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1986 was a monstrous year for thrash metal with numerous game changers being unleashed (in case you didn't know). One album dropped during 1986 that wasn't a game changer whatsoever but had its own neat little identity to it was Détente's Recognize No Authority. When I first came across this release, thanks to the cover, title and song names, I was expecting something more along the lines of a hardcore crossover attack, but musically it's essentially no-frills blue collar thrash metal with a bit of filthy NWOBHM tossed in for good measure. It's a mean mother while stubbornly refusing to follow the trends at the time towards either a faster intensity, elevated technicality or an increased focus on melodicism. A decent amount of these songs were originally churned out on demos released in 1984, and this debut feels like it harkens back to that slightly earlier era of thrash when the scene was burgeoning with ripped jeans and studded biker jackets. Seems like nothing special. Cue in Dawn Crosby. Suddenly we're dealing with an album with some serious identity. Where the fuck did she come from?
Being the most obvious focal point of the band, Dawn was a tortured soul, and this sure in hell was reflected in her delivery of the lyrics. I swear it almost seems like she came out of some art damaged no-wave scene rather than the LA underground metal movement with her razorblade swallowing screeches that are three parts "pissed off" and one part "tormented". More of a shouter than a growler, she'll often end a set of verses with a drawn out wail that reminds me of that nutjob from Die Kreuzen. As a result, despite the music being firmly entrenched in metal, Dawn's vocals add a borderline punkish hue to the finished product at times. She's menacing, but there's a sense of personal anguish underneath all of that lethal hollering.
There's more to the band than just Dawn though, such as those wacky guitar solos which skirt the line between tasteful and chaotic. There's a frantic nature to them, augmented by an up-front watery tone, occasionally starting off as messy finger-flying and tapping before somehow morphing into weirdly brilliant consonant moments as if the guy suddenly hit a bunch of right notes by accident. It suits the stampeding style of this old-school thrash perfectly, adding to the overall aggravated rage. The rhythm guitar playing possesses an aural tone that invokes a streetwise speed metal angle like early Megadeth with an extra jolt of reverb, and the riffwork itself is pretty much relentless. What I really dig about all of these riffs is that despite the majority of them not being particularly technical marvels, they are all over the fretboard instead of languishing primarily in open E-chord default mode. It's not even until the fourth track that "Holy War" busts out the E-chord as its primary foundation, and this is followed by two more tracks that are chord-wise all over the damn map. I like this sort of diversity.
Speaking of diversity, Recognize No Authority alternates between rampaging thrashers, mid-paced thumpers and some dirgy bits, though the slower numbers sometimes make way for some speedy breaks. Again, this album is a bit primitive in terms of rhythmic flashiness, but there are a few cool twists that can be found such as how the hyper-speed riff that initiates "Russian Roulette", promising a runaway train ride like the preceding "Losers", gives way to a shambling off-kilter mid-tempo stomp as the main rhythm. The instrumental track "Catalepsy" not only offers a period of respite from Dawn's caterwauls, but it's a fun roller-coaster that's constantly shifting tempos and dishing out all kinds of riffs from the bouncy opening jig to early Slayer style ferocity.
This shit is also pretty damn catchy at times with some punchy gang shouts and memorable lines during the choruses. One of my favorites is "Shattered Illusions", a fast number which gets the award for the weirdest earworm in which I can't help but sing along with Dawn as she belts out "MAKES ME CONFUSED!" during the chorus. Most of these songs are actually a blazingly good time despite the subject matter being essentially odes to misery both global and personal. Still, as much as Dawn makes for quite a presence, it gets to be rough going as the album wears on, with moments like her smooth low croon that briefly soothes the burn during "Blood I Bleed" becoming like a much needed breather. That number precedes the two last tracks, which is where I start to lose my shit. "Widows Walk" starts off well enough, another speedy bugger, but then it slows its pace, leading to one of the most painful choruses in all of thrash. The idea of having Dawn not just shout but actually sing the chorus, and sing it by desperately straining to reach high notes well beyond her natural range, is an option about as rational as the perception that having genital warts on your cock is a good thing since it provides pickle-effect for "her pleasure". I do like her piercing scream that ends the chorus though, as it conveys my emotions at that point impeccably. The album also ends feebly, as "Vultures in the Sky" plods along with a knuckle-dragging generic heavy metal riff while Dawn tries to throw in a bit of what sounds like vibrato at times into her yells, another "fork across a chalkboard" idea.
