums past, present or future. It’s one of those listens that goes by too fast and leaves you hungry for more, which sucks because no more was ever delivered.

The band was very talented and you hear it on every song. DuBay and Haug were as good a guitar tandem as you could hope for and they really had a gift for writing quality riffs, harmonies, transitions and solos, all with a mildly proggy bent, but never wanking so much that it detracted from the songs. These skills along with DuBay’s vocal ability gave the band a lot to work with and they utilized these assets to their fullest potential across the ten tracks.

I haven’t a clue why the band disappered after such a solid debut, but I suspect they were dropped from their label as the thrash trend began dying on the vine. There have been a few attempts to reform over the years, but aside from one new song being released in 2011, things have been mighty quiet at Camp Powermad and I suspect that’s all we can expect going forward as well. I’m thankful they got this whooper released, as its stood the test of time like a champ and I still go back to it regularly, which is something I can no longer say for a lot of the big thrash albums of the 80s. Nicholas Cage wants you to find this album and give it a chance and he’s a fucking national treasure so you best listen.

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