I’ve always wanted to have a niche. The idea of being a totem on the pole of some form of arcane knowledge has always appealed to this nerd. Well, I’m proud to tell you that I happen to be AMG’s resident specialist when it comes to Portuguese language thrash/speed releases from Helldprod Records. No other writer here can boast the honor of reviewing such a record, and now I’ve done it twice in my illustriously short career. It may be an impossibly narrow niche, but hey, you have to start somewhere! Assassinos em Série is the debut album from Portuguese band Toxik Attack, and it is my next great hope for thrash in 2019. Can it deliver?
Let’s just answer this question right away to put us all out of our misery: nope. And it’s a shame, too. Assassinos em Série is nine tracks of extremely well-played speed and thrash metal that are nearly destroyed by the vocal performance. Vocalist Nico666 is not without potential, as the first five seconds of his performance on opener “Thrash Maldição” are tolerable, but then things go frightfully awry. Here he begins using a scream (squeak? screech?) that reminds me of the sound that a dog makes if you step on its paw by mistake, and for some reason all I can think of when he does this is Marv’s tarantula scream from Home Alone. I was hoping it would be a one time thing, but unfortunately that’s not the case as many of the tracks contain this issue and “O Sanguinário” and “Detidos Pelo Metal” are simply riddled with said screeches. On the latter song Nico666 attempts both an “Angel of Death”-style intro scream and an operatic wail, and neither works. As far as I can tell, the cover art is supposed to depict the four band members, and it perfectly illustrates what Nico’s vocals can do to a person.
The lyrics are another issue, and it’s pretty sad when an English-only reviewer can say that about an album like this. The songs are rife with outbursts in English of “Thrash Metal!” and “Old School!” and yes, even “Old School Thrash Metal!” I admire the passion here, but things like this are far too cheesy to work. Another songwriting misstep occurs when both the opener “Thrash Maldição” and its successor “Ceita do Punhal” contain strange interruptions where the music totally cuts out for a full second or two. Honestly, I’m still not sure if this was intended or some sort of glitch, but either way it’s weird to hear on a promo and certainly doesn’t help the music one bit.
Ah, the music! Here’s what makes this album so disappointing. The instrumental performances on Assassinos em Série are phenomenal. The band obviously knows Metallica‘s debut by heart and plays a killer NWoBHM-on-speed à la Running Wild. Embedded track “Seita do Punhal” is the best thing here as Nico666 is relatively restrained, allowing the focus to be on Perigoso’s fantasic riffs, Zlayer’s intricate bass playing, and Ruizao’s frenetic drums. The title track is another contender as the vocals nearly complement (read: don’t totally distract from) the riffs and Zlayer pulls out his Steve Harris impression to drive a song that sounds like it might have come from an early Iron Maiden platter. The drums are too loud at times, but overall Assassinos em Série has a great, crisp old school feel.
I have to give Toxik Attack credit for pouring their hearts out here, but it’s mind boggling to me that the vocals were not put under more scrutiny during the recording process. What’s more, the promo materials go so far as to highlight the vocals, calling them “simply amazing” and proclaiming that they’ll make the listener want to sing along. How can you sing along to stepped-on-puppy squeals? I hope the band can gain some self awareness if they ever release another album, as it wouldn’t have taken a lot of changes to vastly improve this offering. They certainly have chops, but Assassinos em Série cannot overcome its fatal flaws.