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Punishment 18 Records has become one of the leading purveyors of old school thrash metal revivalism, particularly those hailing from Italy, a nation that was not a dominant force in said style during its original ascendancy. Perhaps the greatest criticism of this label's general output is that it tends to go heavy on the nostalgia and comes off as way too derivative, as if there is some unwritten rule that a band can't pay tribute to the classics while also writing their own original material. But what is fairly interesting about this label's history is that one of its earliest offerings (it may have been the first album ever released under the Punishment 18 moniker) came courtesy of a band doing something a bit different from the typical Metallica, Exodus and Slayer homages and including some less than likely contributors. That's actually a pretty good word to describe Italy's own Ground Control, unlikely, though in some ways fitting given the general trend of metal at the time.
The basic formula at work on Insanity, a veritable trip down late 80s memory lane, is a mid-paced to fast but not blinding nod to the lighter side of the 80s thrash coin, showcasing some influences from the likes of Heathen and Death Angel, though the chief influence is clearly Anthrax, with a particularly eye to Spreading The Disease and Among The Living. The general tone and tenor of things leans on the melodic side, largely due to the chorus-oriented structure and Alessio Garavello's generally clean and high-pitched vocal delivery. At times, he tries a little too hard to compensate for his more power metal oriented vocal demeanor with some grittier shouting, particularly on "Insanity (In My Mind)", but he does a fairly consistent job of emulating the more polished and powerful style of Joey Belladonna with about an additional half octave of range on the top of his register, which involves staying pretty close to what he took to Arthemis at the time.
Perhaps the only place where Ground Control truly deviates from the Anthrax model is in their heavy employment of atmospheric elements, largely via clean and acoustic guitar work. The consequential mixture of punchy yet middle of the road riff work with these almost ballad rich interludes creates a curious The New Order twist that is occasionally mirrored by Fabio Cavallaro lead guitar work, which is generally a mixture of Dan Spitz and Kirk Hammett but also takes on a Skolnick tinge when coinciding with the cleaner sections. It's not quite a perfect reenactment as the production is a bit more modern and the drums aren't treated to the same concert hall reverb effects, but it's a solid addition to a sound that leans a bit heavy on only one part of thrash metal's multifaceted history. Truth be told, the only area where this band completely bucks the Anthrax-tribute band label is the bass work, which screams the all support role, all the time Ian Hill approach, though odd man out Giovanni Raddi does contribute to the heavily Anthrax inspired gang chorus chime-ins that occur at frequent intervals.
Though there were a handful of champions for this album when it first came out, it has largely been forgotten in the massive wave of revivalist bands that began pouring out of Italy and other parts of Europe a few years later. It caught a fairly bad reputation due to Garavello's admittedly exaggerated vocal approach, and it also betrayed a growing level of boredom that he must have had with the power metal scene towards the end of his run with Power Quest and Arthemis that would lead to him vacating the metal scene completely, but overall it's a solid display of nostalgic late 80s thrashing that showed forth his versatility as a musician, not to mention getting in on the revival thing before it became so popular. There maybe a degree of crossover appeal to power metal fans given the vocals, but this is basically a thrash metal album for old school thrash fans, particularly those who aren't fully wedded to the notion that thrash doesn't have to cook at full speed 24/7 and have a James Hetfield or an Angelripper clone at the helm.
So, when a band is promoted as playing thrash, you expect to get thrash, right? Damn, I was naieve in believing Alessio would be able to sound thrashy, 'cause really? He can't. Ground Control is the thrash side-project of Alessio Garavello (voice of Arthemis and Power Quest), and what a terrible decision this was!
First of all, thrash should sound raw and violent, that's one of the basic principles of the genre. This doesn't sound raw, nor violent... at all. What this really is, is music played like power metal with some thrashy influences, and just a little bit more raw vocals than his other two power bands. What was he thinking? Alessio is one of my favorite voices in the genre. Power Quest's first album is a masterpiece compared to other melodic power metal. But when you hear him doing stuff like this, you just cannot defend him anymore. While in the power metal genre his vocalistic emotion and sensitivity that reflect in his music, are a huge advantage, this cannot be said about just the same way he handles his voice within the thrash metal genre. A completely raped and tortured cover of Anthrax's "Metal Thrashing Mad" doesn't make up for it, as you can believe. Hell, I get headaches just by listening to this album, it's by far the worst stuff I heard in months... Alessio, go back on finishing your next Power Quest album!
I shall not make any words more dirty on reviewing this disc, as it really isn't worth it. It's just too much to ask for listening to this album, and asking me to review it on a more professional level, I hope there are people who will sacrifice themselves to do it, but me... no.