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Abomination was one of many Chicago-area metal bands Paul Speckmann had been involved in during the late 80s and early 90s. Chicago never had a scene that could rival the Bay Area, the East Coast or Tampa, and there was no "Chicago sound" that made metal bands from the area distinct. But the city did produce some quality metal during those years, and Abomination's sophomore album is a testament to that.
Abomination's Tragedy Strikes is a straightforward and solid thrash album. The music here is on the harsher end of the thrash spectrum and there is a bit of death metal influence that can be mostly heard in some of the slower parts of the album, but this can't really be called Death/Thrash. Every now and then there is a little bit of atmosphere created by a very basic layering of rhythm and lead, but beyond those few moments, the core of the album is a thick rhythm guitar that hammers out riffs, punctuated with bursts of Paul Speckmann's vocals.
The production of the album is a perfect fit for the music . Every instrument is afforded it's due and nothing is overpowered by anything else. It's pristine enough to get the point across, while dirty enough to still give the album an aura of grit and terror.
The riffs themselves are all well executed and sufficiently menacing, but they suffer in the transitions, which are sometimes awkward and ruin the flow of the songs, leaving parts of the album feeling stilted. It doesn't happen enough to ruin the album as a whole, but it does leave something to be desired.
The vocals are generally fired in harsh but understandable salvos. The lyrics themselves deal with political and social issues but place more emphasis on creating word structures that fit the music than forming coherent thoughts, as is par for the thrash genre, but it's still clear that Abomination have something to say, and the album is better for it.
For fans of thrash and early death metal, the experience as a whole is likely to be satisfying, but not much more beyond that. Occasional moments of brilliance do shine through, and there are enough of them to make this a valuable album in a thrash fan's collection but not enough for the album to achieve true greatness.
This little remembered collection of thrashers and speeders has been a little bit of an enigma to me, mostly because of the overt parallelisms with other albums that came out before. Much of this sounds more suited for the year 1987, save perhaps the various political issues that the lyrics are centered around, which seem just as relevant in 2008, the year of the expanded version I obtained, as they were in 1991 when this album was conceived. The trickiest part is calling this derivative because of front man Paul Speckmann’s history as a pioneer in the death/thrash scene, which dates back pretty close to around the time that Slayer and Metallica were still extremely obscure. People always tend to be more forgiving of early members of a scene who continue to milk the characteristics of an older style, and Speckmann falls into that category so a different attitude to this release is naturally called for.
Aside from the commonalities shared with several other well known thrash outfits, particularly Slayer and Testament, the end result of “Tragedy Strikes” is a largely positive one. It essentially listens like a more political, less catchy and less groove oriented version of “Seasons In The Abyss”. The speed and fury of each song is tempered with a razor sharp production job that almost tames the unfettered monster that the genre was back in the mid 80s. Speckmann’s vocals largely listen like middle ground between Araya and Hetfield, though being remarkably more in tune with everything else going around them. The only thing that really keeps this from being just as much of a kick ass album as the earlier fits of aggression found in “Hell Awaits” and “Ride The Lightning” is that the songwriting occasionally comes off as a little mechanical and unadventurous.
This mostly shows itself in some of the less thrash oriented songs, many of which draw from Speckmann’s proto-death metal background. “Soldier” mostly resigns itself to either a laid back groove or a rather solid gallop, not all that dissimilar from something heard on “South Of Heaven”. Although it comes with a lot more double bass drum work than usual for a thrash song, which is typical of early death metal pioneers, the only spaces where the song isn’t fully predictable are the occasional thrash sections, most of which are constrained to guitar solo sections. “Kill Or Be Killed” is largely an instrumental, but exhibits the same characteristic of a toned down, slightly down tempo thrash song with fairly predictable work. Its fun enough while it’s playing, but it doesn’t really stick with you afterwards the way a similar track via Slayer would.
In fact, if you go by the 8 original songs that made up this album when it came out, the staying power of these songs really taper off after “Will They Bleed” and don’t fully recover until the album’s closer “Oppression”. The commonalities with Slayer’s later 80s work, as well as the mid-90s quasi-death/thrash sound that Testament adopted, endure from start to finish, but seem less able to stay distinctive. When things get fast, you really notice it, but despite a lot of repetition what goes on between these brief speed breaks doesn’t stay locked in your head. You’ll find yourself wanting to love the hell out of this album because of how much better it sounds than the groove metal garbage that followed soon after, but despite its strong likeable tendencies, it doesn’t quite stay consistent enough to really grab you.
The first 4 songs on here are positively solid, putting forth methodical yet killer riffs and establishing a good atmosphere. “Blood For Oil” is by far the best and most epic chapter of this book, which is probably also the greatest flaw of the album as it steals the thunder of everything else. It’s got loads of great twists and sectional maneuvers, piled on top an underlying story development that illustrates soldiers slowly marching in between sneak attacks and face to face fighting. The songs explode into a frenzying fury of speed during the solos, a bit cleaner in overall sound quality than Slayer’s approach, but just as ruthless. Vocal harmonization is also occasionally employed here, as well as on “Will They Bleed”, to intensify the evil during the chorus sections.
