It could be said that the ideal lover and Thrash Metal are mirror opposites; one ought to be served up sweet and pleasing to the eyes, the other is best when ugly and rotten to the core. Perhaps the only thing that they really share in common is a successful tight rope walk between raw, unfettered passion, and an ultimate organization and control over things. The best Thrash albums have always been the ones that will tear you apart, yet leave you with a lasting impression in which to put yourself back together for another go around, lest you’d otherwise end up tossing the album out like a fun only for 40 minutes one night stand.
VIO-LENCE’s albums have all consistently walked this tight rope remarkably well, especially considering the pressure that was building from more morosely aggressive Thrash acts to simply pile on the brutality and neglect the songwriting. But while “Eternal Nightmare” leaned more towards pure speed and force, and the later “Nothing To Gain” slowed things down a bit too much, “Oppressing The Masses” has the right balance of flash and mid-paced riff goodness to make for a great listen from start to finish. You could basically say that this album is Thrash Metal’s dark twin version of the perfect lover.
The lyrical and vocal approaches have both evolved perfectly to fit this moderated tone. Most of these songs lean towards social issues and other subjects in line with the ANTHRAX/MEGADETH brand of Punk Rock sensibilities, instead of the SLAYER styled stories of horror and violence alone. “Liquid Courage” could almost be interpreted as a rather clever way to discourage alcohol abuse, as the imagery depicted in it glares like the decrepit mirror image of every lowlife, wife-beating alcoholic in America. Sean Killian’s vocals have also been cleaned up slightly, resulting in something that sounds like a ballsier, yet less in tune version of Joey Belladonna with a hint of Blitz Ellsworth.
Things start off with a strong sense of ambition, as lead off song “I Profit” sports an epic intro on par with that of “Hell Awaits”. But unlike the SLAYER classic, the fast section riffs avoid becoming too blurred by exaggerated speed and are tempered with a tighter arrangement and some well placed tempo shifts. Likewise, the lead breaks tend towards a more organized, less agitated approach to what is heard out of King and Hanneman. The closest thing that comes to mind when hearing the solos is a cross of Dan Spitz’s melodic brevity and Bobby Gustafson’s scale shredding handiwork.
Things proceed to go back and forth between fast and mid-paced, often within the confines of individual songs. If nothing else, these songs take care not to repeat the same ideas too many times and things up quite nicely. Good examples of this varied tempo approach include the ANTHRAX-like anthem of punkish angst, “Officer Nice”, the chunky riff buster “Subterfuge”, and the slower groove thrasher “Mentally Afflicted”, which sports a nice Dave Ellefson bass intro and what was likely where the drum intro to MEGADETH’s “Trust” came from. Bear in mind also that unlike the late 90s MEGADETH version, this one gets a lot faster before its conclusion.
Naturally, even with a well thought out formula, there are bound to be a couple of Persian flaws that sneak their way into an otherwise brilliant masterwork. From the opening thud up until just before the first chorus of the title track, the band can do absolutely no wrong, but unfortunately Sean Killian wasn’t graced with a voice that can hold the center of a pitch for more than half a second. For this particular style of Metal this isn’t a huge issue, but when a vocal line is fully exposed and attempting to sound quasi-tuneful, it’s extremely difficult not to notice. Nonetheless, if every singer in metal sounded like Bruce Dickinson, things would get boring pretty fast.
It’s probably unheard of for a fan of Thrash Metal to prefer this album to “Eternal Nightmare”, but I always end up leaning towards this when all is said and done. It all depends on whether you want constant aggression from start to finish, or the occasional break to get the vertebrae in your neck back in alignment. If you like your Metal thrashy and socially conscious, this is more than worthy of blowing $15 or so of you hard earned cash. Like the love of a lifetime, if you’re in bed with it or out on the town, it’ll never let you down.
(Online August 26, 2008)