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Enter: Neck-ruining goodness from the mainland. - 85%

hells_unicorn, April 7th, 2018
Written based on this version: 1991, CD, Rumble Records

Following a period of renewed interest in thrash metal ushered in by the recent slew of old school revivalist bands popping out of less than obvious places over the past 10 or so years, certain questions have been raised regarding the style's first wave and subsequent decline in the mid-1990s. Specifically regarding the noted decline in favor of a slowed down and more groove-oriented approach following Metallica's eponymous fifth studio effort and Pantera's Vulgar Display Of Power, it is often speculated as to whether the fault lay with the lack of quality output by the community of bands as a whole, or via an economic phenomenon that was ushered in by the popularity and marketability of the aforementioned albums. Given the large number of younger bands that were still putting out quality material circa 1991 and into the mid 90s in some cases in Europe, the author of this review tends to favor the notion that the labels and entertainment media took a quick gander at the dumbed-down riffing style adopted via the influence of Bob Rock and subsequently emulated in a slightly different way by Dimebag Darrell, and decided that the dollar signs were chasing the groove.

One of the albums that bolsters this view is the unsung thrashing heroism that is Belgian thrashers' Asphyxia's obscure debut and lone offering Exit: Reality. On its surface, this album hints at the sort of politically charged and environmentally conscious, punk-infused variety of thrash associated with Nuclear Assault and Evildead, but the auditory contents contained within suggests a sort of eclectic stew of influences from just about every scene of note in the 80s that culminates in a sort of tribute album to the style itself. The overall production, and specifically the guitar tone is extremely chunky and comes off as a near perfect hybrid of the signature Flemming Rasmussen sound that put Metallica on the map and the even heavier death/thrashing sound that Scott Burns was touting at around the same time this album was put together. It tilts more towards the restrained and mid-paced character that thrash had adopted in the early 90s as exemplified in Persistence Of Time and Victims Of Deception, but apart from the more epic length riff machine "Health For Sale" (a very clear nod to the ...And Justice For All approach minus the lack of bass), avoids the drawn out and repetitious tendencies of said approach.

There's this sort of odd paradox to how this album flows, as it is a generally straightforward thrash assault that isn't really fixated with technical gymnastics, doesn't really bother with acoustic passages or anything atmospheric, yet hits all the basses of a band looking for a varied sound. The menacing tonality of the intro riff of "Capital Punishment" is right out of the Slayer playbook, whereas the mid-paced crusher "Slice Of Death" borrows pretty heavy from the Dave Mustaine method, all the while the gritty nastiness of Carlos Ramos' vocals are a dead ringer for Max Cavalera circa Arise while the gang-vocal sound accompanying him has Anthrax written all over it. By the same token, the hyper-paced cruiser "One Big Family" takes the frenetic character heard on Among The Living and injects something highly reminiscent of an Exodus flavor into some of the slower parts. There's even a rather quirky funk-driven slap bass element along for the ride on "Paranoia Time" that has Blind Illusion written all over it, not to mention a healthy dose of dissonant lead guitar oddities all over the album's closer "No Thanks" that takes note of the concurrent exploits of Annihilator.

Phrases like "criminally underrated" and "victim of its timing" don't really do the needed justice to this album's original and current state, as it has very little in the way of an audience in spite of the still ongoing 2nd wave of old school thrash. About the only really glaring flaw of note here is that lead guitarist Yves Cluckers has a kind of shy approach to guitar soloing that could be best likened to former Anthrax shredder Dan Spitz, but without the expressive tone to make the generally measured approach work with the impact-based riff work. That's essentially this album's true selling point, it's a veritable fountain of excellent riff ideas that span just about every crevice of thrash metal's worldwide community circa 1985 into the early 90s. Yet despite all of these diverse influences, it has a sort of working class simplicity and charm to it that makes it highly accessible, particularly to those who like a middle of the road approach between the melodic and more brutal takes on the style prior to the ascendance of death metal. The result is a sound that was all Asphyxia's own, for the short time that it was around, and definitely one that a number of newer acts could stand to consider.

Pools of blood; corpses strewn. - 65%

Diamhea, December 22nd, 2015

Belgian thrashers Asphyxia fell victims of a fate congruent to many European acts purporting the same style. They formed a hair too late to make much of an impact after their demos hit circulation, so out squeaks Exit: Reality in 1991 to minimal fanfare both then and now. As I've gone back to re-appraise some of these more obscure thrash acts I can't help but notice a bevy of trends and patterns. There was little to no incremental advancement being made in the thrash formula by this point sans pushing the envelope even further toward what was becoming death metal proper. Dark Angel were busy suffocating the listener via swampy, lugubrious mid-paced riffs, and it appears as if Asphyxia took a page from their book when they finally got around to recording Exit: Reality.

First impressions definitely count, and boasting one of the better '80s airbrush-styled cover arts I've come across, Exit: Reality set the scene with a contrast between the lush expanse of nature and what appears to be an imposing nuclear firefall not unlike the iconic representations of Game Over and Survive. The music itself is worthy of at least a few sore necks, with a muscular, belligerent mid-paced jaunt defining the lion's share of the record, with a few swampy churns diffusing into the choppier, mosh-oriented rhythm guitar lines. Definitely some Sepultura in here as well, with parts of "Health for Sale" sounding straight out of Arise. Of course, it helps (at least in this context) that Ramos' madcap rants are delivered in a bark redolent of Cavalera himself.

It is certainly a storm of well-constructed riffs, but just like Time Does Not Heal, something is lost in the translation for whatever reason. Asphyxia get away with more because their songs are more concise and snappy, but take "The One Who Minds the Worm" for example; between some solid fret abuse we are left with a lot of space filler that easily eludes the memory. "One Big Family" feels like some of Anthrax's heavier fare, what with the more mosh-conducive construction and endearing over-reliance on gang shouts. "Where the Shadows Are Dark" (no shit...) sounds like it was influenced from Exodus, with that staccato-driven main riff and Ramos' more nasal, sneering inflection. Again, the album feels more faceless than deficient in any one sector.

Well played, standard Slayer-inspired fare just wasn't going to get many looks by the time of release, but I can't say that many will regret passing this one up. The musicianship is consistently above average, ballistic and appreciably begrimed with its intense focus on cranking the riffing dial, but to what end? Certainly not all memorable songs, because all I have ever taken away from Exit: Reality is that opener "Capital Punishment" sounds like "South of Heaven" and I keep waiting for that iconic Lombardo drum fill that never comes. It leaves one wanting, but there was definitely some potential here.