Axegressor - Bannerless - (7/10)
Published on August 15, 2018
It’s not until “Terminal Ignition” that Axegressor show their colours as anything other than four angry young men, and that might be the only instance of the Finnish group breaking from tradition. Even then, the shouts of Johnny Nuclear Winter (Tom Angelripper’s offspring?) show little relenting, while the added thought and nuance show only in the very heavy bass doodle of Aki Paulamäki, who is – according to the album’s press release – a member of one of “the heaviest rhythm sections in thrash metal”, a feature that the percussive lurches of that song give credit to. An acoustic opening to “Human Travesty” and the exploratory instrumental section of “Peace at Last (Armageddon)” aside, the crew tend to stick to their angry methods without much recourse to melodicism, though the solo in “Barren Bloodline Worship” splits the song wide open like a sudden downpour during a summer heatwave.
The merits of such a determined thrashing approach should be clear to the genre’s staunch fans of speed, riffs, and savagery. Axegressor treat every song like your neighbour’s dog treats every new day with the postman – a chance to attack. The general feel is mid-paced pounding, though songs like “Truth Prostitute” show that there is no harm done in transitioning between speed and steadier riffs to provide contrast and avoid monotony, as it may easily become a problem for Bannerless. However, even at the more gradual lick of “Ever-Bending Spine”, the music still has a particular belligerent and – let’s face it – ugly quality to its progress, as if the bursts of sudden attack exhibited elsewhere had eventuated in a prolonged bludgeoning at the end of a dark alley. If you’ve come to dislike Sodom for becoming too melodic, Axegressor might well have the fix for your troubles.
As hinted at earlier, the vocals provide a point of similarity to the Teutonic thrash legends, while the peculiar angle of ambush maintained throughout “Terminal Ignition” could draw more comparisons to stranger German extreme groups like Sektor. There are straightforward mid-paced thrash riffs aplenty, that much is true, but those that diverge from the well-trodden path distance themselves from followers by some way. As such, one puzzles over how to fit Bannerless into the modern scene, there being few thrash metal bands that actually sound like this, not least in Finland. The implications of such a position form a twofold truth about the quartet: firstly, that Axegressor are distinctive, though not to say entirely unique; secondly, Axegressor stand to be called unpopular by virtue of ignoring trends to the extent of being unacceptable to enthusiasts of neo-thrash groups like Gama Bomb and Havok, however much “Truth Prostitute” might endear them.
Just to prove it’s not all too serious, Bannerless saves “Don’t Be an Asshole” to the end, unleashing a hard rocking shout-along with mildly contradictory lyrics (“Don’t turn the other cheek, be proud to be brave” could inspire some asshole-ish acts) to dispel the murk and grime of some of the earlier cuts. The album loosens up as it heads towards this destination, meaning that the toughness of the openers from “In Safe Space No One Can Hear You Scream” to “Terminal Ignition” begin releasing their flavours after several spins, while the hookier songs such as “The Lethality of Mediocrity”, “Peace at Last”, and “Don’t Be an Asshole” may be enough to draw the listener back for another spin. A shift has definitely taken place since the group’s preceding album, Last, four years earlier, since there are fewer propulsive riffs and incitements to headbanging, though that also means Axegressor aren’t merely retreading old ground. If you want to keep up with them as they go off at a murderous tangent, Bannerless proves a very respectable listen.