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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.