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I'm gonna come clean with y'all here, this is the only release from the Chicagoan thrash quartet I've ever heard, and one of the only reasons being because of their hometown. Being a part of the Chicago scene myself, I always found it baffling that the third largest city in the US has left such a small footprint on the annals of metal history. I think the biggest band we've ever spawned was Trouble, plus a few underground favorites like Usurper and Judas Iscariot (I know the latter is from DeKalb, it's close enough and with a scene this bizarrely tiny I feel it's forgivable to stretch a bit), but the Illinois in general pales vastly in comparison to what areas like New York, Florida, and California have given us. So I was beaming with hometown pride when I heard that Cyclone Temple wasn't always a fairly mediocre "long thrash" band, and was previously known as Znowhite. And lemme tell ya, the name and cover art do a damn good job of hiding what is easily one of the top 10 brutal thrash releases of all time.
First off, the band gets a lot of press for being female fronted, but that aspect takes a caboose to the sheer intensity's engine. When I say "brutal thrash", I think of stuff like Sadus, Kreator, or Sodom, and Znowhite is surely not as intensely over-the-top as these bands, but it's by far one of the heaviest and most vitriolic thrash releases of the late 80s (and possibly ever). The fake-out ending of "War Machine" and the opener, "To the Last Breath" are great examples, boasting some of the most high octane riffage the genre has ever seen. In fact, the only time I find myself disappointed with the guitar work is on the overlong and heart crushingly anticlimactic closer, "Something Wicked This Way Comes". The slower, more twisted atmosphere that song attempts to conjure just falls flat in comparison to the 8 slabs of beastly thrash that precede it. The band's strength lies in never taking the foot off the gas and just letting the songwriting and aggression manifest themselves through fast paced and cutting guitar work. Znowhite reminds me of a slightly less sharp but infinitely grittier Anthrax, as the punchiness and hard hitting rhythms of the New York legends is definitely present here, but they sound as if they were filtered through a sandpaper loofah. Really, the tightness of the rhythm section is really accented by the bone breakingly crunchy guitar tone. It's like Extreme Aggression with added low end and at least two extra sets of balls.
Despite the overall pant-shitting intensity of the music and generally monotonous shouts of Nicole Lee, the songwriting here actually manages to be very accessible and catchy at the same time. The incredibly 80s gang shouts in "Thunderdome", every riff in "Soldier's Creed", and the chorus of (once again) "To the Last Breath" are prime examples of moments that are not only incredibly awesome but also infectious. Yeah yeah, the singer is a chick and the guitarist is black and affirmative action and yabba dabba doo, but none of those superficial aspects should be the reason Znowhite and Act of God get noticed. This really holds it's own against almost everything else released around the same time, and that includes rippers like the aforementioned Extreme Aggression, Agent Orange, and Eternal Nightmare. The only thing I dislike is how the leads kind of go in one ear and out the other (which isn't a huge problem since the riffs make up so much of why this album is enjoyable), and the bafflingly poor closing track. Everything else is sublime, razor sharp, punishing riff writing coupled with enraged shouting that so perfectly captures everything that made thrash metal great in its heyday. This is a must listen for any self respecting thrasher.
Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/
Previous to "Act Of God", Znowhite were an extremely forgettable speed metal band. This isn't to say Znowhite were awful. Their two studio EPs showcased a band that wasn't breaking new ground and seemed content writing songs that firmly placed them in the land of the average. The problem was they were just typical of the era and were being outdone by their more competent European and American peers. Then something happened out of nowhere; Ian Tafoya became a monstrous thrash metal riff machine. "Act Of God" is where the mediocrity ended. Serious kudos to whom ever at RoadRunner had the foresight to see this record on the horizon, because if you judged them solely on the other releases, you never would have predicted an album as great as this would come from Znowhite.
The first aspect that sets this album apart is the guitar tone. I can't think of a band before Znowhite that had it, but many after have copied it. It is heavy! Tafoya found a huge rumbling, chunky, low end tone that was massively distorted, but clear enough for the all the closed-hand picking to cut though. It seriously sounds as if he put the microphone right against the speakers to catch all the bass and vibrations. The second shining star is singer Nicole Lee. The performance she delivers on this record should be a training manual on how to conquer a gritty thrash tone without losing sight of the underlying melody. She exhibited incredible dynamics, delivery and control on this album. Much like Dawn Crosby from Detente, her tone and style place Znowhite far apart from all the 2nd wave of thrash clones.
