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Well... the first handful of advance reviews for my former pet hometown heroes, Diamond Plate, are beginning to pour in, and the forecast is looking pretty grim. I'll tackle that album when the time comes, but right now the sting of disappointment has dissipated into the warmth of nostalgia. I remember this band of shrimps when they were all still in high school and utterly unable to grow facial hair. I remember the buzz surrounding them after they opened for Overkill and Destruction and other assorted shows and stood their ground and held the stage just as well as the 25+ year thrash veterans. I remember them whoring themselves out by playing seemingly every single marginally thrash related show in the Chicagoland area for years, just building reputation with an exuberant live performance and boundless energy, not to mention some excellent songs to boot. I think back and remember how goddamn awesome they were once upon a time, and so I ask that you join my in my malted reveries today, as I take a look back at Diamond Plate's first contribution to the metal world, the (what I hoped would one day be considered the legendary) first demo, At the Mountains of Madness.
It starts off with a pointless intro that nobody likes hearing (seriously bands, stop doing that bullshit, it's stupid), but once that single unnecessary minute is out of the way, we get treated to over twenty minutes of nonstop thrashing intensity. I've cited the following EP, Relativity, to be the band's crowning achievement, and I still believe that, but At the Mountains of Madness is an almost equally excellent romp for different reasons. It's a lot rougher, sloppier, and rawer than everything they did afterwards, and it translates their live energy quite well to the record. At this point in time, the band is extremely young, like fifteen years old or something to that effect, and it shows clearly (especially in hindsight). Despite three of the five songs here being featured on the following two releases, this stands as a very immature demo, but believe me when I say I mean that in the most endearing way possible. The songwriting is pretty basic for the most part, not entirely the pop structure of verse-chorus-blahblahblah, but far and away more simplistic than the more longwinded and progressive tendencies they would find themselves flirting with on Generation Why?
But what the songwriting lacks in complexity, it makes up for with intensity. "Maelstrom", "The Alchemist", and the title track are the most obvious examples to point towards when discussing the youthful fervor of the band. The riffing is that awesome blend of Megadeth, Anthrax, and Destruction that they had made their trademark at this juncture, with the classic stomps of the New York thrash scene being showcased in "Casualty of War" and "Criminal Justice", while the more straightforward, Slayer-influenced ones on the earlier tracks set the pace somewhere a hair above mach 6. I've written about most of these songs three times over now, so all you really need to know is that they're all a devilish blend of ferocious and infectious. The chorus of "At the Mountains of Madness" can easily stick in your head for a week if you let it, and the main riff of "Criminal Justice", despite it's relative simplicity, is one of the best examples of how to take a really basic thrash riff and keep it interesting over the course of a song. These kids pretty much figured it out early and harnessed their extraordinary riff writing ability for as long as they apparently could.
The sound here is surprisingly thick for a three piece demo, if a bit guitar heavy in the sense that the bass is somewhat drowned. It's not particularly bone breaking and it's not as polished up as they would later be, but it's pretty clean for a first demo. Don't let that fool you though, At the Mountains of Madness is still very rough around the edges soundwise, and it helps keep them grounded in the DIY mentality of early thrash that they so readily exemplify. Jon's vocals have always been a point of contention with many people, and they're just as divisive and controversial here as they've ever been. It's a really hoarse shout, more along the lines of a dry bark than anything else. It's not the best sound but I don't know what else would really fit with the band's style. A more Araya inspired yell maybe? I dunno, they could be better, but they've pretty much always been the only aspect of the band's early days that I wasn't entirely in love with, and even then I still like them, they're just kind of awkward sounding.
In my mind, this is the Diamond Plate I'll do my best to always remember. The poofy headed Paul Baloff bassist and the prepubescent little blond kid on guitar, the high octane thrash with expertly written riffs and explosively melodious soloing, the huge Megadeth influence and overwhelming vigor. This is what they used to represent; the next generation of metal bands. Whether they still do or not is up for debate. They've certainly exploded in popularity and branched out musically, but the thrash scene that helped nurture them has been abandoned in recent years. These homegrown prodigies captured lightning in a bottle here on At the Mountains of Madness, and even managed to capture slightly more thunder in a slightly bigger bottle on Relativity the following year, but after that they've just been missing the bottle and end up getting struck.
Originally written for Lair of the Bastard
First, the bad. The production is rather weak (it's a demo, what'd you expect?), but fortunately it could be far worse. For a three-piece group, the bass is oddly hidden in the mix most of the times, and the snare drum suffers from that annoying "PING!" syndrome. Second issue is the bassist's voice. He's only fifteen, so his thrash bark is predictably underdeveloped. He breaks the monotone only on Criminal Justice and At The Mountains of Madness.
