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Brutality Defined - 87%

lonerider, December 25th, 2009

Face-melting, spine-wrecking, neck-snapping, bone-crunching, head-crushing, skull-fracturing, ass-kicking, gut-wrenching, mind-blowing … I could basically trot out all the tired clichés that are meant to explain just how hard something rocks and they would still go only halfway toward describing how insanely, utterly heavy this one is. Holy Toledo, I am even inclined to dub this the heaviest, most brutal pure thrash album ever recorded, and yes, I am familiar with the usual suspects such as Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Kreator’s Pleasure to Kill or Dark Angel’s Darkness Descends.

In all fairness, it must be said that Demolition Hammer certainly helped their cause by getting a top-notch production job that is leaps and bounds better than what Kreator, Dark Angel and, yes, even Slayer had to work with a couple of years earlier. Everything here sounds just perfectly crystal clear and extra crisp without ever appearing sterile or over-produced. If I absolutely had to pick a flaw, it would probably be that the bass could use a little more definition and that the drums are a little too high in the mix, which comes at the expense of the guitars, which in turn could use some more crunch here or there, but that’s basically just a whole lot of nitpicking.

Anyway, despite the positively stellar production, the fact remains that this just kicks things up a notch in terms of heaviness, speed, and brutality. I mean, listen to the faster parts (not that there are any particularly slow ones) in “Human Dissection” and “Envenomed,” among others, and tell me this doesn’t rip your face right off. I don’t by any means intend to say that Epidemic of Violence is better than the thrash milestones mentioned above – that’s a matter of personal preference and thus a moot point –, just that the shiny production job that renders every drum stroke and every riff clearly audible (something that is obviously not the case on, for instance, Darkness Descends) helps to make Demolition Hammer’s sophomore effort come across as even more brutal than some of its more widely lauded ancestors. I’m not talking about this being more extreme or even better, mind you, just more brutal. Anyhoo, what makes all this even more amazing is that Epidemic of Violence was released in 1992, in other words at a time when grunge and alternative ruled supreme and hardly anybody in the whole wide world seemed to give a rat’s ass about metal anymore, let alone thrash metal (I may be exaggerating, but you get the point).

Overall, the musical performance on this album is nearly flawless – the band plays as tight and precise as a piece of well-oiled machinery, even though they are not exactly masters of technicality or intricacy, eschewing subtlety and delicate detail for a rather basic meat-and-potatoes approach. The guitarists don’t pretend to be fretboard wizards but rather stick to what they do best, which is churning out riff after vicious riff and largely steering clear of any excess noodling other than throwing in the odd solo here or there. Vocalist Steve Reynolds’ shouts are pretty impressive as well, conjuring up images of some mentally deranged wino who’s about to get loaded only to have his booze taken from him – in other words, he sounds seriously pissed off and very menacing. Oh, and as far as the drums are concerned, Vinny Daze (R.I.P.) may very well be best drummer you’ve never heard of. Just like the guitarists he doesn’t necessarily wow you with finesse and exotic timing patterns, but he can seemingly hit his snare faster than a machine gun spews forth bullets, temporarily pummeling you with his double bass (the beginning of “Human Dissection” would be a fine example) before continuing to hammer his kit to kingdom come and then returning for even more mayhem.

So, why not give this an ever higher rating, you ask? Well, because heaviness and brutality are obviously not the only ingredients needed to create a great album. There are times when Epidemic of Violence gets a bit one-dimensional and just rushes by you at light speed. Some more hooks and solos as well as a few subtly melodic touches in the guitar department would have gone a long way to make this more memorable, but Demolition Hammer apparently opted to remain in all-out skull-smashing mode all the time, and more power to them – they may not win any prizes for virtuosity, but they have secured a place in the metal hall of fame as one of the heaviest thrash outfits, perhaps even THE heaviest thrash outfit of all time. That’s quite a feat, if you ask me.

Choicest cuts: Skull Fracturing Nightmare (you gotta love songs about barbaric torture devices), Pyroclastic Annihilation (effective gang shouts and well-researched lyrics about volcanic activity make this the song of choice for all you geographers out there), Carnivorous Obsession (its double-bass laden blunt-force approach comes as a welcome change of pace in between all the insane shredding), Omnivore (borders on death metal at times and features some of the most memorable riffs on the album), Aborticide (fittingly bids you farewell by punching you in the face a couple more times)