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Lethal Madness - 86%

Metal_Thrasher90, July 30th, 2013

As the productive 80’s came to an end, for some bands it didn’t look like the primordial thrash principles were working anymore. Aware of the sequentially elitist and technically competent standards of the subgenre, some groups decided to go for a tenderer, musically liberal sound which mostly contradicted the original roots. Among the traditionally monochromatic Teutonic thrash league, people like Assassin with Interstellar Experience or Grinder on Dead End started leaving out the prejudices and prejudgments in favor of more neat, melodic efforts. Protector in their own way as well welcomed the new decade with changes and risks, luckily not repudiating their extreme metal origins but taking distance conveniently from thrash to concentrate on death/doom conceptions.

Contrary to previous attempts from the band, the album A-side focuses absorbedly on tangible, voluminous riffs and bulky grooves. Take “Sliced, Hacked and Grinded” or “Nothing Has Changed”, which however don’t dispose yet completely of tumultuous sections and diversified tempos, with their habitual shifts and generous dynamics keeping structures from descending into exceedingly one-dimensional strategies. Actually, “Quasimodo” and “Decadence” could outrace any of their compatriot peers most fulminating attacks, being an exception though, on a record driven by Müller’s malevolent down-tuning and Hasse’s frequently restrained beats. “The Most Repugnant Antagonist of Life” and “Capitascism” also demonstrate the knack for designing and ornamenting ominous landscapes with conventional, yet nimble arrangements from Missy & co. The lugubrious halo is complemented with the lead singer’s most vile, raspy growling, teaming up with truly sordid and tenebrific riffs.

Side-B may seem to be more flexible, with less-reticent tempos that make use again of double-bass kicks and more punkish, fiery riffage on “Atrocities” notably, introducing some adventurous instrumental sequences and lengthier solos that withdraw quickly in favor of Missy’s verses. The arranging as well seems less incautious and simplified on the second half of the record – except, of course, for that noisy, 50-second Napalm Death tribute. You will find plenty more slamming accents, tempo changes, more calculated picking, as well as more gifted ideas which not only serve the pondering cadence and caliginous aura of the music, but improve the fluidity and credibility of its song-bodies. Of course, soloing and instrumental journeys leave a lot to be desired, yet Protector avoid being too self-complacent in contrast with the sonically dull side-A, at least.

Curious how these Germans primarily gave prominence to the slowness of beats and the density of climaxes, instead of hardcore velocity and riff assault which Napalm Death were taking to the next level at the time. Müller is in fact exploring darker scales enthusiastically, trying out distinct effects and textures to make the music more shadowy – his tone might sound more confident and focused this time, but it is lacking the attitude and suppleness on previous works. His technical level remains average, specially now on the austere death/doom patterns the band is exploring – but in a time when gifted people like Blackfire, Sifringer and Tritze had already grown up as professional musicians, Hansi’s playing sounds hugely disadvantaged. Although except for the most rabid cuts here, Protector’s new thoughts and objectives don’t seem to ask for many skills – actually, the opposite. However, regardless of the performance, the writing remains cohesive enough, with the group still having a facility to recreate competent riff-variations, song-structure formulas and more importantly, sinister atmospheres which stand head of basic speed and aggression here. On other hand, production has a negative impact on almost every aspect of the songs, restricting their extent and framework, a weak spot which made impossible for them to match the work of Harris Johns or Randy Burns in a competitive period of metal history like the late-80’s. But to some extent, Missy & co. were pioneers as they mixed here both Swedish doom and German death elements before most Dutch acts finished off their first debut albums.

Not being in the right place at the right time, these guy’s inventive effort was ignored, making them reconsider their ways on their follow-up EP Leviathan's Desire, on which the band was back to its old tricks, sporadically interpolating slow sections in the equation which were no longer a majority, though. At least, despite its atrocious production and improvable arranging, Urm The Mad demonstrated Protector’s proclivity for reinvention surely Swedish death metal acts were aware of in those days. People in the likes of Unleashed or the Dutch from Asphyx must’ve taken notes from this album. Sometimes you don’t need to be famous and praised to be influential, specially in the underground circuit. Here’s the proof.

Urn, you lovely little skeleton fella, you - 88%

Acrobat, November 7th, 2011

For whatever reason I don't tend to hear the name "Protector" mentioned all that often when people discuss early extreme metal (no, there's not a "proto-extreme" in this case; you're either in or you're out). However, I do think they are notably extreme enough to make the cut along with, say, other German luminaries such as Kreator, Destruction and Sodom (yes, those three once again). Perhaps it's worth noting that while those limelight-hogging trio largely gave up the extremity to their sound after their early records (with Sodom being the possible exception with their brief flirtation with death thrash on the Tapping the Vein album), Protector got a considerably harder-edge over time. Or, at least from what I've heard, they got heavier between their full-length debut, Golem, and this the ripping Urn the Mad.

What is present on this record is notably less typically thrashy than what came before; a frequent use of slower tempos, even murkier production and truly sick vocals from Martin Missy (who, despite having a name that makes him sound like a bit-part character in a sub-par King Diamond album, is a fucking excellent vocalist). So, I guess what I find interesting about Protector, then, is that instead of following a thrashier path on this record they lumbered towards some odd primordial death-like sound. It's still a thrash record, sure, but it feels notably darker, grimmer and generally lacks that "push people around in the mosh pit" vibe that is associated with late-80s thrash. If pressed, I'd certainly say that this is closer to Celtic Frost's To Mega Therion than whatever your own personal standard of "typical late-80s" thrash metal might be. So, that basically leaves us with a thrash record that will appeal to people who don't necessarily like Exodus or Metallica.

Missy's sepulchural vocals are perhaps the most deathy aspect to this record. I can't honestly say that I've heard a thrash vocalist sound so convincingly extreme as he does here. Just listen to the title-track - he's positively menancing! Urn... THE MAD! See, this is thrash metal for fans of Slowly We Rot. Okay, so maybe you're not impressed by convincing death/thrash in 1989? Considering that this was a year after Malleus Maleficarum and a handful of other death metal full-lengths (although, notably ones that are still very much thrash-flecked in tone), perhaps this is not such an impressive feat. Hell, I should probably note that the band aren't afraid to use blast-beats with the closer being a fifty-second grind-influenced piece. Nonetheless, Urn the Mad has a ripping vitality to it and certainly stands to be more than a mere historical footnote; it's very memorable but I wouldn't necessarily call it an obviously catchy record. The riffs themselves aren't particularly "hooky" and it doesn't have any catchy tracks like 'Space Cake' or 'Golem', and yet the combination of Missy's schizophrenic vocals - which do literally "leap out" at the listener at times - and Hansi Müller's rather austere riffing make for something that strangely atmospheric, if you can ever use such an adjective when describing thrash.

Basically, this is thrash metal that functions so well very as death metal that you'd be forgiven for mistaking it for its younger, even uglier brother. It has all the grey-skyed oppressive heaviness you could ask for and with Martin Missy's absolutely vile vocals it's an even more (un)attractive package. You can pick this up through the compilation Ominous Message of Brutality (a more fitting title you possibly couldn't find) and I strongly recommend doing so.