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While the general tendency in thrash metal these days has been with an eye to the past, Savage Messiah has been bucking the trend of late, pushing a more modern sound that is well in line with the latest Death Angel, Testament, Megadeth and Heathen releases. The slightly more melodic feel is a bit of a departure from the principle sound that has been brewing in the Americas of late, but it is right up the alley of older bands that are still putting out material. Heavier riffs, thicker production, and a generally more mechanical feel is pretty well the order of the day for this outfit, and “Insurrection Rising” proves to be a veritable android in that capacity.
Thankfully, one edge that Dave Silver possesses over many of the older guard vocalists is a voice that is youthful and agile enough to avoid sounding like a washed up hardcore singer. The level of nimble agility displayed on “He Who Laughs Last” alone rivals the likes of John Greely and Chuck Billy, touting an impressive array of shouts, bellows and shrieks that cover most of the general spectrum for this style. In other words, he manages to avoid falling into the Jeff Waters trap of sounding overly flat and mechanical, which is to the band’s benefit as this album is possessed of a more cybernetic feel in line with more sci-fi oriented concepts.
The album begins on a high note with the high octane cruiser of a title song “Insurrection Rising”, which slays with the intensity of “Human Insecticide” but with a good amount of control and nuance as well. It’s definitely not your daddy’s Motörhead and bursts through an impressive array of technical solos and battering riffs before all is said and done. “Enemy Image (Dehumanizer)” and “The Serpent Tongue Of Divinity” take a largely similar route, cooking at full speed and taking a more intense approach to convincing the listener to bang his head clear off his shoulders (the latter actually marching out some guttural death barks to complement the Mustaine inspired mutterings).
Not one to be tied down to speeding all the time, there’s a fair share of slower delicacies on here that somewhat resemble the groovier, early 90s character of albums such as “Countdown To Extinction” and “The Ritual”. The first culprit in this department is “In Absence Of Liberty”, which sort of rides a mid-paced gallop for much of its duration and features a somewhat more subdued set of lead guitar lines and attitude drenched yells out of Silver. “Vigil Of The Navigator” takes it a step further and almost finds itself in later 90s Testament territory behind a chunky, layered set of riffs that sort of coast along and leave a lot of exposure for the vocals, which do take on a bit of a John Bush meets Layne Staley character.
For the most part, this manages to be yet another solid exercise in modern thrashing, but it doesn’t quite have the same level of bite that “Spitting Venom” did, and it also suffers a bit for the lack of brevity. One of this band’s strengths is their ability to get their point across shortly, and some of these songs hold on just a tad bit longer than they need to, particularly in the cases of the slower ones. Pretty much anyone who was still hanging on to the good old days by the time 1992 rolled around will remember the transition period that thrash metal went through, and there’s a good bit of that going on here, but it’s still well within the acceptable paradigm for those looking to mosh like no tomorrow. It’s not quite “Among The Living”, but it’s definitely a respectable album from a young, up and coming outfit.
Before getting to the actual music, I have a story to tell, kids... gather round. One cold night in February, I went to an Overkill concert, just like every metalhead who knows what's good. And, as always, a couple of bands played as support. I must have had a symbolic (to quote you-know-which-James) “horseshoe up my ass”, because not only did the might Overkill wreck everything, but there was a British band called Savage Messiah opening for them. The concert was very good, so I thought I'd check out their record...
… and I thank the appropriate deity that made me do it. “Insurrectiong Rising” is more than a solid melodic thrash record. For a fairly young band, it's very mature and packed full of ideas – and, for the most part, very good ones. When I first heard Savage Messiah, two names jumped into my mind immediately – Megadeth and Testament. One of the two reasons is that Savage Messiah do incorporate a lot of melody into their thrashing, the other one being the vocals. Dave Silver's phrasing is quite similar to Chuck Billy and you can hear bits of Mustaine's singing style in his voice. That's not really a bad thing, far from that, Silver manages to sound impeccable in low-to-mid-range and menacing in the high registers, with an occasional terrific shriek, like in the beginning and the end of “Vigil of the Navigator”. I find myself doing the “AAAAAAAAAH!” pretty much every time I hear that song, it's that fun. And it is good for the lungs, though my neighbors don't really approve.
The melodic parts and solos are influenced by the heavy metal classics and Savage Messiah clearly did their homework. However, don't expect any crazy, unplayable shredding. The record is based on focused songwriting. That means the leads are kept, most of the time, short and to the point.
And the songwriting is what really shines here. The variety and ideas on here are wonderful. Want some fast-paced ragers? Two of them. An epic song? Check - just listen to "In Absence Of Liberty". Mid-tempo headbanger? Sure. Out of the nine songs on here, it's hard to pick the highlights. I, personally, would point at two specific tracks. The song that represents Savage Messiah best, in my opinion, is “The Serpent Tongue Of Divinity”. Starting off with some nice melodic leads and a memorable verse riff, it goes through a variety of tempos, carried mostly by slightly-skrieky vocals which shine during a catchy bridge. The other incredible blast of genius is “He Who Laughs Last” - one of the more melodic tracks, with an awesome beginning, when a jaw-droppingly awesome melody shifts into a nice main riff. Oh, and there is a nice melody under the chorus that is pure “Youthanasia”, this track definitely has the best lead guitar off the whole album.
The performance is very tight. The stand-out element of Savage Messiah are the vocals and guitars, but a nod also goes to the drummer. He doesn't try to steal the show, he gives the songs what they need and manages to end up sounding creative and technical. The bass is somewhere out there, though I have trouble finding it in the mix, especially with other instruments that are far more exciting.
The quality of “Insurrection Rising” rises and falls with the songwriting. That is the simple reason why my rating isn't higher. “Corruption X” is just a boring, plodding track. “Vigil of the Navigator” is so-so, midpaced and never really going anywhere. It seems that cool screams do not make a good song. Apart from those two, though, this is a strong record with good lasting value. The closest comparison to draw would possibly be Testament's “The New Order” or some Flotsam and Jetsam - it is carried by the same musical elements (vocals, song structure and melody) as this record and the thrash part is not quite as over-the-top as on “Reign in Blood” or stuff like that.
Recommended? Sure. Especially those who like a bit of structure, melody and thought with their thrashing, check this one out if you can...