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The tragic and untimely passing of Mike Scaccia marked the end of Rigor Mortis; consider “Slaves to the Grave” the parting gift. Despite the circumstances, the other members of the reactivated Rigor Mortis continued work on their third and final album until “Slaves to the Grave” was disentombed by the end of 2014, two years after Scaccia’s death. It’s hard not to admire the organic axis on which the band operated, what with the seamless flowing from episodes of all-out thrashing massacres to tracks that change things up a bit, albeit naturally. In fact, “Slaves to the Grave” is a rare treat compared to most reunion/return releases, as the record is true to its roots but wouldn’t be caught dead desperately floundering around the band’s past works in some vain attempt to revive the 1980s. Full of depth, variety, and carnage; the average thrasher’s wet dream.
If “Slaves to the Grave” proves anything at all, it’s that Rigor Mortis was something special. Scaccia’s frantic riffs piled over Bruce Corbitt’s grunts and a rhythm section boasting technical percussion and robust bass lines make a sound that is both concise and to the point. Brutal thrashers in the vein of Morbid Saint like “Flesh for Flies” and “Curse of the Draugr” show clear as day that Rigor Mortis hadn’t lost touch with its heritage; this isn’t your kiddie-table thrash metal. “Slaves to the Grave” is rabid, throwing a crispy guitar tone down like a slab of meat and charging forth with authority. Scaccia’s lead work is excellent, topping even his blazing tremolo picking—the man was an inhuman talent. “Slaves to the Grave” is Rigor Mortis twenty years later; the sound refined, the chemistry the same. There are some bits here that mix up the torture tactics, however.
The serene atmospheric jam latched onto the rump of “Poltergeist,” for instance, effortlessly conveys a semblance of horror that mirrors the song’s havoc-ridden barbarity while standing worlds away from it, and that ability to naturally twist opposites together is something special, really. “Blood Bath,” too, throws in a soloing section brought under the spectrum of this eerie, soundtrack-esque quality as if the divide between atmosphere and mayhem were paper-thin. “Ludus Magnus” is something of a golden egg among the bloody stones—a crawling nine-minute epic employing narrative vocals and frequent snare rolls to usurp the album’s hectic aura. It’s slow and repetitive, but done so in a way that is wonderfully meticulous and delightfully poignant, yet undeniably under Rigor Mortis’ knife; it outshines the rest as far as I’m concerned.
Another vital factor to admire here is the communal standard of top-notch performances. Listening closely to the bass reveals a number of grabbing mechanics exploding underneath Scaccia’s bombing guitar tone, showing the sort of care and intricacy in a rhythm section that is often neglected by the herd. Corbitt sounds ravenous spewing out hilariously campy lyrics that have a clear sense of humor shining through his words of gore and horror. “Slaves to the Grave” might not be the ultimate Rigor Mortis album, but it has earned its right to be among the few reunion records out there that exceed expectations in every category. The riffs are excellent, the vocals are ruthless, the sound quality is loud and intense; “Slaves to the Grave” is an all-around killer. The curtains have called; the sendoff is suicidal. Goodnight, sick prince.
This review was written for: www.Thrashpit.com
Texas' zombie thrashers Rigor Motis have had quite the rocky history; floating under the radar during the 80s, breaking up, reforming, still staying off the radar, having a song on the soundtrack of "Mr. Nanny" ("BROTHER!") and breaking up again, for good, following the death of their guitarist. Despite all this, however, the surviving members working under a different moniker continue to exist and find it in them to bust out the ol' RM tracks in a live setting, plus, as it seems, releasing this little number, which is no doubt their last recorded work from here on out (under this name, anyway)...
Not pulling any punches from the start, "Slaves to the Grave" comes at the listener with music ranging from blistering, black metal-esque tremolo picking to the chordwork of classic speed metal and a tight and energetic sense of thrashing rhythms and atmosphere. It's a little bit old-fashioned in its own right, more so the feel of the music versus the songwriting itself, which to be honest is fine with me; it speaks more on the group's actual roots in the 80s versus modern "nu thrash" rehashing that causes many a "retro" resurrection group to fall right on its uninspired face, and as a result I can get behind this rather easily. The songs have a good pace about them, punchy and quick yet in their own way memorable and plentifully savage when and where it counts. But it's not all riffs for days, though; occasional melodic sections rear their heads and are pretty nice in their own right, even if they doesn't always feel organic to the material (the clean, Pink Floydian vibes making up the last half of "Poltergeist" and the power metalish elements of "The Infected" are damned good but it feels like they come out of nowhere), possibly to throw the listener for a loop and change things up as to prevent the entirety of "Slaves..." from being too stylistically monochrome? It's a good possibility seeing as said moments are just as good as the riffing itself.
