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The epitome of “mentally insane” thrash - 99%

Hellish_Torture, February 9th, 2016

I still conserve a lot of memories about the period of my life when I got into thrash metal. While being a terrible phase for me under other aspects, the music managed to compensate it all - and, while I still had a very limited musical conception, I was already on the right track, listening to countless albums that still nowadays I consider as absolutely essential and irreplaceable. Despite all the different stuff I have listened to in recent years, thrash metal never stops to amaze me - and bands like Sodom, Destruction, Gammacide, Protector, Kreator, Schizo and Sepultura are still privileged names in my book.

One of the albums which manages to bring me back quite successfully to those days is Destruction’s second full-length, “Eternal Devastation”, which I consider to be the peak of this amazing German band. I still remember that, after having irremediably fallen in love with Sodom, I soon started seeking for other thrash bands (especially in the Teutonic branch), driven by a literally maniacal hunger. Along with Kreator (which did already blow me away), I was instantly drawn to the other band of the German triad: songs like “Total Desaster”, “Mad Butcher” and “Tormentor” were the beginning of my addiction for Destruction, which became definitive when, on a quite ordinary winter night, I finally heard “Eternal Devastation”. I knew I had to expect something special after seeing its amazing artwork - yet, despite my apparent awareness, I still wasn’t fully prepared to what I was going to experience: this album left me astonished for its extremely distinctive features and its somewhat “morbid” sound (something I really wasn’t fully used to at the time), and it instantly became my favourite Destruction album (as well as one of my favourite thrash albums of all time, right after Sodom’s early material).

A somewhat “hallucinating” acoustic intro (which manages to sound both relaxed and unsettling at the same time) paves the way for the monolith known as “Curse the Gods”, which is probably the greatest song Destruction ever composed. The first stylistic change you notice is the guitar tone: man, this is probably the sharpest and thorniest guitar tone ever obtained during the 80s; it sounds like a rusted, yet extremely trenchant and precise chainsaw - and even the trademark Swedeath guitar tone would sound miserably wimpy, by comparison. It’s not as bass-heavy as Sodom’s guitar tone (which is way more compact and efficiently compressed), yet its thinner nature and its somewhat more “disjointed” mixing provides a unique listening experience even in the realm of extreme metal as a whole.

Then, of course, the riffs: even in this department, the band has gone through numerous stylistic changes. Gone is the linear, continuative speed metal-derived riffing-style of the previous records, and gone are even the “epic/occult” atmospheres that permeated the masterful “Infernal Overkill” from start to finish. Now, Mike & co. have opted for a much more complex and ambitious riffing-style, made of countless different facets which definitely outdo the standard speed metal formula of the band’s previous works in favor of a much more unpredictable compositional vein, with several tempo changes (while still managing to keep some form of “continuity” in their own way) and a major resemblance of that “complex” form of thrash metal which would make lots of fortune in the subsequent years over the more simplistic speed metal-friendly approach of the early days (just as another proof of how forward-looking Destruction has always been during the 80s). I wouldn’t label this album as “technical thrash”: the band didn’t lost its feral and vicious rawness - which has even been increased in some regards, since the faster sections now are more intense and barbaric than ever; however, it’s clear that the German trio has decided to push forward their boundaries, expanding and speculating on the most experimental episodes of “Infernal Overkill” and forging a style that synthesizes both subtlety and brutality at the same time. However, this is not even the most standout anecdote about this record.

Actually, even in this case, the album’s biggest strength lays in its amazing atmospheric rendition, which however now possesses a pretty different “theme” in comparison to “Infernal Overkill”: the elegant occult vibes are now replaced by an utterly relentless “psychotic” feeling, which plays a key role regarding the intensity of the music. The feeling of tension now is more palpable than ever during each song, and the notably heterogeneous alternation of tempos provides an excellent balance between different phases of what’s essentially the same mood: the cadenced, martial mid-tempos are often placed as intros or bridges during the songs (such as on “Curse the Gods” or “Life Without Sense”, where the initial marches give an incredibly threatening and mercilessly incisive vibe, grinding your bones with absolute cynicism) and they often feature some of the most technical passages of the whole album (such as on the intro of “Confound Games”).

