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This album has been described as a LOT of things, most of them contradictory. It is none of them. First off, this is neither black metal nor death metal. It also is not particularly a 'classic' or 'old-school' sounding album. Just because it doesn't have all that many blastbeats and the Linkin Park kiddies won't instantly love it doesn't mean it sounds anything like Powerslave.
When all is said and done, this sounds like 1992, except with 2003 production. More specifically, it sounds like a middle-era Pantera album, concentrating on their thrash style. Now this is not really a bad thing, and in fact it's not really a bad album. It's almost as good as Cowboys, and better than Vulgar and Far Beyond, because there aren't nearly as many obnoxious groove moments, but still, most of the riffs are Diamond Darrell production, and the 'extreme death/black' vocals sound more like 'extra screams courtesy of Seth Putnam' (Great Southern Trendkill) and regular screams courtesy of Phil Anselmo than anything else.
So okay, enough with what the fuck this isn't... is it any good? Yeah, it is actually surprisingly good. Some of the songs are far better than others, and honestly when all is said and done, it's a bit overlong for its own good, and I tend to have a hard time listening to it in entirety in one sitting, but in small doses it's fun.
The absolute highlight: WORLD OF WRATH. Remember Heresy? Remember how Pantera busted out all those fucking thrash riffs? Well, imagine that. Pure fucking thrash metal to be found here, and then they throw in a random Rush "weeee are the priiiiiests!!!" moment in that "no illusions, no god above!!!" vocal section. It's not really something I'd call melodic, because it's a real fucking shriek, but it kicks the mighty ass, and is the highlight of the album.
The rest... Outlined in Black is decent, though there is that random scream-and-blast section in the middle. But hey, if Dimmu sounded like that shrieker zone, they'd be an okay band, because after that there is a real smasher of a midpaced riff. Again, with a lot of harsh shrieks over it - really, imagine The Underground in America or something. All these fucking Pantera references, but I'm telling you, THAT is what it sounds like.
Most of the songs feature one really overt thrash riff - some pretty similar to others, like one of the transition riffs in To Hell and Back sounding like the intro riff in From Hell and Back, but there's a few real surprises, like the Sodom-sounding section in the middle of No Compromise. NEVER AGAIN, TAPPING THE VEIN!!! Moshpit Underground sounds a bit more like old Machine Head than Pantera, though of course nowhere near as insipid - there are, fortunately, no whiney clean vocals to be found on the album. Just the harsh vox 99% of the time, and that one completely random Rush moment, which is never to be seen again, oddly enough.
Obsession totally has some groove moments similar to Vulgar Display of Pantera, but then they also throw in a random 80s thrash/power riff at 1.25 that just screams LAAZ ROCKIT (Annihilation/Know Your Enemy) just with modern production. In fact, this is one of the best riffs I've heard in recent years, and that includes the tons of old-school albums I've been acquiring. Then, under the solo, we have kind of a reprise of World of Wrath with the noodly solos over the classic riffage. Yes, there is a lot of classic moments in here, but then there's also a lot of early 90s-isms, and that is why I cannot possibly label this the second coming of Priest in the East.
But hey, for what it is, it's damn good. Album of the year for 2004? Fuck no, not when Zetrodus takes the planet by force. But it's pretty good, and I find myself spinning it a lot and thus I'm probably gonna purchase it - which is saying something, given that I purchased maybe 8 albums with a 2003 release date, and 2004 is looking pretty similar. If you like modern production, middling Pantera, and thrash (but not so much thrash as to make Vio-lence envious), I encourage you wholeheartedly to find this. I think www.grimfist.com has samples, so see for yourself.