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In my humble opinion, Razor is one of these legendary names that have a magical charm. I cannot really explain why, but I always liked this band very much, although their material was never free of pretty significant quality differences. I guess I am not the only one who thinks so, because it seems as if a lot of people do not appreciate "Custom Killing" very much. Okay, it is different (and its cover looks very cheap). Yet it does not beg for commercial success while expressing the credible anger of the musicians. Moreover, it does not leave the ways of thrash metal. The band remains true to itself. Unfortunately, this also means that the unbalanced sound prevents a higher rating. The drums are too loud and their dominance is at the expense of the guitars. Great and powerful drumming is always a reason for joy. Nevertheless, the guitars should stand in the focus of a metal production.
In contrast to the technical implementation, the lively music does not suffer from major deficiencies. At the time of the album release, the two overlong tracks surprised with their excessive configuration. However, the effect of these song designs is overestimated. The opener and "Last Rites" have another format, but they do not break with the most relevant characteristic of Razor. This means that they provide sharp and mostly furious riffs in abundance. Furthermore, they do not suffer from egocentric solos and they are not progressive or exorbitantly technical. They just deliver a series of typical Razor sequences. Not every part works flawlessly, but all in all, there is not much to grumble. Ominous guitars are mixed with ferocious speed rhythms and Sheepdog contributes his vocal part without turning a hair. Both songs have some brilliant sections. Thus, they deserve applause and that's it.
Fortunately, the shortest regular track, "Snake Eyes", hits the bull's eye as well. Simple minds, for example me, enjoy its hilarious intro and outro. However, the best feature is the rebellious riff. Razor still sound fresh and do not think about the challenges of tomorrow. Leaving the useless 30 seconds outro out of consideration, the only track that does not successfully emanate its dangerous aroma is "Going Under". But this might be just a matter of personal taste, because the number does not march to a different drummer in terms of style.
Razor administer another injection of pure old school thrash. The songs reflect the conviction and the integrity of the musicians. They avoid groovy experiments, Sheepdog still does not cover two octaves and any form of unusual instrumentation is just an illusion. I don't care. "Custom Killing" bundles a more than adequate number of good riffs and the snotty attitude of the band ennobles this work. While Slayer or Metallica were on their way to the metallic halls of fame with all its bittersweet temptations, Razor still represented the outsiders from the underground. Bad luck for the Canadians, good luck for us, the consumers. No doubt, the commercial failure was helpful to preserve the inner restlessness of the musicians. Their fourth full-length is not essential, but it is definitely worth listening. Legends always deliver.
...and it doesn't sit well with me. What happened to these guys at this time? "Malicious Intent" wasn't great, yeah, but it definitely wasn't a bad album by any stretch. But what were they thinking when they were writing this stuff up? I mean, the whole of "Custom Killing" in of itself isn't a bad idea; Razor, a thrash band known mostly for shorter, punchier anthems tackling more complex and lengthier song structures is an interesting concept. But the final result is just lousy. The production is weak, the songs are boring and the overall performance of everyone is painfully plain and uninteresting.
Yes sir, you heard that right. The four Razor gang members don't do the thrash world any favors with this album. Sheepdog scales back his shrieks on this release, going more in favor of a weirdly-punkish take on his Lemmy-esque vocal work from "Executioner's Song". Only here he sounds more bored than attacking and aggressive. Mike's bass is actually something of a high point here, mixed surprisingly loudly though it matters little since he too just strums away at his strings with very little to bring to the table. Poor Dave Carlo is clearly trying his damnest to throw as many riffs and interesting moments to each song as he can, but his thoughtful efforts are further hampered by this record's dry, quiet and muffled production. Lastly, M-Bro's drumming. Well I have to admit while his work on here isn't as painfully repetitive and lazy as on "Malicious Intent", it does come close. He really just keeps the pace and rhythm, though at times he will bash out his beloved cymbals and throw out a few good fills but other than the fills, his work is just mundane.
I imagine part of what hampers the tracks on "Custom Killing" is the lousy production job as I previously mentioned, though the thought behind most of the tracks on here results in sings that completely come and go without so much as a killer chorus or a catchy riff to hook on to. The most notable songs on here are "Survival of the Fittest" and "Last Rites", both of which are interesting for being the longest songs in Razor's discography, both breaking the 11-minute mark. "Survival of the Fittest" is probably the best song on here, moodily building for five minutes with riffage and a nifty atmosphere before breaking into the feel of a more traditional Razor number. The load of boring tripe titled "Last Rites" need not apply. Then we have more typical Razor thrashers like "Shootout", the stomping "Forced Annihilation" or "Going Under", all of which are typical but stale and totally forgettable thrashers. Then we get some nonsense thrown in as well. The semi-decent speeder "Snake Eyes" is bookended but some silly, stupid skit of one of the bandmembers doing a goofy Indian accent. Oh and don't even get me started on the utterly worthless "Russian Ballet" outro...
