2018 has not been the year of amazing thrash. That’s to be expected though as the years of amazing thrash ended in the 80s. We now live in the age of passable, serviceable and very occasionally, good thrash. Italian speed fiends Ultra-Violence fit someplace in the center of these threadbare thrash end days, better than some, but not as good as the very best. Their 2013 debut was a fun, respectable 10th wave rehash of the Bay Area sound mixed with the kind of punky thrash once manhandled by the likes of D.R.I. and Cryptic Slaughter. It was enjoyable but it didn’t leave a huge impression. I somehow missed their 2015 follow-up, and that brings us to Operation Misdirection, their crucial third album. It seems Ultra-Violence has grown up a bit since I last heard them. They still play thrash but they’ve lost some of their youthful punk attitude and adopted a way more progressive and at times very tech-heavy style. It certainly helps them stand out a bit from the thrash pack, and that’s a positive step in these lean years.
As a good thrash opener should, “Cadaver Decomposition Island” comes at you head on, horns out, riffs ablazin’ and throats a frayin’. It’s the kind oof high energy thrash you’ve heard a million times and the chuggy-wuggy breaks are mosh tested, Anthrax approved. Aside from a very audible and twangy bass, nothing seems out of the ordinary besides the much increased technicality. It isn’t until the half-way point where the first wrench gets thrown1. Things start twisting downward into a kind of doomy plod with a quasi-Behemoth feel, and then out of nowhere it erupts into emotional melodeath like the glory days of Before the Dawn. It’s quite a series of shoe drops and it really shakes the song up. They wind things out with some impressively fluid, snazzy guitar work and soft, fragile acoustics and you’re left scratching your head wondering what you just heard. This isn’t the same set of knuckleheads I heard in 2013.
Those guys show up for the following track, “Welcome to the Freakshow,” which is like clunky third-tier Exodus, but it’s just rowdy and goofy enough to be endearing, gang shouts and all. The innovative side of the band hits again with “My Fragmented Self” which is like bad (most) Annihilator mixed with 80s Alice Cooper, and it’s in turn funky, sassy, awkward and entertaining. The riffs swing from sharp to loosey goosey and the whole song has a free wheeling, lighthearted, all over the place vibe that works far better than it should thanks to some tremendous guitar-work and off-kilter, twitchy tech flourishes. “The Acrobat” takes the same loose style and pumps it full of hard rock and The Offspring with mixed results, but at least you can tell the band is having fun, and those solos kill.
Epic closer “Shining Perpetuity” is another genre cut-and-paste job, this time taking their core thrash sound and stitching melodeath and epic black metal on to create the metal equivalent of a human centipede. It definitely has inspired moments and a lot of wild ideas crammed in, but it’s a bit too scattered to truly feel like a cohesive song. Still, it’s well worth the time just to hear Andrea Vacchiotti and Loris Castiglia rip away at their strings in a fevered fury. Oddly enough, it’s the straight up thrashers like “Nomophobia” that are the least interesting, and I won’t even go into the ridiculous cover of Dire Straits‘ classic “Money for Nothing.”2 Though the album only runs 39 minutes, the padded song lengths make it feel longer, but overall their succeed in giving you a lot of musical adventure for the time invested.
Operation Misdirection is kept aloft by the guitars and Vacchiotti and Castiglia deserve a lot of credit for the exhibition they put on across the album. They have chops aplenty and work in enough techy quirks to make this more than a standard issue thrash album. While Castiglia isn’t the best thrash frontman, his raspy shouts are decent, and I’m impressed with his forays into melodeath vocals. Special props must go out to Andrea Lorenti for a larger-than-life bass presence in a genre where bass is buried in the Witness Protection Program.
Ultra-Violence is a talented band and Operation Misdirection shows they’re more than capable of pushing the thrash envelope while having a good time. If they keep progressing in this direction they could do some great things. This isn’t going to make 2018 a banner year for thrash, but it definitely shows there’s some kick left in the genre mule. Sample if you feel the need for speed but still demand surprises.