When visiting unsavory bathroom stalls, one can often find an invitation to call a phone number for a good time written on the walls. This type of advertising never worked for me, but when I see an album cover drawn by Ed Repka adorned with a hilariously muscular Predator and an album title ripped straight from Doom, I’m confident that a good time awaits me. Stall vandals lack an understanding of a good niche market. Traitor’s latest record, Knee-Deep in the Dead, does not.
Knee-Deep in the Dead is thrash metal, plain and simple. It strives to be nothing but thrash metal, avoids anything resembling social commentary, and avoids flirting with politics as if it’s already in a happy and committed relationship with fun and good sense. Traitor’s sound reminds me of a German version of Canada’s Terrorizer, except for instead of Bay Area thrash their influences are Teutonic. The most salient influences are Destruction (The Antichrist) and Sodom (Agent Orange and M-16), and Kreator (Violent Revolution, Enemy of God) get some due here as well. Big riffs and taut, catchy tunes are the order of the day, and Traitor doesn’t bother to deviate from this formula for the entire runtime.
Traitor play the sort of thrash that we’ve all heard myriad times but still find enjoyment in. What differentiates bands in this vein worth listening to and worth ignoring is, on balance, a bunch of small details. One such detail lies in the spirit of the music; is it to be fun, energizing, horrifying, nostalgic, propaganda, a combination of those, or none of the above? Knee-Deep in the Dead sounds like it was made not recreate but create the gloriously fun vibe of old thrash, and this is the one real influence Traitor takes from the Bay Area. Timeliness plays a definite role in connecting with music, which is why most people have “their” record of a legendary band, which sometimes is and sometimes is not their favorite overall. Likewise, Traitor’s thrash rampages will satisfy those looking for thrash metal in 2018, not chasing a dragon from 1987. “Predator (Skinned Alive)” plays with its influences by sounding like an amalgam of what Traitor liked about the above bands instead of an attempt to sound like the continuation of any particular one. This serves the song well, as it sounds like honest thrash by a good band who writes original material, not a competent cover band.
There’s precious little to complain about on Knee-Deep in the Dead. Perhaps the production is a bit too hot in the sense of the Agent Orange remaster, and the bass tends to get a bit buried as per usual thrash standards. The guitars, which act as the driving force of the music, are allowed to dominate the proceedings, forcing the focus to the riffs, which are uniformly high in quality. Drums are restrained by thrash standards outside of some impressive fills, wisely bolstering the riffs instead of steamrolling them. Vocally, gang-shouted choruses abound and go over like gangbusters, adding to the sheer fun of the proceedings. Traitor recognizes that thrash has an unserious streak, and writes their songs accordingly; the riotous extended Duke Nukem shoutout of “Nuke’ Em All” sports a chorus you can scream along with a smile, and big, maniacally grinning nod to the classic Doom soundtrack on “At the Gates of Hell” (the intro to the splendid title track1) is a joy to behold.
The obvious question arises as to why, in a sea of classic and new bands that sound similar to this, Knee-Deep in the Dead is worth spending the forty-odd minutes to spin in full. Traitor don’t do anything shocking or sui generis, but their concise and efficient compositions along with their skill at taking influence as opposed to lifting riffs wholesale make this a feature, not a flaw. Knee-Deep in the Dead isn’t a dark thrash record but a bright, high-contrast one. To my ears, Traitor have written an ode to carefree, adolescent fun, nights with good friends, cold beer, and violent entertainment in the form of music, movies, or video games. None of these songs are specifically about this topic, but the atmosphere of the whole package creates it through music and the visual component of the cover2. I could recommend this to fans of the bands mentioned herein, but the realistic audience for this is not the thrash pedant but the metalhead who likes fun and being happy.