The album's production and presentation is clean yet powerful, with every member of the group easily heard and possessing all sorts of vigor to really sell the material right. Guitars have the proper amount of grit and and thickness with the rhythm work, the solos scream and sing with the best of them (though things get a little out of hand at times when, during long bouts of scale work, the lead player descends into wankery when it appears he's run out of ideas as he goes along) and the bass and drums have a surprisingly amount of clarity; the snare, especially, sounds just about perfect with no flatness or pronounced poppiness. The vocalist has a good presence about himself, mostly throaty shouts with plenty of rage, yet he occasionally delves into a dopey tone of voice during the quieter moments requiring a cleaner approach to make work. But that just might be the only major flaw with this seeing as, when all parts are in working order, they just plain kill it. It's dark, fun, and plentifully heavy, and could you ask for more with your thrash? I know I wouldn't. Huzzah.
All in all I quite enjoyed "Slaves to the Grave", an unfortunate turn of events seeing as, as I'd stated before, this appears to be their swansong. But dammit if their exit from the metal world wasn't a great way to bow out. And here's hoping what comes next for these guys will be just as grand.
Despite the integrality of palm mutes in thrash metal, Rigor Mortis‘ lauded, 1988, self-titled debut was at its core, little more than a blitz of rapid tremolo riffs, performed with an unfailing precision and feverish velocity that could only come from Mike Scaccia. It’s almost as if he never considered palm muting worth his time; all the better for him, because even over 25 years later, Rigor Mortis remains a shining example of youthful vigour, and one of the high points of thrash.
After the band’s dissolution in 1991, I would have never expected another album from them, let alone with founding vocalist Bruce Corbitt (who was dropped for their second album in favour of the unquestionably inferior Doyle Bright). With everything going well for them – a bunch of reunion tours with the original lineup, eventually leading to the recording of a new album entitled Slaves to the Grave – it only made the sudden passing of Scaccia all the more tragic. To add salt to the wound, most record labels were unwilling to release the finished album since the remaining members of the band had made a decision not to tour or produce another album without Scaccia.
Yet, against all odds, the band managed to release Slaves to the Grave themselves, by way of a successful Indiegogo campaign. It comes as no surprise that Scaccia still thrashed harder and faster than anyone else, even after all these years. From the wicked note choices on “Flesh for Flies”, or the infectious lyrics of “Rain of Ruin” (“We kill for power we kill for greed / We kill sometimes just to watch ‘em bleed”), it all comes together as a tremolo-filled package that’s distinctly Rigor Mortis. Some of the more ambitious efforts include “Bloodbath”, with some downright excellent snare hit placing (it tends to reminds me of Morbid Saint‘s similarly accented “Crying for Death”), or the acrobatic acoustics of “Sacramentum Gladitorum”.
It’s a sad inevitability that the biggest thing holding this album back is its mediocre production. The modern, compressed sound attempts to reconcile the album’s existence with the year 2014 but this just doesn’t sit well with their style; gone are the razor sharp, treble-loaded guitars and trashy drums of 1988, what we have now is a guitar tone that’s fat and heavy but not really imposing, as well as a drum sound that’s completely flat. Corbitt’s venomous sneer has also been significantly subdued, in both volume and belligerence.
It also pains me to say that whenever Rigor Mortis aren’t operating at full speed, they tend to fumble. That’s not to say they’ve never slowed down before – one need only turn to classics like “Bodily Dismemberment”, “Die in Pain”, or even the joke song “Spivey”, to feel the unbridled energy and punky attitude the band once possessed. The ‘slow’ songs here endeavour to recapture that youth, but most of the time it’s a lost cause. The closer “Ludus Magnus” deserves special mention, as it sees the band attempting a nine-minute progressive epic, complete with spoken word sections about joining a gladiatorial training school. Now, Rigor Mortis have never really been serious when it comes to their lyrical themes, but there comes a point where you have to draw a line between the tongue-in-cheek and the deadpan serious; with this song (which is pretty much the complete opposite of “Spivey” in terms of seriousness), Rigor Mortis have gone so far past that line I can only hope this is some kind of ironic joke with which to wrap up their career.