On the other hand, as already stated, the fast sections are even rawer and more barbaric than before (sounding much more akin to Kreator’s “Endless Pain” and Sodom’s “Persecution Mania”), but most of the faster riffs possess a unique vibe, embodying and interpreting flawlessly the album’s “psychotic” soul and sounding almost as if they were truly created by a mentally deranged guy (probably a sociopath, or even a serial killer with some weird perversions): “Curse the Gods” is one of the best examples, being filled with fast riffs which possess even some kind of “sloppy/unstable” edge and, at the same time, are perfectly calibrated to convey a morbid, delirious, schizophrenic, nearly “apocalyptic” vibe that could only be created by a deranged mind or maybe an extraordinarily cynical/hateful person; even the twisted and chaotic riffs of “Confused Mind” are able to convey an anxious sense of impending catastrophe, and the insane “whirling” riffs of “Confound Games” manage to give justice to the album’s cover art - devastating your mind like a fucking tornado. Even a more straightforward song like “Eternal Ban” (which seems to be more in line with the band’s earlier style) possesses an astonishing level of intensity which could never be found on “Infernal Overkill”. The refrain parts are often the most crucial moments, where the riffs become even more aggressive, psychotic and hateful (such as on the chorus of “Curse the Gods”) - and even on a less fast, more Bay Area-influenced track such as “Life Without Sense”, you can clearly perceive an anxious, dramatic, exasperating feeling of insanity and mental instability which seems to aim at the most vulnerable sides of your subconscious; this is also valid for some slow/mid-paced parts which are filled with surgical, psychotic guitar phrasings that are able to convey a destabilizing sadistic feeling (such as on the middle break of “Confound Games”). Some “extra” guitar work helps as well to enforce the general mood - such as the little solo at the beginning of “Eternal Ban”, the strident dissonances during the initial march of “Life Without Sense” or the apparently calm arpeggio of “Confused Mind” (which is actually a really spine-chilling affair, if listened up closely enough).

Most of the main features of “Eternal Devastation” are efficiently summed up in the instrumental track “Upcoming Devastation” (which blends some of the album’s most technical mid-paced riffs with pure breakneck up-tempo aggression) - yet, I think there’s even another song which embodies many interesting sides of this album and brings most of them to a new level: I’m referring to the epic “United by Hatred”. It starts with one of the fastest, most schizophrenic, most annihilating solos I’ve ever heard in my life (with a melody that manages to sound both technical and extremely dramatic) - then, it turns into an epic war march upon which the tragic battles between Romans and Barbarians are proudly narrated; the song later speeds up with some other extremely twisted riffs which start to increase the tension toward the catastrophic chorus, after which a couple of breaks (adorned by another urgent solo) lead toward the final part of the song, which ends abruptly the way it began with that beautifully violent melody. This song could sound like the most randomly-constructed episode of the whole album, yet it shows an excellent subtle construction and a feeling of pathos and tragedy that would make the ancient Roman soldiers honored, if they could ever know.

However, there’s still an important element I haven’t mentioned yet, and I probably should have done it earlier to give it more exposure. Right from the very first time I heard “Eternal Devastation”, I remained shocked by hearing Schmier’s standout vocal performance. Yes: after his not-so-memorable work on “Infernal Overkill”, he finally found a really personal and distinctive style, which is applied on this album at its full potential. How can you forget the legendary choruses of “Curse the Gods” and “Confused Mind”? During these (and many other) sections, Schmier uses a very stretched and acute falsetto which, as weird as it may sound, is still an excellent way to provide memorable vocal lines and to “consacrate” the album’s psychotic atmosphere. Even when he doesn’t use his trademark falsetto, Marcel is able to adapt his vocals to the kind of lyrics he’s singing, in an almost “chameleonic” way. You can definitely hear this on “Curse the Gods”, where he gives an astonishingly cynical and almost derisive performance for one of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard about religion.

”Millions die for their faith,
each religion prays that killing is a sin:
how stupid logic can be?”

The aforementioned “exasperating” chorus of “Life Without Sense” is really well-performed too, thanks to a strong emphasis on the crescent anxious mood (which fits well the existential lyrics that deal with the life of an handicapped person in a cynical, yet somehow compassionate manner at the same time); even “Confused Mind” is strongly empowered by Schmier’s maniacal tone, which resembles flawlessly the voice of a bloodthirsty serial killer out of control (and the insane ending of the song, which I won’t spoil on this review, fits perfectly as well). Another very memorable moment is the refrain of “Confound Games”, where his partially reverberated vocals provide a really unsettling and spine-chilling atmosphere which pretty much sums up everything this album is about:

”Insane brain,
the man’s over the edge…
expect the sentence
of the new strange creature!”

In the end, “Eternal Devastation” is the greatest album Destruction ever created. “Infernal Overkill” could still be considered nearly on the same level, thanks to its awesome songwriting and its compelling atmosphere - yet this album possesses something more. If we exclude Type O Negative’s “Slow, Deep and Hard” (which I wouldn’t define as a thrash album, despite some sparse influences here and there), “Eternal Devastation” is the greatest display of human psychosis ever translated into a thrash metal language. Some years later, the Italian band Schizo would do the same thing in a definitely rawer and more relentless way, yet Destruction are those who managed to create the thoroughest and most well-constructed album in this precise regard. Despite some apparently “cryptic” moments on which I needed to focus better during the first listens, this record became a real landmark in my music tastes since the night when I heard it, and it’s still one of my favourite albums of all time. That inimitable chainsaw-like guitar tone, those twisted schizophrenic riffs and those morbid acute vocals will never age.