Last two numbers aside, this album cooks, and to my ears Dawn added a shit-ton of personality to this album. The sound and production is pure mid-80's with lots of reverb, but a beefy bass presence and some nice gut-punching low-end to the bass drums keep the rhythms discernible and memorable. While there's no actual show-stopper as far as a signature track is concerned, any of the first eight songs could be my favorite on any given day. With only a handful of other full-stop thrash acts featuring female vocals out there back in 1986, and with some of them not even hitting their prime yet, Détente whipped out this underground gem before dissolving soon after to the sounds of flying beer bottles and cussing. It's got some flaws, but it's still a shiny rock worth digging up.
Back in the 80s, heavy metal was a genre mostly made by men and it was a bit difficult to find out some good bands with a female member in them, and even more difficult at vocals. The examples that now come to my mind are Znowhite (Nicole Lee), The Great Kat and these Détente. All the female vocalists I cited before are incredibly brutal and they keep high the flag of speed/thrash genre and in those cases I couldn’t even imagine those bands without their female vocalists because they were so personal and violent that you can’t go wrong even if the whole thing seems a bit strange.
This band was one of the most overlooked realities in those years and, as always, now it’s a rare and wanted object for the most avid collectors and surely the sound is worthy of attention by any thrash metal fan. “Losers” is pure speed/thrash but with an incredible brutal sound, thanks also the extreme performance of our Dawn Crosby. She screams the impossible during all the songs and her rough tonality is very similar to Nicole Lee but even more extreme and suffered. The following “Russian Roulette” gives us the time to absorb the impact of the opener, showing mid paced patterns and heavy structures.
The guitars riffs are always so raw and metallic, accompanied by hammering drums, especially if we talk about the loud snare drum. The solos are quite fast, alternating tremolo pickings and tapping technique to some less impulsive breaks where the dark melodies take the main part. The structures result easy to be listened and remembered, like the good and catchy refrain of “Holy Wars” (with a great guitar solo) and the old school speed metal riffs on the following, instrumental “Catalepsy”. Anyway, the music and the parts can vary quite often in a song and the impact is not always the main word; the structures are a good blend of speed restarts and some more mature breaks.
The lead guitar plays an important role for the gloom atmosphere in “Shattered Illusions”, while the open chords parts are really old style with that not always too marked melody. Also the length helps in avoiding this album to be dispersive because, yes, the songs are good but not masterpieces. To mark out the sudden and mind-blowing speed restarts in “Life In Pain” and “Blood I Bleed”. “Widow’s Walk” signs some more melodic vocals by the refrain but the main role is once again by the incredible guitar solos and, surprisingly, we can also find a mid-paced song to close the album, “Vultures In The Sky”.
All in all, a good, but forgotten, and sincere piece of burning speed/thrash metal with a good song writing and excellent solos. The Dawn’s vocals are perfect for the dramatic line that binds each and every song of this album with those dark melodies. Definitely worth a listen for the aficionados of this genre.
“I’ve let what matters slip away, like grains of sand falling from my hands…all tomorrows are yesterdays.”
It’s only been the last few years that women in metal have been getting some attention, especially the lungs of the gender. Sure, they’ve been with us all along – an abridged list of early female singers harking the lighter edge of metal can be Lee Aaron, Lita Ford, Doro, Betsy Bitch, and Wendy O Williams (RIP – more punk, but hey). Even more scarce are pre-‘90s thrash voxwomen – Lori Bravo, easily the most brutal and grim of the bunch back then with demos (Nuclear Death), Katherine Thomas (The Great Kat – who for some retarded reason isn’t in the archives [ed. - but now is]), Lynda Simpson (Sacrilege), Debbie Gunn (Sentinel Beast/Znowhite), and our beloved Dawn Crosby (RIP). Sitting on the fence between lite and harsh was Leather Leone of Chastain. When it comes to male vocalists, one can make tablet-sized lists of them, even separating the good from the crappy. One can list all the females on the back of a business card. It is in this respect that the Californian Détente were relatively ahead of their time, predated only by Betsy, Gunn’s demos, almost Sacrilege’s ’85 debut and a small handful of others.
