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The fifth effort from Germany’s old-school power/thrashers Paradox, “Riot Squad,” is one more extreme headbang-inducing assault from an act well-versed in delivering such punishment and continues to set forth a solid legacy in the genre.
As is usual for the band, the first half of the album combines pretty much everything that’s going to be found throughout the release, and there’s no difference here. Right up-front is the guitar-playing, which is truly a strong point in the band’s career for it manages to feature all the hallmarks the group has utilized in one location for the album, from the melodic lines that recall the atmospherics of power metal bands in projecting a sense of grandiosity that’s usually never associated with the genre for thrash generally tends to focus more on the intensity and aggression within the music. Littered with such melodies when the band is in mid-tempo chugging mode, a tactic that’s spread throughout the songs and as a rule creeps into nearly every song here regardless of its’ speed or pacing, allows them to stand out when the band acts more like those truer thrash bands during the times when the intensity and aggression come through, which is in ample supply here. Nearly every song features at least one extreme thrash riff, and most are the full-throttle ahead kinds which make the experience even more enjoyable. Also, the group’s sense of technical display is again on fine display throughout, and when merged with the melodies in the simpler-paced songs create more infectious moments within the music. These elements in the guitar-centered music are an important part of the bands’ sound and that continues on this record.
Apart from the guitar elements, there are also the classic variations within their sound that are on full-display here. Another element ported over from the power metal world is the use of clean, soaring vocals instead of the acidic, raspy singing that usually accompanies such bands, and this adds an extra dimension to the bands’ attack that most bands can’t accomplish. Able to weave and twist through the music rather than just screaming and growling over the top of hateful and aggressive music, the lighter approach to the vocals is an important part in harmonizing with the guitars to make for a melodic and infectious atmosphere that most thrash bands aren’t capable of even if they wanted to. It’s a total surprise to see this in the more intensely-paced tracks sounding as listenable as they do but that’s due mostly to these vocal melodies that they’ve been able to utilize because of their chosen sound, and as a big part of their early days to see it still in full-force at this stage of their career in this impacting way is a great sign. As well, blessed with a frantic drummer that manages to hit all the double-bass requirements for that extra impact but can lay off to let the guitar theatrics take over yet still remain a forceful entity in their own right makes this quite fun, and with a great bass performance as well this is a strong overall performance.
Stylistically, there’s not a great deal of difference between the first and second halves of the album, and it’s really only a minute difference here that there is one but the first half does come out a little more intense overall. Not to say that there’s not some walloping tracks in this section, but as a whole the more intense moments are found in the first half while the second tends to slow the pace and keep things a little more mid-paced and less chaotic, letting a bit more of the old-school thrash come to the forefront rather than the other intense songs, and overall this creates a feeling of a minor let-down when compared to the more charging opening part. This section still has plenty of quality within it, and there’s a chaotic break-neck song or two within to satisfy all manners of thrash fans so it’s not a bad effort at all, and the melodic sensibilities present have always been a part of their sound anyway which doesn’t mean it’s an experimental part of the album either. It’s just a slight notch down on the intensity scale.
There’s really not a whole lot wrong with the songs in this one and its’ almost immediately noticeable. Opener ‘Suburban Riot Squad’ features pretty much every feature possible in the band’s repertoire, with pounding drumming, technical riffing with a total thrash atmosphere in a chaotic solo section to create a chaotic, thrashing lead-off that signals the upcoming storm in spectacular fashion. Follow-up ‘Hollow Peace’ is another highlight with a commanding intro with pounding, militaristic drumming, grooving riffs and intertwining melodic sensibilities that generate an atmosphere of immense power and thrashing aggression quite well. The devastating ‘Riptide’ contains another murderous intro riff with a devastating rhythm section, full-on melodic riffing in mid-section verses, yet still remains in mid-range thrash mode throughout and topped off with great vocals. ‘Rise in Rank’ is a bit of a breather as it focuses on melodic riffing at the off-set with sparks of technicality that then turns into total barn-burning thrash with hyper-speed drumming, furious tempo and fantastic vocals to top it all off. The furious ‘Evolution Reset’ might be one of the bands’ all-time classics with up-tempo drumming, frenzied riffing with no hints of melody which are only in the vocals and some extremely strong change-ups in the riffing during the intense moments that causes this to be a stand-out track in many ways.
