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The future is bleak. - 72%

hells_unicorn, January 4th, 2012

Science fiction is a diet most regularly consumed by those tuned into the future, those who are wary of what trends in the present may ultimately lead to. With this comes a very high potential for in depth social awareness in a universal sense, asking those pressing questions of "where are we going?" and "to what end?". Combine this medium of philosophical speculation with the rather nasty, primitive, structurally formulaic of expression that is thrash metal, and interesting dichotomy emerges. Voivod and, to a lesser degree early on, Metal Church, were at the forefront of merging the mostly Lovecraftian sub-genre with something less mythology based, and in recent years a young Italian outfit in Ancient Dome has joined the fray.

"Human Key" is actually more of a portfolio album than a concept album, stringing together a series of unrelated subjects from immersion of flesh and technology to the tried and true lyrical tribute to the thrash genre, but it's musical dimensions offer up a very eerie sense of consistency. The presentation is an almost even mixture of older speed metal riffing and more modern melodic trends, culminating in a band that matches a percussive edge with a chunky feel, not all that dissimilar from recent Death Angel and Heathen offerings. Some times there is a concentration of one of these two elements such as a revivalist blast from mid 80s past in "Ancient Dome" and an otherworldly mixture of creepy cosmic melodies and deep grooves in "Tyrants", while a good chuck of the 2nd half of the album walks a thin line between the two.

However, though the riff work and general songwriting is pretty solid, there's a few rough spots that holds this thing back from really breaking out into kick ass territory the way "Killing Technology" did 20 plus years ago. Vocalist and guitarist Paolo Porro is competent in the sort of middle of the road shouter with an occasional interlude into clean singing in the mold of early Metal Church (see the ballad "Cold September" for what his singing voice sounds like), but not outwardly exciting, and the same goes with what can be described as a restrained, early 80s NWOBHM approach to guitar soloing that lacks that necessary frenetic edge. The brightest moment of this album actually proves to be a shorter instrumental "Aeons", which really plays up the rapid, rhythmic chug riff assault that is the band's closest flirtation with the more overt members of the retro-thrash scene.

This is a band that definitely has some potential, and is a surprisingly strong effort given that Italy is not quite as well known for its thrash metal bands. It's about in the same league as Fueled By Fire, though the presentation is very different, particularly in the character of production. Lyrically they've definitely found themselves in a niche that is ripe for development, and their head cutting guitar assault is strong enough to rope in most old school fanatics. This is a mid-level alien tyrant in charge of a singular planet that has its eyes on dethroning the emperor of his respective solar system, but his usurpation hasn't quite come to fruition as of yet.