Animator - Blacklisted - (7.5/10)
Published on December 30, 2014
As the world of thrash metal continues to enjoy a growing international rediscovery of its roots, the trend has taken something of a northern turn in favor of the isle just west of Britain. Normally when one thinks of thrashing in said area, the name Gama Bomb gets thrown around as they made an early splash in the revival world back in 2005 just a bit north in the U.K.’s northern Irish fringe, but there’s another outfit in the republic that has been exploring the art of upper vertebrae ruination for just a few years shorter, albeit under a different name of Heresy for much of it. Their preferred lyrical route is more in line with the political pursuits of later 80s thrash, as opposed to Tankard’s semi-comical renditions of horror movies and booze, though their musical approach is a bit closer to the simpler mode that was more associated with lighthearted bands such as Anthrax and Nuclear Assault.
Animator managed to get this debut LP dubbed Blacklisted put together a mere 8 years after being founded as a band, thus they seem as though they are a band that are just getting started and have stumbled upon an impressively mature sound, and that’s ironically how this album can be described. It’s one of those rare situations where only one guitarist is employed in a thrash metal outfit yet it isn’t a power trio, but it ends up sounding fairly close to a 2-guitar setup in the mode of early Metallica. The riff work generally tends to follow a straightforward approach, avoiding a lot of the progressive quirks of later Bay Area outfits like Forbidden, but still occasionally going in that direction in terms of atmosphere. It tends towards being a conventional songwriting affair, though the songs stretch out to lengths that are just a tad shorter than where the style was headed in 1987.
Things begin on a fairly dreary note, kicking things off with a 7 minute plus epic opener with a quiet clean guitar intro with a voice-over sample of a famous President Kennedy speech about secret societies and conspiracies that has been used several times by other bands delving into the subject of late. It has a bit of an early 90s Testament feel to it at first glance, complete with a wailing lead guitar line accompanying the intro that is somewhat reminiscent of Skolnick’s handiwork, but once it gets going it turns back the clock about 4 years and launches into an up tempo thrash fest that is close to where Slayer was circa South Of Heaven. The comparison to Slayer actually isn’t isolated to the music, as James Doughty’s piercing shouts are pretty close to how Tom Array sounded about 25 years prior, though without any of the exaggerated banshee wails.
Perhaps the chief flaw of this album is that Animator essentially hit the listener with their best song right at the very beginning, and as it moves along it sort of tappers of a bit, though manages to stay interesting regardless. Up tempo cruisers such as “Death From Above” and “Dreadweb” reinforce a lot of the Slayer and Testament tendencies in the opening song but ax the extended intro and largely sticks to pummeling the listener for a short duration. On the other hand, this band also proves to not be fully averse to slowing things down a bit and come out with a decent rendition of a mid-tempo Megadeth styled song in “In God We Trust”, complete with a guitar solo that’s a bit more reminiscent of Marty Friedman’s expressive and somewhat flashier soloing style. Other points of interest include a longer running fast thrasher in “Manipulator” that opts for a bit more of an early Kill ‘Em All format with a busier, late 80s riff set an almost power metal-like sense of melody, and the similarly early 80s oriented but busier “Western Shadow”.
The best way to sum up this album would be to make an analogy to what Metallica might have sounded like if they slowed up their progression following Ride The Lightning and put a bit more focus on writing faster songs like “Trapped Under Ice” and “Disposable Heroes”. Due to the limitations of having a single guitarist, a lot of the songs find themselves resorting to a lot of similar riffs, in part because there are only so many places to go after 3 or 4 minutes, which speaks to why Sodom and Destruction generally tended to keep their albums at or under 40 minutes. Similarly, there is a limited amount of slack being picked up by the bass, which when combined with the largely one-dimensional vocal approach out of Doughty, doesn’t really help mix up an already bare bones approach. Overall, it’s a good solid album, but it shies away from really turning on the afterburners or going beyond a mainline sound. They think out the box lyrically, but hopefully on future albums they’ll do the same musically.