While the second half is still packed with quality songs, its true intentions are signaled from the start. ‘Nothingness,’ with its’ grooving mid-paced and melodic riffing without deviation, with strong hints of the epic power metal style of their past, is inherently noticeable of easing off the throttle and letting their other elements have a chance to get noticed. Strangely, that seems at odds with follow-up ‘No Place to Survive,’ a crushing, devastating burst of thrash in a blazing, frenetic pace with spacious riffing, devastating drumming and insane clean vocals that feels more at home in the upper half compared to the more spacious arrangements placed around it, but the band is still to be commended for offering such a tight, confined blast in such a small package as the results are nothing short of devastating. ‘Dream Hero’ brings it back to the more traditional elements with stylish old-school influenced riffing with mid-tempo melodies, pounding drums along with some interesting atmospheric and mid-paced change-ups throughout which get rather memorable at times when it’s not in full-throttle mode. After a pointless intro, ‘Planet Terror’ kicks in mid-paced grooving with bursts of technicality-laced speed interjected into the attack before a sparkling solo section ratchets up intensity, and it would’ve remained high on the list if it would’ve had a few bars chopped off to shorten it, for it’s a bit too long as it is now. It closes back on a high with ‘Psychofficial,’ as a blazing intro with full-throttle drumming segues into a furious thrash assault with technical bursts between mid-paced breathers and intense choruses creates the perfect closing place in the album’s running order.
There’s a lot to like with this release, as there has been on most of the bands’ efforts in the past as well, and it strongly continues the groups’ past of solid, strong thrash releases. Featuring enough frenzied, chaotic songs to make their moments of melody and atmosphere all the more palpable and enjoyable whilst still keeping their footing squarely in the realm of thrash, this is one of the strongest bands going on the scene and while it’s not their platinum opus this ranks right up there as to how well it mixes those two seemingly at-odds elements into a cohesive, strong whole. Blessed with a superb production that never lets the individual instruments overshadow anything else, never gets too glossy or dirty but instead creates an infectious atmosphere within, stand-out songwriting that created a couple enduring classics and enough surprises to keep things from being boring overtime, it’s pretty close and is definitely recommended to their fans, thrash aficionados in general or the curious.
Paradox has seen a lot of changes in line-up for an act that has only put out five full length releases total including this one. Formed back in 1986, the band release two full lengths back-to-back, then didn't release their third full length for almost eleven years. Another eight years they would release their previous effort Electrify, and now about a year later they release their latest album, Riot Squad (with the States getting it in early 2010 making the wait longer). It has been said that this release has been five years in the making, and given the lack of recordings from the band in these years it shouldn't take you by surprise. And to make a descriptive answer short, yes, it was worth the wait.
Riot Squad really doesn't hold anything back, much like the band's previous releases, keeping in the vain of the early Speed and Thrash sound that has been making it's comeback as of late, comparable to releases by bands like Sodom and Judas Priest. Right from the start with "Suburban Riot Squad", the album takes on a very menacing form with intense guitars and drums with some rather Power Metal-oriented vocals thrown in for good measure. This track may be a bit too much to take in at first, possibly even "Hollow Peace", but after the album gets going, you'll get some great enjoyment out of it on later listens. The flow of Riot Squad starts to change up a bit around the time of "Riptide", which finds some more melodic elements brought into the punishing guitar work, causing the music to veer a bit more towards the Heavy Metal and Thrash Metal side of music. "Rise in Rank" is where you will see this the most though, as the album continue to evolve, but fans of Annihilator may notice that some of the guitars used sound very close to some of the material off of Waking The Fury, or even current Kreator workings, before it takes a life of it's own.
