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Where so many bands in the late 80s were trying to take the formula presented by Metallica and Megadeth and add some accessibility for success, there was another side to the thrash scene entrenched more firmly in the influence of Slayer, Possessed, Venom and the emerging German scene. Holy Terror belonged to the latter, and they had a sound that, by 1987 standards, was quite intense. Filthy, aggressive thrash metal which mastered both the elements of chaos and precision into a violent experience, like a Mad Max road race through the outlying deserts of the abyss. Keith Deen's apocalyptic vocals gave the band a grisly edge, but what really explodes off this recording are the guitars, which peel the rust off the abandoned cars that litter this hellish highway. Just as fast as Exodus, or Possessed, and about as complex.
The intensity showcased across Terror and Submission was a wise decision for Holy Terror, because unlike so many of their peers, they produced an effort that could be remembered fondly. This is still pretty fucking wild by today's standards, and the cult status of this band is well deserved, while so many other, safer thrash metal upstart albums of the 80s languor in the black hole of memory. I can't say that the entire effort is packed to overflow with memorable riffs, but taken as a whole it's 42 minutes of pleasure and pain for any thrash magnate who seeks the less traveled path.
"Black Plague" is disgustingly fast and will hit you like an 18-wheeler on demon auto-pilot. Don't like it? Then don't hitchhike on Rt. 66, motherfucker. The speed blisters and swells like the friction sores that must have caused great injury to guitarists Kurt Kilfelt and Mike Alvord, as their riffs buzz through the recording like a pair of buzzsaw wielding killers in a competition to see who can decapitate the most college students. The leads are just spastic, awesome nonsense, and Deen's vocals range from a harsher style to some clear wailing, but always around the same range. "Evil's Rising" is deep and crushing, but picks up to the same level of speed, with some great vocal howling and drumwork courtesy of Jack Schwartz. "Blood of the Saints" dials back the speed for a crude and rude opening rhythm, but sure enough, it returns to road worthiness with a surprisingly anthemic chorus section. "Mortal Fear" explodes into more chaos at the expected tempo, but "Guardians of the Netherworld" has an old school metal tint, pumping pace where Deen really gets to shine, basically Holy Terror doing ancient power metal.
A war is raging on inside us, guarded by the horde
With lesser gods of higher rank, prodding them to war
No Father, Son, or Holy Spirit
Nor defences from the foe
All are battered, tortured, shattered
Allegiance without death is woe
The lyrics to much of the album read like a poor man's Paradise Lost, much more serious and well written than other bands of the era were capable of delivering. "Distant Calling" has some great power melodies that wind up before the verse, and it's another of their classic metal charge pieces and one of the very best songs on this album. "Terror and Submission" features a kickass, burning lead over the dense, grinding melodies, and "Tomorrow's End" is just sheer, crashing momentum, like a windstorm approaching across a desert at 10x the normal speed. The bridge has a hyper, ascending rhythm that swerves back into the lightning verse, and there's a crunchy thrash breakdown in there as well. "Alpha Omega - The Bringer of Balance" is perhaps my very favorite track from the album, with a wealth of amazing riffs that are bost caustic and beautiful, creating an epic atmosphere of desperation and warfare.
Terror and Submission has one of the best 'apocalyptic' tones of any thrash or speed metal album in history, right alongside Holy Moses' Finished With the Dogs or Znöwhite 's Act of God (the latter of which came out the year after this). It's completely aggressive without needing to sacrifice good songwriting or musicianship, and I truly wish more bands had gone this route instead of going all Metallica lite. This is a great record, that belongs in any true thrashers collection, and it would not be their last...
Highlights: Evil's Rising, Distance Calling, Terror and Submission, Alpha Omega - The Bringer of Balance
This is probably the coolest guitar driven speed metal-esque album I've heard since Agent Steel's debut Skeptics Apocalypse - alas with former Agent Steel guitarist Kurt Kilfelt here I guess that really shouldn't come as a major surprise. In a lot of ways this is very comparable to early Agent Steel, the guitars are constantly spiraling out a tornado of nonstop riffs left and right, and just as Agent Steel had a phenomenal one-of-a-kind vocalist [John Cyriis], Holy Terror had Keith Deen. Can you even describe this guys range? Random? The formula was perfect.
Fact: You can't replace John Cyriis, nobody ever will and the same can be said about vocalist Keith Deen here. He single handingly takes this album to the next level and his performance is really incredible. As I was saying above his range is completely all over the place, deathly screams all over (almost reminding me of Eric Adams at times), crystal clear shrieks piercing the skies, smooth melodic high notes, thrashy growls, raspy grunt-like mid range singing - it's unbelievable and truly makes this album a great experience. Above all, he's also one of those rare vocalists that'll really strike you with some of the lyrics - he has that ability to make some lines stand out completely in the clear and that's something you don't always see, especially in speed/thrash:
Rising through, the mist around me
Shackled to my vice
The stench of my own sins surround me
Deep inside, I need to live
Feed the fires for now but remember all
Everyone else is really top notch as well and even though there's a huge focus on the guitars, both the bass and drums stand out a lot on their own as well. Drummer Jack Schwartz had just left Dark Angel and easily displays a ton of skill and diversity, though I really have to say Floyd Flanary's bass work really shines quite often throughout. The guitars are constantly at blazing speeds and Floyd has no trouble keeping up with the pace at all, sometimes it sounds like he's somehow even going faster! Kurt Kilfelt already showed us what he could do with Agent Steel's earliest material and his blisteringly fast playing is still the main focus when it comes to the guitars here. The band brought in novice Mike Alvord to fill in for another guitarist and even though he was a little inferior at the time (stated in interviews by himself), him and Kurt worked really well together. Compared to Agent Steel's debut there's definitely more melody here, more dynamic playing and some insanely well timed leads, solo's, awesome dual harmonies, etc. The lineup couldn't have been better.
Even though this isn't quite as out there as Mind Wars and is by far more straight forward, for what they were doing here you couldn't get much better than this (and this is comparable to how Agent Steel developed too, Holy Terror gets more varied with Mind Wars as Agent Steel did with Unstoppable Force). This is constantly fast melodic thrash, speed metal, whatever you want to call it, hyper paced metal that'll grab you by the throat relentlessly giving you no time to rest. I've really been trying to think of what I can say for a few specific tracks, but I can't. Nearly every single song comes to mind with standout moments, making this truly a rare gem that shines from the start and to the end. One moment I might try attempt to describe the insanity that the end of Alpha Omega is, then next I could be left speechless with the unforgettably catchy Terror and Submission - well I guess it was unfair to mention those two, but this is just one of those albums where it seems impossible to choose only a few favorites. Everything here is absolutely amazing. Those who want the finest in classic US speed/thrash and fans of stuff like early Agent Steel especially, should find this highly enjoyable. Ultimately recommended.