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Fantastic sound, good compositions - 76%

Felix 1666, May 11th, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Brutal Records (digipak)

Over the span of three full-lengths, Axegressor have been a very reliable supplier of razor-sharp old school thrash and I admit that I had very high expectations with regard to their fourth album. Please keep this in mind when I say that "Bannerless" is marginally disappointing. Due to whatever reasons, the filthy Finns have slightly reduced the level of speed, aggression and fury. They still play thrash metal of the old way, but the sometimes crucial iota of insanity and brutality is partly missing. Maybe the guys just have reached an age that does not allow them anymore to bang their heads regardless of the consequences. But a guy who calls himself Johnny Nuclear Winter does not have the permission to get old and lame. Firstly, the pseudonym sounds like a promise to deliver his whole life nothing else but ferocious thrash. Secondly, nobody reaches an old age in a nuclear winter.

"Bannerless", the fourth one-word-title-album (two words are probably too expensive) of the Scandinavian ruffians, does not stand in the shadow of their other works as long as we are talking about the very impressive production. The heavyweight guitars prevail and they glitter with cruel clarity, pressure and sharpness, but they do not pulverize the contributions of the other instruments. The double bass, for example, is able to deliver a decent bombardment. Not to mention the pumping, pretty prominent bass or Johnny's vocals. This dude raises his voice whenever he likes to do so and his performance still reflects a rebellious attitude. Never hysterical, but always in a very angry and defiant mode, he screams the lyrics and it gets obvious, that the statements of the debut's title track ("we're not perfect / to play like the pro's / not classically educated / we're not one of those") are still valid. Yet this does not mean that Johnny sounds amateurish or monotonous. He spreads some energetic vibes and performs fervently. His mean aura ennobles tracks like the casually titled "Bridges to Cross and Burn".

"Barren Bloodline Worship" possesses some furious parts that catapult the song into the league of the classics of Axegressor's former records. "Truth Prostitute" is lively and fast right from the start. Its shredding and swirling guitars form a malicious thrash assault. This is the way that makes my day. But many mid-tempo parts speak another language. Axegressor often choose a comparatively gentle, nearly easy-going approach on this album. The crucial word is "comparatively". They still have a lot of energy, vigour and neckbreaking qualities, but I miss frenetic tracks like "Command" or "SS-18 Satan". So let's try another tactic and stop comparing this work with the previous results. Then I must acknowledge that "Bannerless" is an extremely strong produced album with more than a handful of formidable tracks. It remains a mystery to me why they have chosen a relatively uneventful track like the mid-paced "In Safe Space No One Can Hear You Scream" for the first position of the running order, but I admit that there exist more things between heaven and earth that I do not understand. Women, for example. However, I am at risk to digress. Get a copy of "Bannerless" and you will be able to judge for yourself.

Underrating all consequence. - 70%

GrizzlyButts, April 23rd, 2018
Written based on this version: 2018, CD, Brutal Records (digipak)

Born from the increasingly rare Finnish desire to straight up thrash in 2006 Axegressor‘s first EP ‘Axecution’ in 2007 was a raw high-speed thrasher not far from the Sodom-worship of groups like Witchburner or Nocturnal with a little bit of a Coroner style edge. By 2009 their first full-length a small regime change meant the riffs would pull back towards late 80’s Sodom almost exclusively. This was the defining release for Axegressor in the sense that they still work with ‘Coma of Souls’ and 90’s Sodom in their veins. I don’t want to box the group’s sound in too harshly, but I’ve found all of their releases a strong approximation of the German thrash approach in the late 80’s and early 90’s.

Criticized for being a bit sluggish on their first album, Axegressor kicked things up a few steps on ‘Next’ in 2011. Thrash metal guitar riffs are a tough and competitive business and at this point the band found a better balance of complexity and driving rhythm. One of their more popular tracks “SS-18 Satan” comes at the middle of ‘Next’ and for my taste it highlights the less ‘driven’ feeling of the bands sound at the time. A lot of thrash bands go for variety and others go for variation, I’d seen Axegressor at their best in sticking with variation considering their actual sound wasn’t original. Some of that would be remedied on the very different 2014 full-length ‘Last’ as they jumped onto a bigger label.

‘Last’ came in a year where the thrash output, much like 2018, was fairly thin and uninteresting with countless revivals from old dead bands. It was a very standard release from the band though the production was great and the growly guitar distortion had never sounded better. I’m all for sub-genre iteration and standard releases in metal, though there were very few important thrash releases from that year in general. What has changed in the four years since? Actually, ‘Bannerless’ is one of the most inspired and varied releases from Axegressor to date.

Still lead by a witching metal growl and teutonic structures their sound in 2018 is louder, heavier and faster as ‘Bannerless’ kicks off with a Stone-like riffer in the form of “In Safe Space No One Can Hear Your Scream’ hell, it even has a guitar solo or two. It seems the band is suddenly no longer asleep at the wheel and the hell-world closing in on us all has lit a fire within. “Ever-Bending Spine” couldn’t more perfectly return to their ‘Coma of Souls’-esque riffing of early Axegressor that feels tweaked into their own signature. I have to admit I’m pretty starved for pure thrash metal in 2018 and I don’t think I’ve gotten a better proof than ‘Bannerless’ yet outside of maybe Rapture or Chemicaust, and both of those are a bit more death/thrash.

I could easily go track by track for the first four songs here with big riffs and hooks that are worth returning to. If you’re familiar with the sort of Voivod-lite last Airdash album ‘Both Ends of Pain’ and can overlook some of it’s bad taste the riff style on that record sort of hits some of the same notes, though I’d throw in Destruction‘s ‘Release From Agony’ too. This shows most on “Igno-rant” and “Peace At Last (Armageddon)” but there are hints throughout. I think it emphasizes that ‘Bannerless’ isn’t just the sort of rote Teutonic thrashing I’d honestly expected after ‘Last’ and should definitely entertain folks who obsess over thrash guitar work. A notably inspired entry in Axegressor‘s discography and one of the better thrash records from the first half of 2018.