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Man of Straw is an interesting album with some clear changes and concessions from the blitz of Viking's debut Do or Die. For one, the production is far superior, with a great clear guitar tone that sounds good even after a few decades. Ron Daniels is also better on this album, though he loses little in the way of his angered edge (perhaps sounding a little closer to Araya here). Daniels had also become a born again Christian, so a lot of the lyrics to this album would quality the band as a Christian thrash act, though not all of them. This can be distracting if you are one to actually sit and read through while you listen, provided you belong to the metal majority that believes Jesus should have nothing to do with certain forms of metal (well, not in a positive, inspiring light).
But really, though I thought some of the lyrics were crap myself, they in no way hinder the real strength of Man of Straw, which is the improved capacity for catchy guitar riffs. Sure, they may not evoke the speedway disaster of Do or Die's endless, storming rhythms, but they stand out through a number of tracks. "White Death" begins with an epic mosh sequence, reminiscent of something Anthrax might write, and it evolves into a Destruction-like, rolling rhythm which makes it one of the most memorable pieces on the album. "They Raped the Land" follows a similar pattern, and "Twilight Fate" offers yet another big mosh/crunch sequence, though it quickly morphs into a faster, thrashing gait. "The Trial" is the most Jesus-centric of the album's compositions, with a fine bass-driven intro and riffs that would not have sounded out of place on an earlier Slayer album. "Case of the Stubborns" is one of the best songs I've heard from Viking, with a catchy stop/start in between its flowing speed metal mutes, melodies, and great breakdowns that will have you tearing up the pit (or your couch, whichever is closest).
'Expiration date is spent and blood in veins turned sour
Many days ago we passed, supposed final hours
Unused organs start to swell, limbs begin to stiffen
Though life continues, death advances, avoidance of oblivion'
"Winter" builds a slowly thrashing rhythm, huge crunch and tone propelling Daniel's vocals, and when it kicks on the speed after the 3:00 mark, you are sucked right back into the style of riff that dominated the debut. The choice to cover Pat Benatar's "Hell is For Children" may seem uncanny on the surface, but Viking do a surprisingly good job with it, and it's more interesting than a lot of metal band covers of other metal bands. "Creative Divorce" is another of Viking's best, with a steady flow of rhythms which recalls their earlier energy, emboldened with the more brazen production of Man of Straw. Good song, and a nice lead-in to the bass-fueled intro to the title track, which also features some strong riffs, like the one that breaks out at 1:40.
Man of Straw was a step forward for this band, whether or not you agree with the appearance of the few Christian-themed lyrics. They still sounded close enough to their peers (Dark Angel, Slayer, Sadus, Hexx, etc) to create a nice overlap of fans, but not too much like any one single band that you'd consider them derivative. Of course, Man of Straw would mark the end for the Californians, so we are left in the dark as to whether lightning could have struck again. But surely there is a great potential here and this is a good album, which has only lost a smidgeon of appeal in the decades since. Fittingly, guitarist Brett Sarachek would go to join Dark Angel for a few years, including the Time Does Not Heal album.
Highlights: White Death, Case of the Stubborns, Creative Divorce, Man of Straw
Recorded at the tail end of ‘88/birth of ’89, Man of Straw came near the last gasp-era of bay area thrash. With that said, it’s quite obvious the four-piece aren’t overturning rocks with their sound most established, but do manage to play it tightly at times and in those times with surefooted intensity, and sometimes I’d be more apt to plop this on rather than the debut Sacrifice lp, Blessed Death, or Defiance, but for the most part (and the more you spin it), any veteran of the style will see and hear the commonplace of this nine-tracker.
“White Death” opens side one like the calm before the storm, a slowly methodical and tedious riff that gradually rises to the occasion with a few variable rhythms - one that chugs with a limp that eventually manages a full sprint, one that breaks with intervening bass, and a few basic ones thrown in to fill it all out with a layering of decent solos on top. It’s not until around halfway through “They Raped the Land” and after another stuttering riff that frantic thrash finally comes out swinging. The vocals of Ron Eriksen aren’t atypical for the style - unkind, mid-ranged, on the rugged side with a hint of training, and even falls into the falsetto addiction once in an eclipse. In a true thrash vein, “The Trial” rises to its feet, its chorus a mesh of single riff discharge with Eriksen standing with his foot on the amp and mike in hand all the while. The insipidly titled “Case of the Stubborns” mingles some strong hair-swinging notions with ones an electric shock may have a chance to vitalize.
Starting off with the urgency of old people eating, “Winter” lumbers along in a ho-hum, non-descript trance, double bass trying to push it to another level but failing, and here and there like brief spring showers acute distraught vibes latch on, but never long enough to pull the track out of tedium. The Pat Benatar cover, “Hell is for Children”, proves to be a real necessity and only warrants mention toward the end when they shake the cobwebs loose and actually show some liveliness. “Creative Divorce” and the title cut sit on the fence between a hat full of mildly invigorating melodies and ones that can heat up the room a few more degrees with the end of the latter track pulling it a horse’s head to the forefront.
Okay, the quartet have their moments and most of them are rammed into “The Trial”, so if there’s a song for me to sanction, that’d be it. The band is musically precise and can muster up thrash ferocity when they’re not too busy creating mid-tempo main riffs that should merely be connective to the screamers, but ideas in the style were waning as a whole, so what are you going to do? Now if I can just find that cassette of Do or Die, which is a much more unruly affair.
It's yet another average thrash album, kids. At times, they really get the ball rolling, but at other times they just kinda wallow around in average midpaced riffage. The first Viking LP failed because it was overfast for overfast's sake, and the production was just about an atrocity. Here, the production is pretty fucking good, and they slowed down, but they only came up with a few real skullsmashing riffs in a long period of time. There is really nothing WRONG with the album per se, it's just that it's oh-so-right for only very small intervals.
Highlight of the album: Winter, around 4.54 in they go into a tribute to Tired and Red with some monster fucking riffage from completely out of nowhere. This continues for about two minutes, and even the rest of the song is all right (though pretty much a Vio-lence riffset leading into sort of a ripoff of Artillery's "Time Has Come", played at 75% speed), but those two minutes are godliness. Also, the opening track, White Death, is pretty well done. PRAYING ON THE UNSUSPECTING ONES!!!
Unfortunately, after one song or so, they really run out of ideas, and no other single song is excellent in entirety. The Pat Benatar cover, Hell is for Children, really picks up around halfway through when they decide "to Hell with Pat Benatar, let's thrash". I haven't heard the original in like 10 years, but I certainly don't remember there being monster thrash riffs at the end. Also, The Trial, while it is indeed casting a far too favourable view of Das Jesus, is pretty decent - though I think I preferred it when it was called "Kill Again", and spoke about letting the infant die! Yeah, you've heard these riffs elsewhere before... that wouldn't be so bad by itself (Exumer made a career of playing Show No Mercy and Bonded by Blood), but it's just that the execution is kinda mediocre.
As for the rest... well, Creative Divorce and the title track are okay, but then I can't really remember anything about the rest. Not really essential, unless you completely fucking dig thrash or something.