The rest of the songs that follow after the riveting opener largely follow the same epic formula to lesser degrees with a few small changes. “They’re Dead” is a little slower and goes from section to section in a more fluid manner, often turning around the feel and speed several times in a single song section. Occasionally it slows down to the point of becoming groove-like, but does well to avoid becoming overly repetitious and one-dimensional the way that was later popularized by Machine Head. “Pull The Plug” is the shortest and most compact of all the songs, but definitely does well to avoid being just a straight line of speed. “Will They Bleed” and “Oppression” are basically shorter versions of the opening song, minus the sampled newscast at the beginning, but just as varied and intricate.
For the would-be shopper of this newer edition, the perks manifest themselves in 4 bonus tracks that listen closer to the death/thrash style than the album regulars. The mix job is definitely demo quality, manifesting largely in bass and drum lines that are too prominent and guitar tracks that sound pretty distant in comparison. The vocal delivery is a lot more guttural and grunt-oriented, the drums are even more reliant on double bass work and constant speed rather than buildups and slowdowns, and the songs themselves are noticeably shorter in length. I’m not certain what these songs were intended for, but they seem a bit more forward looking towards the brutal death genre that would begin in the years soon following this, and thus were obviously not compatible with the rest of the regular works.
For a thrash release circa 1991, this album was pretty standard fair for what was going on, though looking back on it in retrospect of what much of the 90s held thrash wise, you almost want to just shout classic while listening to it. It’s definitely a good album as a whole, and there are some definite keepers that rival the works of other, better known bands. If you’ve encountered Slayer’s post-“Reign In Blood” work, liked what you heard, and have a little extra money to burn then this would be worth your time. It’s not groundbreaking, it’s not an all out slaughter, but it gets the job done.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on August 30, 2008.
Paul Speckman was one of the figures that shaped Death Metal as we know it now. For some reason, he dropped from the radar screen in the early 1990s, before resurfacing in 1999. He left a solid, if not always impressive, body of work. While Master is his best–remembered legacy, Abomination seems to have been consigned to the bargain bin of history. It shouldn't have been.
You see, Abomination pisses all over Master from a great height. Master was messy but influential proto–Death Metal, never quite finding one identity to stick to. Abomination was solid sub–death thrash, too heavy for the average Metallica fan, too serious for the average Anthrax fan, and too intellectual for the average Megadeth fan.
Abomination dealt great slabs of songs, as noisy as a shipyard building a battleship. The three–piece band generated this huge sound with a minimum of fuss. It is probably the lack of fuss that counted against the band in the long run. Aside from opener "Blood From Oil", the rest of the album is unremarkable, in the sense that you know you've just received a damn good dose of thrash, it's just that you can't remember any of it. It's like going to a football match where your team scores in the first minute, then plays out for a 1–0 win– it's the result you wanted, but getting there was not as exciting as it could have been.
"Blood For Oil" though, is the kind of stomping, relentless opener bands like Nuclear Assault and Sodom managed less often than they would have liked. Taking snippets of Gulf War news bulletins, Speckman questioned the motives and results of the short–lived desert war, asking if oil is really worth the human toll, on both sides, of armed conflict. Sounds kind of topical, doesn't it.
Elsewhere, it seems Paul Speckman wasn't too keen on the country he lives in. "Oppression" asks if there really is freedom in American society. "Pull The Plug" is not a cover of the Death song, but rather a diatribe aimed at drunk drivers. "Industrial Sickness" examines the damage industry causes to people and environment. Yep, America is sick, and little seems to have changed since 1991.
While not an album to impress a non–believer as to how good thrash can be, there's still plenty on offer here — no frills music played with conviction, and thought provoking, politically motivated lyrics. A nice history piece.
Well, what can I say? He did it again. Paul Speckmann, a true underground legend, managed another great speed/thrash release. Considering he has been the mastermind behind Deathstrike, Master, Speckmann Project and others, this album offers a slighty different brand of speed/thrash. Plus Dean Chioles and Aaron Nickeas really add a lot to the album.
Let me start with the production. It's clear, it's heavy and fits perfectly the album's atmosphere. I love the concept of a "power trio". Every musician has to focus on their own instrument and besides that, add different aspects to the music to make it more interesting. The drum work is flawless and the drum sound is punchy. The guitar and bass are somewhat muddy, but they just add a little "underground" effect to the album. The songs are very well done: full of great riffs and tempo changes. But the riffs and tempos are not just put together; they are nicely fit into the songs' structures.
If you like speed metal or thrash metal, I really recommend this album, even though it was released in 1991, when the thrash "trend" was declining.
Abomination is one of the finest speed/thrash bands out there and as a band, it was always overlooked. And IMHO, Speckmann's work has been criminally underrated. He deserves a lot of respect for keeping the underground flame alive with all his projects and bands.