The record kicks off with "To The Last Breath" and instantly convinces you they are on a mission to smash heads. The production and quality of the songwriting improved tenfold over their other releases. They mix up tempos from all out fast, to mid-range neck snappers, all the way to the down to the brooding, heavy as fuck "Something Wicked This Way Comes". The verses of "Pure Blood" and "A Soldiers Creed" are as good as any mid-tempo thrash song out there, and even rival the main riff from the song that set the standard, "Seek And Destroy". The rhythms in those songs are dominating. The latter of the two songs has the most creative use of Znowhite's ever-changing tempo style that culminates in a phenomenally addictive chorus. "War Machine" may be the heaviest song on the record. It is crushing and is a fine example of how to use a slower pace effectively. The other songs, "Rest In Peace", " Disease Bigotry", "Thunderdome" and "Baptized By Fire" are blazing thrashers that just do everything right and remind you of why this style is so great; the speed, the power, the aggression, and the intensity.
Once again, this is such a strong record from a band that created something special out of a "going nowhere" existence, But...it is not perfect by any means. My one criticism is with the drumming. Although the tempo choices for everything is spot on, some of the actually playing is weak. Many fills and accents are oddly played and although the drummer has strong double bass skills, parts of the other kick drum playing is flimsy and doesn't always nail down the rhythm of the riff. Good drummers can make great records, but great drummers make classics. If they had an ace behind the kit, this record would have been tighter and even better than it already is. It's really just a minor dent in their armor so do not let that stop you from hearing "Act Of God". It's easy to find and definitely worth your time if you haven't had a chance to hear it.
Judged solely by its interesting cover art, you wouldn't expect Act of God to be one of the most refined and brutal thrash metal releases of the 80s. Nor one of the very best. To up the ante, Znöwhite is also quite possibly the best female fronted thrash band to ever have existed, at least on this album. All Hail to Thee was a decent if average effort, more like a straight up Midwest street thrash style, but Act of God transformed the Chicago quartet into something so much more.
Of immediate note is the sheer force of sound being delivered with this album. The guitars are chunky and vicious, you can almost hear the rust flaking off them. This is the perfect apocalyptic thrash record, gunning in some doomed bucket of steel across a landscape of nuked cities. Nicole Lee's vocals are simply intense, like blades raining from the burning sky, yet still melodic enough to provide catchy chorus parts. "To the Last Breath" opens the album, a thrashing juggernaut of punctual chords and octave slides which feels a lot like killing someone by smashing their head repeatedly with a blunt object. The leads are frenzied and spurious, the atmosphere created is like no other thrash album of its day (Realm would be close, but their style was focused more on technical flair and hyper melody than the brutal, humble edge of Act of God). "Baptised by Fire" creates a chugging flow of build-ups that converge into a thrusting speed metal riff which cruises beneath Lee's siren-like vocals. The anti-Nazi anthem "Pure Blood" teases us with a slower, somber riff but yet again picks up into the triplet-hammering WWIII thrash that dominates the record. "War Machine" is one of my favorites of the album, the guitars develop a subtle groove to them with punchy, invigorating riffs. And the bridge is performed with subtle melodies, soon consumed by the gang shouts of the chorus.
"Thunderdome", the mandatory Mad Max tribute which no post-apocalyptic thrash album should be without, opens with a silly sample before jackhammering your face in with its incredibly brutal grooves and flighty breaks of speed. Simply incredible. Two men enter, one man leave! "Rest in Peace" starts with a slow flow and then the drums break for another of those battering rams of thrusting force. "Diseased Bigotry" is hands down my favorite off the album, because it surpasses perfection. If you could bottle all the aggression of thrash/speed metal, apocalyptic warfare and utmost hatred, THIS is what it would sound like. A fucking orgasmic cycle of some of the best riffs ever created into absolute punishment. The vocals are vicious, and for fuck's sake, this track is as good as anything off Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood... It's a hard one to follow, but "Soldier's Creed" is a bombastic mid-paced thrasher which begs for fist pumping and horn throwing. The album ends with the near 10-minute "Something Wicked (This Way Comes)". Because you see, being Mad Max fans was not cool enough, Znöwhite were also into Ray Bradbury (kind of like this blog you are reading)?!