Musically, Riot Squad is a very intense musical experience. However, the only real drawback to this release stems from the vocals. It's hard to sit back and listen to this release with such clean vocals that, at times, seem as if the vocalist isn't even trying. If the band had incorporated some harsher vocals into the mix, perhaps even a gutteral or two here and there on certain tracks, which a good majority of them leave ample room for thanks to the intensity, then there would have been a whole other level to the release. Another option the band could have had was using harsher vocals behind the clean vocals for emphasis to add some extra bite. Sadly none of this was done, which causes plenty of the tracks on here to feel as if there was more that could have been done with them.
The best thing about this album is that from start to finish, it feels like the album is honestly maturing and mutating as you progress through it. If you listen to "Suburban Riot Squad", the most intense track on this recording, and then check out "Nothingness" you wouldn't really notice anything. But, if you listen to every song in order up to "Nothingness", you hear a transition from unbridled music rebellion to matured and restricted technical material. This, if nothing else, is the most enjoyable aspect of this release since everything on here is made to feel organic to this point. "No Place to Survive" breaks this natural flow to go back into a heavier and much more intense musical sound much like that of "Riptide" or "Rise in Rank" and it just continues from there, and then goes into a small cluster of tracks that are meerly ok. "Dream Hero" is alright until it nears the end of the song and the vocals start to get a little stale against the music, and then "Planet Terror", another good song, just feels a bit drawn out.
When it comes right down to it, Riot Squad is an amazing album by Paradox and well worth your hard earned money. The only drawbacks to the album would be the latter tracks "Dream Hero" and "Planet Terror" lacking in quality, as well as the sometimes ill-fitting clean vocals. If you want something that is heavy enough that it's going to crush you right from the start, then look no further then this release. There's plenty of material here that will make you want to start your own circle pit wherever you may be, regardless of age, sex, or amount of people nearby that you can drag into the pit with you.
Originally posted on Apoch's Metal Review
If you’ve read my review for Paradox’s Electrify album, you might recall I mentioned that the album overall suffered from a lack of energy, even going as far as to include a ballad. In an interview anticipating Riot Squad’s release, Charly, the band’s vocalist and one of the guitarists, explained how things were pretty hard in his life at the time they wrote the album. Still, they didn’t want to go back on hiatus after such a brief time reunited (don’t forget they did so after the release of Collision Course) with nothing to show for it, so they persevered and came out with that album. Well, things have cleared up a bit, and Charly agreed it was time to spare the ballads and just go for an all-out thrash attack.
And oh, how they delivered!
Don’t let the rather lame album art distract you, this is the sort of release most bands can only wish to come up with, let alone after 20-some years filled with hardships, family deaths, and the like. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this is every bit as good as Heresy, their undisputed “classic” album. It’s not really a deep album – there’s no conceptual story underlying the tracks nor any lengthy pieces of progressive wizardry – but it’s chock full of heavy-as-hell THRASH FUCKING METAL. And it is delicious.
That’s not to say it is a simple album, however. This is a band with two guitarists, and they make sure they have a reason to use both. Some of the songs on Electrify featured melodic guitar lines on top of the riff, adding for a nice extra layer of complexity. Riot Squad takes that, and makes it a standard practice in the songwriting. Picture, if you will, an album full of songs like Monument and Second Over Third By Force. I hinted in my Electrify review that if the band did just that, it’d be a great album. And here we are.
I’ve made a number of references to Electrify here, and it’s entirely deliberate. More than any other pair of Paradox albums, these two sound most alike, aside from the extra shots of adrenaline. The production is very similar between the two, but I think the bass guitar was turned up a little too much for this one. It produces a near-constant throb through the main riff that can sometimes overwhelm those guitar melodies and the vocals. The drums also don’t quite hit as hard as they did on Electrify, probably as a side effect of the bass volume. All this is nitpicking, though, as it’s still an incredibly full and powerful sound. The lyrics are also related to similar themes, this time cutting back a little on the sci-fi themes and focusing more on social dystopian ideas. The musicianship is just as solid this time around as it was last time, which is to be expected.