If there’s one thing Slaves to the Grave is not, however, it’s a cash-in. It’s embarrassing how much trouble the band had to go through to get this album out for Scaccia’s sake. Now that all is said and done, Rigor Mortis are still the undisputed kings of tremolo thrash, though this doesn’t necessarily hold true for all tempos. Long live Scaccia, long live Rigor Mortis… but maybe not this album.
(Originally written for teethofthedivine.com)
I'm not ashamed to say that Rigor Mortis has always been a bit of a one hit wonder for me...their eponymous debut has remained in my regular rotation for well over a quarter century now. Even if it was never one of my favorites of that early extreme death-thrash wave, placed behind Reign in Blood, Hell Awaits, Darkness Descends, Violent Restitution, Seven Churches, it's still one of those immortal 80s efforts which loses absolutely no luster decades later, I can pop it in and still feel the same shivers and reverence that I did when tossing newspapers into doorways with "Bodily Dismemberment" in my headphones, mullet flapping in the wind, disgruntled as all youth are won to be when they haven't gotten their genitals wet yet or been beaten down by the monotony of the 'real world'. After that, the Texans provided little more than diminishing returns...the Freaks EP striving towards but not living up to the debut, and the Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth another of those innumerable turds clenched out in the 90s by a band attempting to remain relevant against the shitstorms of alternative, hip hop and grunge that were arriving.
Slaves to the Grave was inevitable; when the band returned to active status around 2005 and started touring, you knew they were going to take another shot in the studio just like so many of them do (Coroner, I'm waiting on you), and when that day arrived it was either going to be a disappointment or a triumph. Well, the reality has been bittersweet; with great guitarist Mike Scaccia passing away in 2012, we've got here a self-released, postmortem comeback that marks what I assume will be the permanent dissolution of the band, since his playing was just so natural and crucial to their identity against a whole host of other groups in the late 80s. So Slaves to the Grave becomes more than a reunion album, but one final chainsaw raised aloft to the heavens, revved up and ready to soak in the blood of angels, or at least the horror-buff thrashers who so treasure this band in their collections. One might say there was a little bit of pressure on this to perform, but I could predict in advance that what we'd have here would be another of those countless 'catch up' albums, a band trying to keep pace with its original magnum opus, challenge its own youth, rather than progress forward in any noteworthy fashion...and that is pretty much what results. Which, depending on whom you ask, will prove either money in the bank, or imminent frustration...
I'm leaning towards the former, not that Slaves is in any danger of dethroning the '88 album, but because while so many of the riffing passages feel dead loyal to their classics, they at least try to restructure them enough that the choruses feel fresh. The signature of Rigor Mortis has always been the marriage of Bruce Corbitt's harsh, distempered grunts to Scaccia's fluid, insanely fast tremolo picking style, and that is 100% intact here, leads shredding out with abandon over the dextrous stream of rhythm guitar notes like entrails being introduced to the air during a summer killing. The original rhythm section of Casey Orr and Harden Harrison is likewise intact, with some great, fat, energetic baselines and drumming that caters more towards the thrash/speed metal roots of the band rather than attempting to keep extreme with the times...this isn't going to be something where you could expect ceaseless blasting, but Harrison definitely contributes to the momentum here with some desperate, straight rock beats that fit the riffing components while never skimping on the fills. Corbitt does sound mildly different here, his timbre doesn't really have that creepy graveyard echo so much as on the debut, but rather you can make out more of its visceral quality, like an even more constipated Phil Rind of Sacred Reich, and lots of gang shouts used as punctuation through both verses and choruses. But the real star of this show is Scaccia's lightning stroke...