To dub Act of God underrated is not nearly enough. Thus, I demand this band be payed reparations for the criminal neglect of their magnum opus. With the exception of Lee, the remainder of Znöwhite called it quits not long after this album, first replacing her with Debbie Gunn (Sentinel Beast), and moving on to form Cyclone Temple, who were sadly not this good. This may be a good thing in the end, as they had achieved their masterpiece early and thus did not tarnish its good name with their later, mediocre output. If only some other bands had followed suit...
Yes, there were quite some other thrash metal bands in the eighties featuring female vocalists like Détente, Sentinel Beast and of course Holy Moses. All enjoyable, agreed, with Holy Moses’ ‘Finished With the Dogs’ being the quintessential aggressive female fronted thrash metal album but Znöwhite managed to get their own niche on “Act of God” by combining aggression and speed with melody and emotion in the best possible way.
One just has to listen to the (pre)choruses on ‘War Machine’, ‘Rest In Peace’ and ‘A Soldier's Creed’ to immediately understand my meaning concerning a good melodic approach without feeling out of place with the thrash assault the album almost constantly lays on you. I must admit during some verses Nicole Lee sounds rather forced and even a bit childish but each time this might happen, a (pre)chorus sets in which immediately makes you forget you ever had doubts.
The wall of guitars is enjoyable and there’s only one man responsible, Ian Tafoya. I wonder how this band sounded live in that period since it’s obvious some parts are hard to perform with a single player. But who cares when listening to this album. His thrash riffs are often comparable to Flotsam & Jetsam during their No Place For Disgrace period but his melodies have a totally different atmosphere, especially when Nicole Lee adds her vocals to them, making this band sound entirely different in the end.
The only real complaint I could think of is the production of the drums. Especially the kick often gets absorbed and the snare from time to time sounds a bit too much like a neat gardening tool with extremely dated reverb instead of good ol’ aggressive lumberjacking. As a result the album doesn’t sound too good in a car stereo and can best be listened to at home on a good installation or headphones.
This album is even responsible for a famous Mad Max catchphrase, which I already knew by heart, to get imbedded in my brain even deeper. Thanks a lot. If you consider yourself a thrasher or even if you just like the combination of old school speed and characteristic melodies, your collection will never be complete without ‘Act Of God’…. unless you despise female vocals which don’t sound like a tart in a dress or the next supposedly horny Spears or Beyoncé imitation.
This album is another umpteenth example of how life is weird and unjust with some bands. I mean, how can you ignore an album like this? Here Znöwhite improved a lot their sound, passing from the classic but very good speed metal of the beginnings to this more personal thrash metal with some more melodic lines. Anyway, considering also the year, we can find lots of more technical parts in their sound because by the end of the 80s lots of bands chose that way of playing thrash metal.
Nicole Lee is still one of the best singers in this genre and maybe the best female one. His voice is always sharp as a razor but never excessive. It’s powerful and truly evocative. I couldn’t imagine this band without Nicole. “To The Last Breath” is heart breaking during the more melodic refrain, to restart in great galloping thrash riffs during the verses. Already from here we can notice the essential but powerful production with the crispy and sharp sound of the guitars. The drums sound and the way it’s played is truly raw and simple, with a predilection for the simple snare-bass drum tempos with very few rolls on the rest of the drums.
“Baptised By Fire” is pure violence and speed. Here the guitars play the main part, without forgetting a bit of melody in the solo. The rest is raw as a sushi. Here the vocals are something unbelievable for the burden of anger towards wars and the society. “Pure Blood” is about the Arian race and the stupidity of that way of thinking and it begins with a march tempo to finish in several hyper technical and catchy galloping rhythmic riffs. They are the fundamentals of this truly characteristic Znöwhite sound along with the vocals.
