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Embittered, expanded. - 70%

ConorFynes, October 19th, 2014

By my own admission, I've never been too interested in thrash metal at large. I've found the straightforward thrashers and Slayer acolytes are often too samey and predictable to rightly justify their speed and aggression. At the same time, I can't seem to get enough of the thrash metal that mediates said aggression with a measure of added technicality and sophistication. Megadeth's Rust in Peace is arguably the best-known example of this trend, but it's bands like Coroner, Watchtower and Mekong Delta that truly embody thrash's potential for ambitious technique. Add a pinch of Symbolic-era Death to this list, and you have an idea as to the foundations Alitor have built their sound upon. I crossed paths with their first demo Embittered a year and a half ago, and was immediately struck by the skill and songwriting they were boasting at such an early stage in their musical careers. Needless to say, I carried some heavy anticipation for the release of Eternal Depression.

And once again, I am widely impressed by what Alitor have brought to the table on this, their full-length debut. Eternal Depression broadly reasserts the band's ability to channel their aggression and vitesse through a veil of technical showmanship and dynamic tempo changes. Painting Alitor as a Serbian response to Vektor (arguably the boldest purveyor of 'weird thrash' in the past decade) wouldn't be out of place, although Alitor pursue their work with a greater sense of polish and urgency. Better still, I might offer newcomers to think of Alitor as a glimpse of what latter-era Death may have sounded like as a thrash act. To be sure, many of guitarists Šijan and Stevanović's riffs bear a striking resemblance to those of Chuck Schuldiner's, both in shape and tone.

Given the closely-knit technique and demanding instrumentation heard on Embittered, the fact that Eternal Depression is so well-executed doesn't come as a surprise. Although there are a few welcome instrumental chunks in the material that get nuanced and dynamic (most often in the form of song intros and bridges) much of the disc is fixated on fierce rhythmic work and aggression. While these speedy thrash assaults are fairly par-for-the-course, Alitor's excellence is still apparent. Stefan Đurić's drum work could be described here as 'busy', and I mean that in the best-possible way. When the rest of the band is cooling off, he takes the opportunity to fire even more hits into his performance, and it absolutely works; listen to the progressive bridge of "The Artist of Deception" to see what I mean. Possibly least common of all in thrash metal, Marko Todorović's basswork takes a central role in the music. As opposed to blindly shadowing the lead guitar (or getting drowned out of the mix altogether), the bass is rich and heavy. Most impressively, the production on Eternal Depression may be some of the best I've heard on an extreme metal album in some time. Especially for a debut album, hearing every ingredient blended in such a rich, organic fashion has given Alitor a perfect canvas. Production is a tricky thing even for the most longstanding bands to master. It's all in their favour they've perfected it from square one.

The production is what sets Eternal Depression apart from its predecessor. Embittered sounded great, but the re-recordings of the three tracks for inclusion here only goes to show there was improvement possible in an area I never figured needed any. It's troubling, then, that matters of execution are the only thing that make Eternal Depression a stronger package than the demo in my eyes. When I wrote about Embittered three halves of a year ago, I was quick to mention how vivid and full-bodied Alitor's songwriting was- beyond the musicianship, it was the thing that made them stand out. I'm not so sure I feel as enthusiastic about the songwriting this time around. It probably doesn't work in the full-length's favour that the three most best-written and memorable songs are the three re-recordings from Embittered. The songwriting on Embittered most often sounded risky and bold for thrash metal, and even the more straightforward track ("Embittered") had a vividly effective, headbanging chorus in its favour. The fresh cuts on Eternal Depression have certainly fallen from the same tree so to speak, but the slight lean towards a more traditionally thrashy style of songwriting has kept Alitor from sounding their best.

Although Alitor's vocals (provided again by Marko Todorović) already struck me as the weakest part of Embittered, the more I listen to Eternal Depression, the more I'm left thinking the amazing instrumentation is deserving of more focused vocals. In comparison to most thrash especially, Marko is a skilled vocalist, but the varied mess of growls, pissed-off barks, pseudo-melodic groaning and uninspiring gang chanting doesn't really spike the momentum. Even in a genre with such speed and instrumental aggression, vocals in thrash can be absolutely amazing, be they harsh (see: Vektor) or clean (see: Watchtower). From the Hetfield-esque inflections to the aforementioned gang chants, it seems Alitor aren't entirely sure what they want to do vocally. Instead of sticking to one or two vocal styles and building their character out of that, it sounds here like a blend of a dozen thrash vocalists, none of which I care particularly about. I was hoping somewhat that Eternal Depression would see this vocal potential unlocked, but there's no dice on this one.

If I was expecting something to capitalize on every strength of the demo and blow Embittered out of the water, I think I would be gravely disappointed. Instead, Eternal Depression has improved some areas to the point of perfection, but left others in need of greater care. In terms of pure musicianship however, Alitor absolutely destroys; it was true in 2012, and it's doubly so now.

Originally written for Heathen Harvest Periodical