I mentioned in a recent review my penchant for self-released records. This is one thing for debuts but self-released sophomore efforts are a slightly more worrying beast—what was it about the debut that meant this band has not been signed? Still, my review lineup had a fallow week in it and the promo blurb for Wraith peaked my interest with the phrase “blackened speed/thrash metal” with a “punk attitude.” In my head, this translates as something like Skeletonwitch playing The Exploited or Dead Kennedys covers. If this Indiana three-piece could only deliver on my own little fantasy there, I’d be up for that all day. Based on their 2018 debut, Heed the Warning—and its curiously D&D-esque cover art—however, I figured I might be in for a disappointment. That record was apparently described, though I’m not sure by whom, as “no bullshit thrash metal.”
And that’s probably an accurate assessment of Absolute Power too, whether that’s a good thing or not is something we’ll come back to. With the longest of these ten songs clocking in at just three and a half minutes, including a Misfits cover, Wraith are certainly channeling the punk ethos into their pretty straight-up thrash. Indeed at times, including the start of first track “Devil’s Hour,” you could be forgiven for thinking you were actually listening to an out-and-out punk record. At least until the vocals kick in. Guitarist Matt Sokol also handles mic duties and his delivery owes a lot to Cronos, with a nod to something like Deströyer 666.
Cronos’ vocals are clearly not the only thing about Venom to have inspired Wraith. Indeed, there is more than a little of Black Metal about Absolute Power, which also borrows liberally from Kill ’em all-era Metallica, as well as Bulldozer. There are a few other… tinges to be found here: there is perhaps a bit of stoner bombast to “Meaningless Planet” and the latter stages of “The Curse,” while “At the Stake,” after some random bells and crackling flames, is all bass-y punk gallop. And none of this is bad. All the component parts are fine, just not fundamentally interesting. There’s nothing here we haven’t heard before and, apart from a few leads from Sokol on “Eyes of the Sacred Ram,” the blackened tag that lured me in is wholly misplaced. On the upside, I suppose, I can say that I genuinely enjoyed the cover of Misfits‘ “Death Comes Ripping,” which closes out the album, even if that is at least in part because I thought the vocals let down the original.
The musicianship on display is solid. Sokol turns out speedy riff after speedy thrash riff, although none of them are particularly memorable. I like the galloping bass from Chris Petkus and Mike Szymendera’s drumming is competent, without doing enough to be singled out for special praise. Production-wise, particularly for a self-release, Wraith sounds pretty good and props should be given for the bass sound, which is punchy and punky throughout. If I were in the mood to be critical, I’d say the vocals are perhaps a little overbearing and the drums sound a touch hollow at times1 but all in all, it’s fine.
And therein lies the rub, my friends. Wraith don’t do anything exactly wrong on Absolute Power, everything is… well, fine. At just 28 minutes, I think this is the shortest album I’ve reviewed yet and this is definitely the quickest review I’ve scribed during my admittedly-brief stint at AMG—I’ve not even attempted to throw any humor in here.2 Even over that very short runtime, Absolute Power simply failed to hold, or indeed get, my attention or interest. Principally, I think this was due to the lack of variation. A track or two from Wraith would probably be good motivation if you’re doing sprints at the gym but, as I resolutely refuse to do those, I can’t see it occurring to me to ever revisit Absolute Power.
- And yes, I do understand the basic concept of drums and that they are, traditionally at least, hollow by definition. ↩
- Though, if you’re interested I can relate that, through dried-out contact lenses, I initially read the promo description of Wraith‘s debut as “Nightwishish.” Sitting under a blackened thrash moniker, that caused me to practically dislocate an eyebrow, until I realized it actually said “nightmarish.” ↩