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Admittedly, I am a metal purist who does not appreciate highly the mixing of different metal styles. There is, however, an exception. I am talking of black thrash metal that gets my pulse racing. Of course only when it is done well. Cruel Force demonstrate this mixture on their second album in a very strong way. The riffs tend to thrash although some of them seem to be inspired by Bathory or Celtic Frost. The raw vocals also contribute to a dark atmosphere while the production shows its loyalty to the underground, because it is characterized by an aggressive and brute guitar sound, which is supported by powerful drums. Although the drumming does not deliver very exciting technical features, it plays its full part to vary cleverly the tempo during the album. These tempo changes emphasize the black metal affinity, because you will hardly find a song like the title track on a classical thrash album of the eighties. Due to its mid-paced rhythm, it has a hymnal approach that is held up by the band during the entire seven and a half minutes. Stoically, it marches onwards and can be understood as the soundtrack to the dark procession that is shown on the front cover. The final song on the album follows the same rhythmic approach. Contrariwise, "Black Oath of Death" also starts slowly, but it speeds up at the end.
Let me now turn to the up-tempo-numbers in general. They are characterized by an excellent guitar work that creates an unholy mood as well as a huge number of razor-sharp riffs. All up-tempo-tunes impress with their energizing high speed dynamic as a result of the outstanding songwriting and it is important to note that Cruel Force do not use just one composition formula. While the crushing "Black Witch of Doom", for instance, is exclusively focused on high velocity, "Obscure Evil" features fascinating breaks and tempo changes without losing just one percent of its strength. Especially this tune with its unbridled power and its compositional sophistication shows the whole spectrum of the band´s skills. Tracks like "Infernal Winds" or "Chants of Mayhem" are also driven by brilliant riffs and certainly no less exciting. Therefore, one might say that Cruel Force are mastering their genre in all its variations. Due to this fact, the album is far away from getting monotonous - also during its rare slightly weaker moments.
The elaborately designed vinyl edition delivers an additional highlight. Let me assure you that I am not referring to the poster, the separately attached lyrics sheet or the picture card of the band, although all these things do not look so bad. I believe instead that Cruel Force´s cover version of Bathory´s "The Return...", published only on vinyl, has been succeeded superbly. While keeping the original somber atmosphere of this classic, the Germans know very well how to individualize the song by playing it in a more energized way. This is mainly achieved by a very precise drum intro and the howling guitars at the end. And of course, I do not want to denounce the great early works of Quorthon, but I believe it is a common understanding that the production of his second album left huge room for improvement and Cruel Force just knew exactly how to take advantage of that. Consequently, the group convinces in all relevant aspects with the result that this output represents a high increase after the solid debut. I am therefore very pleased that I can highly recommend this phenomenal full-length to all maniacs who enjoy black thrash metal in general. Only true purists should stay away from it.
I remember listening to this German band's first full-length The Rise of Satanic Might last year and thinking, while it had some potential, that Cruel Force were an authentic if brash and unmemorable entry into that blackened thrash cauldron which also stirred up names like Nocturnal and Witchburner. Lots of tangible, demonic energy and a clear love of the forebears Sodom, Destruction, Kreator, Venom and Bathory, but little by way of great riffs that you want to spin on endlessly. Having long considered the guitar progressions to be crucial to this niche, that's really a deal maker or breaker where I'm concerned, and unfortunately, Under the Sign of the Moon is not a whole lot better at their conception.
There are clearly strong points to the band, not the least of which are the cool logo, nostalgic and colorful cover image, and the enormous production of the record. Carnivore's vocals go for more of an expansive, death metal growl over the filthy speed/thrash metal of the guitars, and it does create this ominous, spacey sensation which I could appreciate. The construction of the riffs is basically pure dirt derived from the first few Venom records and them tampered with a bit of Bathory's s/t debut, Sodom's In the Sign of Evil and perhaps a pinch of Motörhead's robust simplicity and driving, distorted bass tone. Every now and then, like in "Obscure Evil" they will tear out this proto Teutonic death/thrash sequence, and a bit of Hellhammer groove, but even at these moments the patterns are rather predictable and wouldn't seem all that menacing or evil without the massive, raw tones in which the songs are recorded. Cruel Force is not a one trick pony, though, so you'll hear some variation in the slower strut that opens "Chants of Mayhem" or the more atmospheric, heavy metal finale "The Gallows Prayer".
In the end, this is just another case of a band doing just about everything right to appeal to their target audience, and yet not entirely following through with the songs I want to headbang over for years to come. I found myself getting into this only a margin more than the first album, but not nearly so much as other black/thrash hybrids like Nocturnal's Arrival of the Carnivore, Witchtrap's Sorceress Bitch or Aura Noir's cult recordings Black Thrash Attack or Deep Tracts of Hell. However, if you're a total sucker for this sincere, archaic flavor and often find yourself perusing the Hell's Headbanger catalog then you should by all means at least give this a run through. Not as catchy as it looks, but a fairly honest take on the beloved bastardization of these two styles.