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One should feel enormous respect towards underground heroes like Equinox for soldiering on, leaving sizeable legacy of four full-lengths and two EP’s, unperturbed by the despicable flippancy of the music scene which left them with very little recognition outside their homeland. Progressive/technical thrash metal purveyors second to none, the band had a fairly original sound which binds them inseparably with renowned metal auteurs like Voivod, Mekong Delta, Target, Realm, and Coroner. Starting as Bay-Area worshippers, the band quickly revealed their full potential as proficient technical practitioners of the genre their mazey rifforamas blooming on the superb “Xerox Success” (1991).
Regardless of what an amazing year for metal 1991 was, it couldn’t prevent the downfall which the oncoming groovy/alternative/numetal movement had scheduled for the retro power/speed/thrash metal caleidoscope. Adjustments were inevitable if the old guard wanted to stay afloat if only for one isolated “tribute” to the aggro/groove trends. Metallica were first with The Black Album, the “flagman” of the post-thrash branch, followed by Kreator, Overkill, and Exodus a year later, then Coroner, Risk and Anthrax in another twelve months…
However, came 1994 which showed the brave ones who had voted to still remain immersed in the old sounds not caring how long their “atrocities” would be tolerated by the new metal regulators. Slayer and Testament had only made some light adjustments to their rigorous approach as opposed to Forbidden, for example, who had adapted more diligently to the new demands. Equinox in this train of thought sit somewhere in the middle; they did shift their style towards new territories, but never made compromises with the ruling forces of the decade. They decided to show their respect to one of the most interesting moments in metal history: Voivod’s mid/late-80’s period (“Killing Technology”, “Dimension Hatross”), as a logical epitaph to their career. And this “Labyrinth” here, alongside the Americans Transilience’s “Mouthful of Buildings”, Killing Joke’s marvellous, and sole, “flirtation” with metal “Extremities, Dirt and Various Repressed Emotions”, the Germans Of Rytes’ “Without”, and the Brits Wartech’s two demos, remains one of the finest bows to the heritage of the legendary Canadians.
Moments of surreal, spacey dissonant chords already showed up on “Xerox Success”, and some may have foreseen the direction in which the band were heading. The other good piece of news is that the style remains technical/progressive thrash (more progressive this time than technical) spiced with less hard-hitting post-thrashy ingredients; it’s 1994 after all... The opening “Sandlove” is one of the most surreal, psychedelic introductions in the annals of metal, a most uplifting dissonant masterpiece the guys shredding nonchalantly thrashing harder as well at some stage, not to mention the immediately recognizable chorus. This is the best possible beginning of this grand opus which slows down with “Time Again”, a weird quasi-doomster with outlandish, oblivious rhythms, a less dynamic side which the band has already revealed several times previously. “But” thrashes in a very quirky manner with optimistic melodies intertwining with jarring jumpy riffs and unnerving wa-wa leads. “Angst” prefers the mid-tempo for a change the guys enriching the environment with ska, funk, and jazz this offbeat amalgam making perfect sense the whole time, especially with the assistance of discordant more dynamic thrashing and very cool clean vocal performance. “Lies” introduces the bass more prominently for the execution of another strange thrashterpiece taken straight from “Killing Technology” with entertaining funky implements again.
The title-track “flirts” with balladic bluesy rhythms and remains on more laid-back ground without showing-off too much. “Hope is Green” is a frolic rosk-ish cut and could be viewed as the filler here due to its overtly unpretentious character. “Poor Kelly” is a dreamy ballad, not much to take from here; and “Catharsis” is a consummate progressive thrasher with a nice stomping technical motif that recalls the band’s earlier exploits alongside Treponem Pal’s early works and Mekong Delta’s “Kaleidoscope” the latter also recalled due to the marvellous atonal accumulations near the end; a more than worthy compensator for the past two not very adventurous compositions. “Dedicated” is “dedicated” to nothing but twisted jazzy dissonances which have no relation to thrash, but are not bad as another less ordinary digression. Comes “Millennium” to serve another trippy “cocktail” of riffs and rhythms, a handsome nod to the transcendental futurism of “Dimension Hatross” with the difference that the guys actually thrash here the more aggressive sections easily reaching headbanging proportions; this is how the latter effort should have sounded if The Voivods hadn’t untimely given up the thrash metal ghost.
A “labyrinth” indeed, the band intent on exiting with aplomb without completely delineating their fanbase. The psychedelic aura may as well serve as a substitute for any mind-expanding substance any time; that’s why one shouldn’t judge this opus strictly by thrash metal rules. Works like this one transcend the borders of the established styles inhabiting a not very easy to categorize territory where also “trips” like Omnitron’s “Masterpeace”, Legion’s “Knights of Cross”, Stone’s ”Emotional Playground”, the Japanese Doom’s “Incompetent…”, Glacial Fear’s “Frames”, and Oddmongers’ “Experiment” belong: you know what you’re listening to is hard-hitting enough to be labelled as thrash anytime, and yet it contains an elusive outlandish air made of numerous other influences which are somehow invariably embedded into the bigger picture. It takes quite a knack to pull this out and still keep the hardened thrash metal audience engrossed; a skill which even Voivod themselves couldn’t apply so well back in the late-80’s/early-90’s although their agenda was entirely different, of course.
Equinox were not even remotely entertaining the thought of becoming big stars of the show in the mid-90’s; they were pretty much the lonely warriors on the “battlefield“ in their homeland where black metal was “devastating” the landscape leaving very little room for other genres to flourish. I guess the band knew that this album would be their swansong and they wanted to space out as much as possible on it to really make it worthwhile. They were by no means looking at any particular clique within the metal fanbase to please; this was a piece of art created exclusively to satisfy their own predilections for musical weirdness, and also to allude to a moment of metal lore which shouldn’t be forgotten, especially during such a tough period for the old school. Nowadays some bands’ entire careers evolve around the Voivod heritage (the Poles Myopia, to give one of the better examples) including some coming from Norway, like the avantgardists Virus…
So there were some who were paying attention to the equinox cycle and dates; because this is when then greatest works of art are usually spawned. And this is when great artists from the past reportedly come to life, according to an ancient Viking labyrinth… sorry, legend.