Those points aside, this band is fucking amazing.
The band's age should not be considered a factor here. They may be young, but it's no gimmick; these kids were just born to thrash. The musicianship here is top-notch, outperforming many thrashers twice their ages. Jon's voice will only improve with time, but his bass skills leave nothing to be desired. Jim's drumming is absolutely furious, ranging in speeds from "faster than mid-paced" to "absolutely insane," without missing a note. Oh yeah, and then there's Konrad. You remember the good ol' days of Megadeth where Dave Mustaine pulled out some insane shredding solos? Picture that guitar skill, but faster. Or picture, if you will, Dragonforce-speed solos that actually have a coherent sense of melody. Except that Konrad can actually play them.
So we've got three great musicians, no doubt. But what about the songs? A lot has been said criticizing the "retro-thrash revival" movement of simply rehashing that which has already been written. This is true, and it definitely shows a weakness in modern thrash. These kids shit all over that trend. Each song comes with a riff set that may invoke the memory of old Anthrax or Metallica, but are very much different to anything written by those bands. Furthermore, these riffs are constructed to show off the technical prowess of the members without getting overly wankish. Definitely good stuff. The song structures tend to be less than progressive, but this is thrash... what did you expect? Trust me, there's no confusing these songs for one another.
It's quite amazing that these kids have not been signed yet, after opening for bands like Sabbat, Overkill, and Warbringer... but I suspect they've got a bright future ahead of them. Keep an eye on these kids, because they're most likely the best thrash band to pop up in the last fifteen or more years... and they're only going to improve in the coming years!
Diamond Plate is a band that caused quite a stir over at Thrash Unlimited. Practically overnight they got an official forum set up there and gaining many admirers. After a listen of their EP it is understandable as to why.
The EP opens up with Mountains of Madness that grabs you by the balls and refuses to let go. Immediately the classic albums, Bonded by Blood and Taking Over came to mind when hearing this for the first time. The riffs are tight and memorable with lots of energy and the vocalist is really giving it his all with his shouting style. There are absolutely no modern influences to be found. The solos are prominent and quite melodic not to far off Metallica’s style. Pretty impressive stuff for a band comprised of 15 and 16year olds. Criminal Justice slows the EP down a bit but keeps the energy there and includes a really cool dual harmony section. The production is a tad weak but gets the job done and there aren’t any parts where it is so muddy that the riffs and vocals are hard to make out.
There are no weak songs on this EP and I am hard-pressed to decide on a favorite. Diamond Plate are certainly one of the strongest talents to emerge in the thrash world within the last few years. I can see these guys going far.
The world of thrash is certainly a strange one today. There are hoards of bands emerging on the scene who are out to try and bring thrash "back to its roots." More often than not, this means re-hashing some old Slayer or Metallica riff, never changing tempo, and writing songs about how great metal is, beer, killing posers, beer, partying, beer, evil, and beer. Although these do provide for an enjoyable listen every now and then, alot of these major-label thrash acts are too obsessed with thrash metal's image and not focused enough on innovation or doing something original.
After hearing about Diamond Plate and then eventually speaking with resident ax-shredder Konrad through a forum, he agreed to send me a promotional copy of the band's first recorded effort. Folks, this is one hell of a first effort, I can tell you that much. Here we have three musicians who clearly know how to play their instruments and aren't out to follow any trends.
The album begins with the intro track "Descent." The track features an acoustic guitar playing a somewhat haunting melody that does indeed conjure the feeling of descending. Before you know it, the rest of the band comes in and charges headfirst into "Maelstrom." Konrad's crunchy, furious riffing is backed by Jim's insane drum work (how many other 16 year olds do you know that can play like THIS?) and Jon's thick, heavy bass. The instruments all compliment each other very well, but the vocals don't really seem to suit the music too well. They're a bit incomprehensible and lack distinction. If nothing else, they are original and its clear that the vocalist isn't trying to outright copy anyone else's style. I won't go into every track, but lets just say that each one is easily recognizable from the others and there are a hell of alot of cool solos and riffs within these 5 tracks (just listen to that harmony on "Criminal Justice").
Keep your eye on this band. They're certainly capable of turning out some killer thrash metal without having to conform to the genre's clichés, and "Mountains Of Madness" is out to prove that. I highly recommend you pick this one up once its released via Stormspell records.