Exiled on Earth - Forces of Denial - (8.5/10)
Published on August 12, 2016
The common narrative pushed in most metal circles, mainstream or underground, is that thrash simply got too big and slowly began collapsing under its weight as the 90’s hit, quickly drowning itself in a tide of redundancy and absent-minded aggression. While this is not fully incorrect, it tends to ignore that thrash even in its twilight years contained some of the most creative bands in metal with groups like Voivod, Watchtower, Mekong Delta, Megace, Toxik, debut era Sieges Even, Brothers Grimm, Lost Century, Donor (Dnk), and others who united the genre’s penchant for pugilism with the kind of refined musicianship normally reserved for groups like Fates Warning and Queensryche. While the flaccid retro thrash movement was and still is mucking about in the kind of tiresome self parody mixed with dead end aimlessness of the genre’s excesses, Italy’s Exiled on Earth picked up where the original progressive and technical bands left off, similar in idea to what Vektor are doing but from a less spacey, over the top perspective. The follow-up to 2009’s under-noticed The Orwell Legacy, Forces of Denial dials back the aggression but kicks up the articulation for a carefully crafted album that uses both commendable firepower and a wise eye towards restraint to create one of the finer thrash entries of the last decade.
Exiled on Earth’s sound features the fluidly delivered yet demanding musicianship of groups like Coroner and Helstar, approaching the prog/tech thrash idea in a way that is smoother in its execution and more songwriting oriented as a whole. Their talents bleed through at key moments throughout each song, preferring to get a lot out of relatively little compared to say, the aforementioned Vektor or stylistic pillars Watchtower. Shifting tempos and sharp flurries of demanding manoeuvres populate this release with upper-register lead riffing that melds the previously mentioned Helstar’s poetic melodic sensibility with the cutting precision of groups like Forbidden and Germany’s Vendetta. It’s not *quite* power/thrash but it touches on that fusion more than a few times, something bolstered further by the resonant mid to baritenor singing, carrying quite a few fleshed out melody lines. The vocals play a larger part than they do in thrash in general and tend to run contrapuntally to the riffs and adding an extra layer of melody, comparable to classic Watchtower or Toxik although this is much more consonant as a whole, capable of a smooth power metal character or at times a grit-inflected thrashy snarl, sometimes going into proto-death growl territory. The rhythm section are far from slouching either with careful harmonies from the bass slithering around the riffs, quite noticeable during the more harmony driven, less intense portions. Drumming takes advantage of frequent shifts in aggression levels to work in careful patterns with quick, deft fills deceptively easy to miss. This might seem humble compared to many other bands given the technical or progressive tag but its strength isn’t in raw quantity of notes hit but the steady deliberation and careful, subtle nuance that is all too often missing in today’s theory book sorcerers.
Of course, even well done instrumentation is of little help without distinctive songcraft. The two opening tracks, being the title track and “The Glory and the Lie”, show both aspects of Exiled On Earth in full force. The former goes right for the jugular with a discipline barrage of sharpened thrash fury fracturing into bashing stagger-rhythms before an extended midpaced bridge that becomes a springboard for a pair of gorgeous solos. The latter takes a more insidious and cerebral route with its ominous ringing chord progressions over which despondent vocals preach and wail, making way for a short break of rebellious intensity and using of all things a spoken word section of an old political speech to climax. “The Mangler” isn’t anywhere as savage as its name might imply, starting off with midpaced demo-era Cynic inspired topsy-turvy verses preyed upon by sudden bursts of gang-shout backed crunch rhythms, pulling back momentarily to let vocalist and guitarist Tiziano stretch his pipes for a moment of grace that almost sounds like it’d be more fitting on a Labyrinth or Kamelot album. “Vortex of Deception” doesn’t play softball over there with its heavy, chunking opening laced with weird robotic leads that collapse like demolished buildings, letting bassist Gino and drummer Piero carry on the momentum with some of the album’s most memorable basslines and rolls. This smoothes over a transition into a storming duel between needling lead melodies and the steamroller riffs that immediately contrast it, narrated by Tiziano as he switches between his soulful midrange and his post-Mustaine melodic snarl (don’t worry, he’s infinitely more bearable than the redhead). “Into the Serpent’s Nest” on the other hand brings out some seriously weighty warmachine pounding through its offbeat chunking, letting us breathe for short, desperate vocally lead sections.
An enthralling and concise assault on tortured necks and maddened minds, Forces of Denial stands kilometres tall above the soggy morass that is the modern thrash landscape, close to but not quite at the same heights as its ancestors. At points it is maybe a little too toned down although that is perhaps for the better; Vektor’s recent album showed the shortcomings of the high energy everything-and-the-kitchen-sink approach in spite of its overall triumph. Like that band, this is overall a step forward but while Vektor need to figure out what weaponry of their armoury to discard and which to keep and fine tune, Exiled on Earth need to renew their delivery and further push the progressive aspect of their sound having practically mastered the technical front. Those who long for the days when the thrash genre was something other than a self-referential in-joke should grab this album as soon as possible. In a time when merely being above average is a miracle, Exiled on Earth are an anomaly that deserves to be revered and worshipped.