So let’s get to the songwriting, which accounts for the nearly 20% increase in the rating between the two albums. The album art gives a good clue about the direction things have taken. Again in the center is the same “connected guy” that showed up on Electrify, but gone is the colder atmosphere, and gone are the extraneous details. To translate to the songwriting: they traded the slower, colder songs for furious burners and removed the filler. No ballads, no interludes, just forty-eight minutes of metal. Surburban Riot Squad kicks things off with a level of energy not akin to Second Over Third By Force minus the intro, and again kicks it up a notch with Hollow Peace, as Second… did to Monument (and again, ditching the interlude). But then, instead of taking things down a notch, Paradox ratchets up the intensity again into Riptide, one of my favorites. This song must be absolutely nuts live, with a certain headbanging moshitude on par with anything off Exodus’s debut.
Rise In Rank is just the slightest dip in intensity, but then the band pioneers new frontiers of intensity with Evolution Reset. For comparison purposes, this song occupies the same space as Bride to Silence did on Electrify. This is not a band fucking around. To spare you the track-by-track, Paradox continues to get crazier and more intense with No Place to Survive and then again further with the closer, Psychofficial. In summary: the band starts in the same gear as one of their fastest tracks on the previous album, and gets progressively more intense throughout the entire album.
But perhaps you were one of the folks who really liked the melodic sensibilities of Electrify. Don’t fret, the band has not forgotten you! Nothingness is quite reminiscent of the title track of the previous album but with a bit more drive and less meandering. Planet Terror is another great one, vaguely recalling the speed of Hyperspeed Hallucinations with even more melodic focus.
There’s not a whole lot left to say about this album. In a nutshell, it’s a lot like how I wished Electrify had turned out. The band notably takes a more straightforward thrash approach here, but still features all the elements that made me like the previous album. There’s only one track approaching “weakness” here, Dream Hero, but even that piece sits on par with the previous album’s non-highlights. I’ll be spinning this album for years to come.
We had to wait 8 long years to receive Electrify from the awesome German thrashers Paradox, but they have shown us mercy, and delivered their 5th album Riot Squad one year later. It basically picks up where its predecessor left off, with 10 new tracks of the band's energetic, 'electrified' progressive thrash metal that will have you banging your head and shouting YESSSSS to the heavens. The aging Germans have not lost their touch, and though the album is not precisely as memorable as Electrify, it's goddamned close (I'll score it the same), and heavier, another positive charge to their discography.
Prepare your neck for immediate stimulation as "Suburban Riot Squad" comes into focus with the band's gleaming, unique melodies and then a punchy thrasher which should have any non-poseur reaching for his kevlar, helmet, taser and billy club. "Hollow Peace" offers no respite, it's like having a few brief seconds in between hammerblows to your jaw, with anthemic melodies intertwined in its chugging bottom end. Kind of a modern Flotsam & Jetsam feel to it. "Riptide" rocks out even harder than the previous tracks, with an unforgettable acrobatic thrash rhythm conjuring all the better spinal tapping thrash metal of the 80s. "Rise in Rank" opens in a wall of crazy melody before it once again dives into 100% urban combat. Close your eyes and dream of a dystopian future in which you find yourself the last line of defense between the tax paying privileged and the anarcho streetpunks armed with their latest cybertech warfare.
If Robocop were a thrash metal album, this might just be it!
"Evolution Rest" creates instant anxiety with its spikes of neurotic melody and grooving violence. "Nothingness" is pensive and laid back, but there is a tension behind it which seems to warn of the oncoming onslaught of "No Place to Survive", which just kicked my ass clear across the cityscape. "Dream Hero" and "Planet Terror" offer two more warnings of the twisted society to come, and "Psychofficial" closes out the album with unnverving, battering brutality, one of the heaviest tracks this band has ever delivered.
Riot Squad sounds suitably confrontational and acidic. Charly Steinhauer's vocals remain just as memorable as the first time you ever spun Product of Imagination or Heresy, and the band are at their technical prime, though never indulgent beyond the framework of their tight, punctual riffing. This is real mother fucking thrash metal, which looks backward only to smile and nod at its rich past, then turns about face and marches into the future, where it can still kick ass. Paradox exclaims boldly to all the would-be, retrograde nostalgic upstarts: thrash metal is not a relic, it is not over, it has only begun.