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Par for the Course - 60%

OlympicSharpshooter, January 5th, 2006

In the late 80's there were dozens if not hundreds of Germanic thrash/speed acts cluttering the hopping underground scene, all hoping to hit the big time and roam the globe like the conquering titans known as Scorpions. Drifter were unquestionably one of these bands. Here on their debut LP Drifter serve up standard-issue palm-muted crunch riffage with a slight taste of the burgeoning power/speed scene championed by Helloween and Running Wild. Drifter aren't nearly as good as either of those bands, but there's a certain rough charm to this as with many other dusty relics of the era. These guys certainly lack the finesse and otherworldly poise of say Heathen or Coroner, but its no use comparing metal that is emphatically second-tier to the cream of the gorramn crop. This album should be considered and enjoyed on its own merits, and if you're looking for mean-median-average thrash Drifter may be your huckleberry.

Drifter's overreaching sound is standard thrash with elements of traditional metal, folk-inspired harmonies rising out of the chock-a-block clockwork chaos of constantly shifting riffs and breakdowns that we all know and love. There's a heavy reliance on shouted backing vocals to give an epic scope, but Drifter is closer to Anthrax than Blind Guardian in this respect, and it comes off as more of the same past-expiry date 80's fromage as any other indie metal act of the period. The band do have a very very (VERY) slight progressive edge to my ears in that they tend to throw a few tricks at their riffs, sometimes playing them at altered tempos at different places in the song, shifting in intensity as befits the song and even managing to occasionally surprise me with an abrupt segue into a nifty spare break or two. 95% of the thrash acts out there do this, but Drifter manage to be somewhat spontaneous about it.

Vocalist Tommy Lion puts forth a respectable if uneven performance. His thickly accented voice is probably more suited to a more mid-tempo NWOBHM-ish band, but he does what he can. On the more proto-power style songs like "Banners On the Battlefield" and "Reality Turns to Dust" he tends to stick with his natural mid-range voice, doing his best to project and pronounce, but thrashier numbers force him to drop into a lower bark that doesn't suit him well or worse, an Araya-like typewriter-talking that sounds more like someone entering a speed-speaking contest than a singer with any degree of conviction. Lion also attempts to toss out some high notes, which is highly ill-advised given his range. His falsetto is more King Diamond than Halford, and it takes the listener out of the moment.

Although Drifter's status and genre alone are usually enough to render most bands a lost cause from an intellectual perspective, its worth taking a little time to examine the lyrics here. Drifter present a surprisingly compassionate and socially conscious interest on this record, "Crime of a Lifetime", "Spiritual Diary of Oppression", and "Senseless Death" in particular displaying an earnest wish that the world were a better place. As with many bands of German origin (the band was formed in Switzerland but the band is comprised of German-born and German-speaking musicians), there seems to be a deep racial guilt about the atrocities committed by Germany during WWII, and they aren't subtle about it here. From the surprisingly effective spoken break in "Spiritual Diary of Oppression" which seems to tell the story of a Jewish person betrayed to the S.S. by a trusted friend to the slightly less literal "Crime of a Lifetime", the shame of the holocaust is a thick cloud over the lyricists. It is somewhat admirable that this album is to some degree a work of conscience, albeit not a particularly intelligent one.

On "No Fear of the Future" and the unintentionally funny spoken break of "Crime of a Lifetime" (which is, I feel I should clarify not the one about the Jews) the band asks why the world is such a terrible place. I can only hope that they've learned that there's no mystical answer to the world's problems, because it is quite fruitless to go searching for one as these songs do, tellingly escaping into fantastic realms on the last three tracks as if unprepared to deal with the realities of how much life just plain fucking sucks.

The production also speaks to youth and inexperience. While the guitar is capably recorded, it could stand to be louder and more muscular. The drumming, when not supported by the usual wall o' riffs is horribly lifeless and doesn't sound anywhere near like it should. Towards the beginning of "Banners on the Battle Field" we get what is probably the worst example of this, the band hamming on the portentous silence before the fury of war, the drum ticking away like a clock all by its lonesome. Nice attempt at imagery, robbed by poor miking. On the other hand, the mix is surprisingly spiffy, one of the rare thrash acts where the bass is audible (LOVE hearing bass overlaying an intricate breakdown as in "Crime of a Lifetime") and the vocals are neither too high nor too buried.

When the band gels, as they do on the nearly-vicious nearly-epic opener "Dust to Dust/Reality Turns to Dust", we get an impressive vision of thrash infused with the taste of a march to death and glory o'er the verdant fields of England in olden times, the band telling their tale of impending apocalypse with a surprisingly steady hand, letting you headbang comfortably as they flow from movement to movement, culminating in a bent caw informing you of the end. When they don't, we see them for what they are; a coupla naive kids not overburdened with talent in a scary world without much but metal dreams. Charming, yes, but destined to be obscured by the merciless sands of time.

Stand-Out Tracks: "Reality Turns to Dust", "Spiritual Diary of Oppression", "Burning Circles"