There are a few beefier thrashing moments which do seem to pay some acknowledgement of their sophomore effort, but end up coming across more like Gwar during their prime (Scumdogs of the Universe style), which makes sense since Corbitt and Brockie had some similarities in their vocal technique, the latter just a lot more theatrical. But I'd also like to point out the one area in which Slaves to the Grave is distinct from its predecessors...the inclusion of horror soundtrack-inspired, bluesy bayou moments in tunes like "Poltergeist" and "Bloodbath" which are extremely well rendered and aesthetically resonant for a band whose inspirations include all manner of Southern Gothic grotesque and slashers...hell, this is the kind of thing that wouldn't have seemed out of place if the band Agony Column had a more prolific career, and what I found so amazing was how well it reflected the cover artwork, and immersed me once more into the imagery I always associated with the Texans as a teenager. Production-wise, it clings to the older aesthetics of pronounced, airy and evil guitars, but the drums and bass feel a little bit more balanced, and the few spaces between the shredding notes seem cleaner...it's the 21st century upgrade to what they could do in the 80s, sans a lot of the frills their core audience might have feared.
The question, then: was it worth it? The 26 year wait after the self-titled cult classic? Slaves to the Grave is no masterpiece, perhaps, and about half of the album can be chalked up to pure nostalgia, obeisance to the template they laid out back then...but there is actually just enough here to feel like it something more than a carbon copy, and that those decades did happen and that these guys did mature and bring in a little of their wealth of experience to the sound of their alma mater reborn.The atmospheric breaks really balance out the faster surges of material (of which there are many), whether they're the bluesier sort or the classical guitar representation of "Sacramentum Gladiatorium". A few of the tunes like "Fragrance of Corpse" are nearly as memorable as a "Wizard of Gore" or "Bodily Dismemberment", and there isn't really a 'bad' song on the album, even if it can't compare on a riff by riff basis, and a few like "Curse of the Draugr" just seems to be hanging in there stylistically, without offering much to the sum value. Ultimately, if not a 'run out and buy this right now' level record, it's the best material they've done since 1988, and oozes self-respect not only for what they had accomplished so many years ago, but what they might have transformed that foundation into had they continued to define this serial slasher subject matter in metallic form. Rest in peace, Mike Scaccia. And rest in pieces, Rigor Mortis, because you know they wouldn't have it any other way.
As lame as it sounds, it's a miracle that Rigor Mortis's first album in twenty-three years managed to see the light of day. The band's original lineup reunited in the mid-2000s and even got a spot on the 2008 Ozzfest, all the while teasing a comeback that wouldn't be fully realized for a few more years. From there, the story is tragically familiar as guitarist Mike Scaccia died shortly after completing this album and the band had to crowd fund to guarantee its release. Thankfully, the actual music is as far from a sob story as one can possibly get.
With the possible exceptions of Slayer or Hirax, no thrash band has stayed closer to their roots than Rigor Mortis. This album isn't quite as raw as past efforts but many of the band's signature elements are still intact after all this time. The guitar still leads the way with some of Scaccia's most intense playing, the bass keeps a steady foundation, the drums are at a constant burst, the vocals are gruff, the production is dry, and there isn't a single groove in sight.
But upon further inspection, the atmosphere has definitely moved away from the campy aesthetics of the older material. The lyrics are as violent as ever but they have less of a slasher film tone and generally opt for war, fantasy, and more "realistic" looks at the homicidal mind. The music matches the lyrics with its darker feel though some songs have a more dramatic flair that was previously untouched. "Poltergeist" starts things off with three minutes of thrash followed by a elaborately melodic closing segment, "The Infected" opens with some bouncy Maiden gallops, and the closing "Ludus Magnus" is the nine minute gladiator epic that Manowar should've put out decades ago...
Thankfully the superior musicianship is still in tact though the dynamic may be a little off balance. While Scaccia has always been the star of the show, it seems to be at the expense of Casey Orr as the bass is present but doesn't have the same overwhelming pop and his punk rock shouts are never used for more than occasional backing. Fortunately, none of the musicians are slacking and Bruce Corbitt's vocals are still pretty twisted even if his voice has gotten deeper over the years.
A few elements of the classic era are missed, but Slaves To The Grave stays true to the band's sound and may be one of the best representatives of old school thrash in the modern age. It's a damn shame that they've had to split up with Scaccia gone as this seemed to hint at something even better on the horizon. But since the surviving members have regrouped under the Wizards of Gore moniker, perhaps they could still make due on some of that potential.
"Flesh for Flies"
Originally published at http://psychicshorts.blogspot.com