Technical Thrash Metal from Soviet-era Russia... Well that’s something you don’t come across very often, now is it? I guess there’s a first time for everything, and what’s more is how damn enjoyable this album actually is. Not only are these guys one of the first Thrash bands from the USSR bit also the first to write/sing all their songs in English. Of course none of this would mean jack if the actual songs weren’t any good, which they are and then some.
SHAH formed in 1985 and, after a slew of demos, released “Beware” in 1989, at about the same time more technically-minded acts like VOIVOD and HOLY TERROR began to make waves with their leftfield take on the Thrash sub-genre. Despite hailing from the decidedly Metal-unfriendly USSR the music is not far off the pace when it comes to early Technical/Progressive Thrash, and for a debut effort this is some mighty impressive stuff. There is a heavy emphasis on triplets going on here (think ICED EARTH’s eponymous debut), and the somewhat dry guitar tone brings to mind “Persistence Of Time” era ANTHRAX, though the atmosphere on this album is far more lively and playful than that on those albums. In addition to the ever-present chugging riffs the band also throw in lots of subtle polyrhythms, blinding tempo-changes and even a few samples here and there. For a Russian band they were obviously way ahead of their time!.There are many instances of pure off-kilter Thrash brilliance going on here – those syncopated drumbeats in “Total Devastation”, the total NWOBHM worship during the opening strains of the title track, the cool bass-led melodic break in “Save The Human Race”... all killer. Tracks like “Age Of Dismay” and the following “Thrash Of Pain” (great mix of potent chugging and harmonic leads here!) may be some of the heavier, more aggressive numbers on here but on the whole the focus is not so much on absolute abrasiveness or speed but rather dense guitarwork and a lively, almost Crossover-ish sense of fun. The riffs are all over this thing, the drums have a nice pounding character to them, and the vocals of Antonio “The Almighty” Garcia power the whole thing along. His strange style of barked singing reminds me a bit of Mille Petrozza, while his phrasing recalls a young James Hetfield. Great stuff, and it’s a blessing (and total surprise) that the sound is basically very clear throughout, allowing the subtle musical nuances to shine through comfortably.
It may be insanely hard to find an original version of this album but it’s an album that’s definitely worth seeking out. There is just such a lot going on here and to their credit the band managed to make everything sound very confident and focused, and the songs have remained consistently engaging during every listen. “Beware” is definitely a lost Thrash gem from the most unexpected of regions, and if you fancy bands like VOIVOD, TOXIC and HOLY TERROR then this should be right up your alley.
(Online July 16, 2009)