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not doing it for me - 54%

Noktorn, December 30th, 2011

I always want to say that I'm a Destruction fan, but I always stop myself short of it because I realize I can't name a Destruction album that I really enjoy a great deal. They have their moments, certainly, and some classic thrash tracks that are still undeniably worthy years later, but they've never managed to string together a whole album I really love. It's a matter of time and place, really: Destruction occupies the rather unenviable position of being the lesser of the Teutonic trinity rounded out by Kreator and Sodom. They never reached quite the same level of notoriety, and perhaps more glaringly never seemed to reach for the raw aggression and brutality of their two bigger brothers. While the Teutonic thrash style is present in Destruction's sound, compared to Kreator or Sodom, the band comes off as rather clean and Americanized- too close to Anthrax or Exodus to inspire a lot of confidence. "Release From Agony" is hardly an album that I can describe as offensive or even poorly constructed, but when placed in the harsh light of the scene the band grew from, it's hard to wholeheartedly recommend it when so many more enduring and influential works surround it.

Schmier's vocals are the primary antagonist here: whiny, sneering, and reedy, they don't convey any particular power and possess a tone that grates the nerves of anyone who can't stomach Mustaine's nasal snorting. The flaws in the performance are so omnipresent and distracting that it puts "Release From Agony" in a similar position as Mercyful Fate's discography for me: to get something out of the music requires staunchly ignoring the vocals, which only half-works when the performance in question is so staggeringly distracting. Down the road, Schmier would get his vocal shit together, but here he helplessly flounders, with the production pushing his performance way too far into the front to be entirely ignored. Speaking of the production: while a lot of people say this is the first LP in Destruction's discography with serviceable production, I'm not so sure- to me, it sounds claustrophobic and muddy, with a sloppy guitar tone and a sort of trundling bass presence which swamps the music with unnecessary weight. The songs on the album are light and nimble thrash numbers, but the production keeps them from realizing their true agility and sharpness.

Destruction is one of the few thrash bands who actually developed a rougher sound the further they went along in their career. After their terrible mid-period experimentation with post-thrash, they came back leaner and more vicious than ever before- "Release From Agony," on the other hand, comes off as pretty soft. By '88, just about everyone was rushing towards more and more extreme styles of thrash, but on this record, the band is still dwelling in the realms of Bay Area bounce with a slightly more aggressive rhythmic presence. The bigger problem than the softness, though, is a distinct lack of memorability in the songwriting. Partly a problem of production but more an issue of songwriting, the riffs tend to sound generic and uninspired, not delivered in an aggressive enough manner to stand out in that regard but not written well enough to really stick out in your brain. It's obvious at this point that Destruction was leaning towards a more technically inspired direction (Annihilator is a subtle undercurrent to many of these songs,) but this just makes for music which sounds like a fourth-rate Hellwitch. The solos are keening and the riffing is more complicated than usual, but it doesn't do much but make for clumsy passages which don't really go anywhere. You can see the symptoms of this in the drumming, which is forced into directionless, static patterns due to the self-indulgent riffing style: listen to just how long the percussion section is forced to do basically nothing over the course of "Dissatisfied Existence," in particular the section before the dueling solos. It's pretty painful to listen to.

For the most part, this isn't openly bad so much as misdirected and kind of generic. Oddly enough, I tend to prefer Destruction's material from 2000 and later to their more "classic" works; it feels as though they caught up significantly and stack up pretty well against still-running thrash bands of a similar age. "Release From Agony" is probably a no-brainer for people fond of the Bay Area style, but for the rest of us, there's more relevant and better Destruction albums (or Teutonic thrash) out there.