Take the guttural intro of Possessed’s “Pentagram”, throw two more demon-twisted voices on top of it and you have the start of “Losers” (which is what they’re saying) and Recognize No Authority. A traditional dynamic riff gongs the song’s entrance and is immediately up-ended by an urgent thrash delivery bands like Agent Steel were plowing things over with. Fuming riffs are mixed nicely with more conventional tempos to keep the pace guessing while Crosby clenches her fist and shrieks with sandpapery vengeance, a harsh shear that can peel chrome. I’ve heard her vocals described in many ways, the most inventive probably as the evil fourth Chipmunk, but when pitted against the other lungwomen of her time, there was little contest. “Russian Roulette” starts with a single quick note and triumphant scream only to pull the plug on the speed and introduce a more moderate, orthodox pace, a few interesting rhythms, and a screaming solo via Ross Robinson. The chorus is the centerpiece of the melodically thrashy “It’s Your Fate”, then there’s the brilliant “Holy War”, always my fave on the disk. Bass and high-hat slowly surface from silence, a scream rips, and a great rhythm is cast into the night. Oddly, the speed slowly quickens all the while a wild solo is wailing and seamlessly continues into the next verse. The wordless “Catalepsy” is a fairly short rhythm-shifting, speed menace closing side one.
Commencing side two, Dawn’s vocals seem to gain a slightly higher pitch in the double bass dominated “Shattered Illusions”, noticeable especially in the chorus. “Life is Pain” stalks sound waves with a lethargic gait that envelops most of the song with the exception off a few short stints of velocity where the chorus dwells. At this point, it’s evident the last three tracks are running out of steam which could have been corrected by better song placement. Since two of the three were written during their demo days, it can’t be said their energy or creativity was spent. Instead, they placed their weakest songs last and all three hinge on the fateful branding of filler. “Blood I Bleed” speeds along with a very conventional and uninteresting rhythm that even Crosby’s short, uncharacteristic bursts of fairly clean notes can’t decorate. Similar in direction is “Widows Walk” with the singing at perhaps its highest, most strained and reaching pitch. This vocal timbre carries over to final track “Vultures in the Sky”, most evident in the chorus. Ending this album with “Holy War” or another powerful tune would’ve kept side two afloat, but instead drifts off and has a hard time keeping its head above water.
While Recognize No Authority will never be considered a thrash classic, it does hold its own with at least five or six of the ten tracks being a harsh stimulation of thrash songwriting, power and energy. Sure, that may be around 50%, but it’s the quality of that percentage that can award higher marks. Dawn Crosby would die of liver complications due to alcohol abuse at the tail end of ’96, long after Détente was laid to rest and her later project, Fear of God, was trying to find an identity.
A lot of mid-eighties metal hasn't stood the test of time. Stuff that was decent but generic back then now sounds too outdated to stomach. This is especially true of a lot of the second string bands that wound up disappearing into the Metal Blade or Shrapnel catalogs, buried by time and dust. Thankfully, it's not true of Detente. Although no one would mistake Recognize No Authority for an eternal classic, it's still a good listen if you have a crush on early thrashy metal.
The first song, "Losers", establishes the heavy hardcore influence that will be popping up throughout the album. It's like early Cro-Mags meets early Megadeth. For the most part, though, the HC influences aren't noticeable on every song and the best songs on the album are more conventionally metal ("Russian Roulette" sounds a bit like Omen, for instance). Dawn Crosby's vocals are miles away from the gothic singing style she would use with Fear of God. Here she uses a raw shrieking style that's not too dissimilar from that of John Connelly from Nuclear Assault, only slipping into her more melodic style on the slower songs like "Life Is Pain". It might sound annoying, but it fits Detente's music very well. It's also pretty novel, as you don't hear too many singers who can maintain the level of raw intensity that Crosby had here.
I'm also digging the album's production: authentic lo-fi trashy thrash production from the eighties will always smite gimmicky "grim" latter day black metal sound. Overall, a safe purchase if anything said here sounds good to you.