“War Machine” features a more melodic and sad touch, especially in the great vocals parts by a restless Nicole that sometimes, in tonality, brings us back to the speed metal demos. Great. Check out the stop by the end with the following melodic guitars and speed restart. “Thunderdome” is a fist in the stomach for brutality and intensity while “Rest In Peace” features a pure slow tech thrash metal tempo during the first part to go again with lots of up tempo parts and sad/dramatic melodic guitars lines.
But, what can be said for songs like “Diseased Bigotry” where we have a massive load of riffs with a more melodic refrain or for the total bass drum speed in “A Soldier’s Creed”? How can you resist to such a good music quality and tempos. I keep on being totally shocked by the guitar work…I mean, it can pass from melody to cold, violent riffs in a so easy way. The long, doom and really obscure “Something Wicked” ends this great album that should be listened at least once during life.
At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about Znowhite's sole contribution to thrash, just on the cusp of the "saturation era." Several characteristics of later-era thrash are present: uninspired riffs, dull and often formulaic songwriting, and trite lyrical/thematic content (Thunderdome?). The only distinctive quality of the music is the inclusion of some power metal elements, which does little to improve the songwriting. This album would be just another upon the heap of saturation thrash obscurity were it not for one critical element...
What redeems Act of God is Nicole Lee's vocals. Though not a dramatic departure from her vocal work on Znowhite's earlier, punkier material, the vocals on this album indicate a large quantity of whiskey and cigarettes made their way through Lee's vocal cords in the few years prior. Lee brings the album alive with a fierce delivery that not only fits the music perfectly, but elevates it above its shortcomings. This has to be some of the most unique female thrash vocal work ever, because it retains feminine voice qualities while delivering the raw intensity of early thrash. It is a perfect compromise between Lynda Simpson's girly wails and Sabina Classen's throaty growl. If only there were more female thrash vocalists...
Heavy muffled-guitars, almost static/noise like at times, creating flawless thrash the way it should be done. This album has to be by far the most underappreciated album in thrash. All the songs are awesome, this is one of those cds you never push the skip button on. Just an amazing blend of excellent talent, this album will rape any thrash contemporaries.
Head-banging chugging, mixed with groovy riffs and punk-style singing all under a fast-paced overtone, what more could a thrash metal head want? Every one of their songs contain a kickass headbanging chugging moment, almost rivaling, no perhaps even surpassing Sepultura in that aspect. Groovy riffs to keep you entertained and fast-paced chugging to send you running around desecrating graves and pissing on your landlord’s car, the guitar styles of Ian Tafoya has done a marevelous job of piecing together this instant classic. The drumming is finely done, nothing flashy but still a decent job done by Scott Schaffer. The bass, like in most releases from the 80’s, are unfortunately unaudible.
Now the second highlight of the album comes from chick-singer Nicole Lee. Her cigarette-whiskey non-melodic singing fits this album so perfectly, it just blossoms the album in so many different aspects. Occasionally the guitarists add some backing-vocals shouting in the style of Agnostic Front, and adds a really “pissed off” atmosphere to the whole thing.
Oh, and did I mention the chorus? The choruses for this album are just excellent. Its melodic, but isn’t cheesy. Its really catchy but doesn’t go to the point where its gay, its just perfect to keep you entertained when you’re craving a different lick to come up after listening to a fast-paced riff that’s been going on for a while.
The overall style, is slightly classically influenced but just pure thrash with melodical choruses. They just blend everything in so perfectly, the album is almost flawless. The guitar work, vocals, drums, bass, even the lyrics adding political anger fits the whole atmosphere so well.
So all in all, if you like fast, pissed off music full of head banging riffs and like melodical riffage to come in exactly when you’re craving it, this album is definitely for you. The production is 80’s but none of that crap matters, this album will destroy any thrash contemporaries, and will stand the test of time for years to come, THRASH TILL DEATH!
RECOMMENDED SONG: To The Last Breathe, War Machine
THE GAY SONG: Something Wicked (this way comes)
LYRICS: Political angst
PRODUCTION: Heavy muffled-guitars, standard 80’s production
PACKAGING: An old lady with an 8-ball on the cover
OVERALL: Buy or Die! The album’s occasionally on ebay and other sites, it’s a bit hard to find but its worth it