Overall, this is Razor's low point in the 80's works, both creatively and performance-wise. The songs are a forgettable bore, the production blows nut sacks, and the idea of a more progressive Razor is totally wasted. You'd think the future would be over for Razor after this fine mess, but no. In fact, the sun in the horizon was just dawning for the band. A new future promised of more interesting, energized, and above all, more brutal endeavors...
Razor is about the last band on Earth I'd expect to tackle epic length song structures, but indeed that is one of the defining characteristics of their fourth LP Custom Killing, at least on two of the central pieces, "Survival of the Fittest" and "Last Rites", both of which are 11 minutes in duration. Kudos for the Canadians for trying something different, and in truth they do help break up the record, so as to not repeat the brash attack cycle of an Evil Invaders. But unfortunately, it turns out that the band doesn't work their best in such a format, since the endless parades of riffs Carlo is churning out in these thrash-whales seem as if they've all been played out on others songs, and nothing really interesting occurs as they bounce back and forth between stock speed metal and the upper momentum, with the possible exception of the more atmospheric, open riffing used in segments of both.
I'm also not into the frenzied "Russian Ballet" rock polka outro, so pretty much any fun I was going to have with this record was relegated to the other five tunes, which range from 4-5 minutes of livid, battering old school speed metal. Tunes like "Going Under" and "Forced Annihilation" are pretty standard Razor fare, with high velocity chords, palm mutes and even some darker tremolo passages in the latter that hinge on a death metal aesthetic. "White Noise" is generally more acrobatic and shifty in terms of its tempos, and "Snake Eyes", with an intro that most would consider pretty racist by today's standards, is pretty much what Possessed would have sounded like as a punk band, Sheepdog's menacing inflection barking out over a pretty basic procession of chords. Ultimately, I don't think there's a single song on this album that I'd place on a highlight reel of the band's discography, but they don't break character for much of the playtime, and there's nothing all that depressing if you've a hard on for Executioner's Song and Evil Invaders.
Custom Killing has a looser feel to its production than any of the previous albums, not nearly so spiffy and audible as Malicious Intent. The guitars are good and chuggy, especially when multi-tracked, but the bass here is extremely plump, and often the nuances of the leads and melodies get lost. Otherwise, it's workable and airy, but my least favorite mix they'd achieved to its day, even if it's not a far cry from its neighbors, and some of the murk of its tone would be transferred forward to the band's magnum carnage opus Violent Restitution. Sadly, while this doesn't break rank, there's also the retrospective burden of knowing just how damn excellent this record's successor would be, superior in every respect, Razor returning to the abusive speed and no-nonsense thrashing brawl that put them on the vests and jackets of generations of adoring fans in the first place. I used to enjoy Custom Killing more when I was younger, but it simply hasn't aged as well as the rest of their '84-88 material, and I rarely feel compelled to break it out of its own jacket. Along with 1997's Decibels, it's very much skippable.
This baby is granted to take some serious doses from the listening time of dedicated thrash heads. Whereas Executioner's Song and Evil Invaders threatened to become repetitive in spite of their attack, which kicked out any wuss trying to face them, and Malicious Intent was a damn solid accomplishment with a more pummeling recording style, Custom Killing is Razor's most ambitious album ever, and their most colourful offer.
I will have to admit that Survival Of The Fittest didn't sound at first as a total winner, but from the second minute, boy, did I change my mind. Razor have an amazing sense of epicness and progression. Everything seems to be more dramatic and solemn than on their previous works, though the riffing style is recognizable enough, and very fast riffs galore. Maybe M-Bro isn't the ultimate deliverer of fills and rhythm changes, but he doesn't get lost in the fire of battle. Not to mention that the bass player ends the guitar riffs with his own special lines, although sometimes you just get the impression that he's trapped within a certain register.
All the songs are winners, actually, except Russian Ballet, which could've been spared (though that weird fade-out part in the ending is worth mentioning), and there aren't noticeable letdowns if it comes to the instrumental part. Forced Annihilation, Last Rites, Going Under and White Noise are definitive Razor classics, where the band doesn't cease to bring wonder upon the listener with the great pile of riffs and gallops and a few absolutely old-school sounding solos (without that wah-wah abuse found on Shotgun Justice's solos), and even Stace McLaren shows that he can actually SING!!!! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, he is alive and singing, and his vocal prowess is worth every bit of praise on Last Rites, washing the shit off Shootout, where he fails to impress. What about the lyrics? This needs to be taken into consideration. The lyrical themes are so varied. From the ol' angry thrash youngster, to meditations on the future of humanity and even medieval-flavored lyrics.
Even the recording, with its unpolished aspects, remains adequate and somehow "intimate", if I could say so. Like a band in the rehearsal room, all alone against the non-underground suckers' ears, it appropriates the listener more to the band and to the music.
All in all, a quality and underestimated album from one of the top bands in thrash metal. Not a Spectrum Of Death or an Eternal Nightmare, if you ask me, but still a mandatory listen.