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Astharoth is one of the countless euro-thrash bands that failed to get recognition during the era of thrash metal reign, whether the cause being lack of luck in music industry, or, more often that not, lack of quality music itself. And which reason is the cause of that in case of Astharoth? Well, there's a bit of both, although upon coming across this band for the first time, it makes you wish it was only the first one.
What Astharoth definitely are not, is your another run-of-the-mill thrash metal band writing absolutely listenable, but forgettable albums with few decent songs at best. Just looking at the album cover and title suggests what style of thrash metal they play: although it's not really that gloomy as title suggests, the experimental touch is there. Astharoth play technical, sometimes a bit progressive thrash metal, comparable to bands like Coroner, Mandator, maybe Blind Illusion or their countrymen Wolf Spider, you can also hear early Voivod influence.
As mentioned, the playing of all instruments is heavily technical. While the riffs are numerous and usually good, they don't stand out as something out of ordinary for the most part, although sometimes there is something catchy in their technical nature, like beginning of Mirror's World or title track. Much bigger highlight of guitar playing on this album are solos and leads, attacking you out of nowhere multiple times during a song, showing instrumental abilities without sounding like pointless wankery. Bass is a positive surprise, it is audible in production, and the playing itself is impressive, varying its role from just supporting the guitar in the behind, to mini solos or Steve Harris-esque melodies played at the end of guitar riff, sometimes even going in the front like on song Good Night My dear. Drumming on this album is a little hit and miss, sometimes unnecessarily changing tempo or playing unadequately slow or fast to the rest of the band. At times it sounds even inspired by Ventor of Kreator, adding heaviness to the music. Overall the album doesn't sound heavier or lighter than general thrash of the era. Another hit and miss element are the vocals, and here it is more miss than hit, though they contribute to this weird atmosphere this album creates. The shouted vocal additions end up annoying and cheesy, except on track two where they are done by Litza (of Turbo fame, now quite a laughing stock in Poland's musical scene). While the vocals aren't great, sometimes the disadvantage is the music goes on too long without them, giving the impression of music going nowhere. The album has quite Voivod-ish, maybe futuristic atmosphere, while the lyrics aren't exactly matching it and focusing mainly on psychological topics, although I warn you this doesn't come close matching Time Does Not Heal lyrics, these are just average.
Overall, this is quite a good release deserving more than it got, and while not being revolutionary or excellent in any way, ends up being rewarding listen. It's a grower too, even if at the very start it leaves impression of being some true underground gem.
The MMP rerelease which is available to get comes with 8 bonus tracks, which were recorded after the band moved nowhere else than SF Bay Area. The tracks didn't make its way onto second album, which is understandable considering the band didn't achieve noticable success other than supporting few bigger metal acts, and the time of the recordings was quite bad era for thrash, 1991-1994.
In their Polish years, speed/thrash metal band Astharoth created their only album, 'Gloomy Experiments'. The title fits perfectly with the music; this is anything but your usual speed/thrash metal! Get ready for some mind-warping insanity.
Astharoth's influences came from technical thrash metal, from both sides of the Atlantic ocean. German and Bay Area vibes are abound on 'Gloomy Experiments', but Canada's cyber-thrashers Voivod also were a huge influence, which can be heard straight from the album's first riff. Compositions aren't straight, but at times very meandering. This makes the music tough to get, but there's always something so cool and interesting happening every now and then, that I stay with Astharoth and their 'Gloomy Experiments' to the last. The band can jump from German style riff (Kreator is a clear influence here) to eerie Voivod-esque melody and then to jazzy bit and after two seconds to Testament style melody. There's a lot of tempo changes, so if you can't hold on with them, don't bother with Astharoth. However, there is a chorus in most of the songs, so the variety doesn't mean there are no structures in the songs. The song quality varies, but maybe I just haven't got into some songs yet. Could be well true, so eccentric experience this is.
The band's playing isn't metronome-accurate, but it breathes and makes this something unique. If you think nowadays' honed-to-perfection productions are the best thing, you should check this one out. This has so much more life in this! Sound-wise this is good as every instrument is well audible, and rawish, unpolished. Vocals are extremely characteristic. Clean vocals, some screams and such, and at times with insanely fast pace. English pronunciation is bad, but it only adds to speciality. As with the music, also with the vocals goes the word "insane".
'Gloomy Experiments' ain't for all thrash-heads, but if you search for something with personal touch, then give this a spin. But: Give it some time, because you can't get this all with one spin, if ever. Be brave, traveller!
(origially written for ArchaicMetallurgy.com in 2006)