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Unsung...and I don't mean poor Keith Deen. - 95%

Gutterscream, April 27th, 2005
Written based on this version: 1988, 12" vinyl, Under One Flag

"...the evil chariot, the swinging mace of hatred..."

“Judas Reward” slowly bludgeons its way into a tilt-o-whirl frenzy of riffs and velocity. Keith Deen’s (RIP) potent lung delivery is just as I remembered - a sandwich of sandpaper-pulped vocal cords. I had seen them in Trenton with DRI and Kreator about a year earlier (with HT not being top of the list, mind you), and the show still rattled around some backlit memory of mine. Their debut leaps to mind.

I felt Terror and Submission was acceptable in its speeding thrash delivery, but knocked my socks off only to a point, which is why I made only a lackadaisical attempt to stick Mind Wars into the tape player when I received it as a promo from Roadrunner.

It was the verse starting with ‘a Judas reward to collect and to horde, scum lizards of fashion pray to their gold Lord…’ that really jerked my attention from the road as I drove up NJ’s Route 1 in ’88, hiking home from classes of my first semester of college. It wasn’t the lyrics themselves (the promo didn’t come with lyrics and deciphering required a compass and a cartographer), but Deen’s low and distorted stone-crunch conveyance of them is what threw me into siren alert. Suddenly, the verse’s end is sliced by an impromptu unsoiled shrill; a third lane of vocals to accompany his road salt rapport and belt sander squall. Now this sounded promising. With the whole song, unfettered speed careens oddly and impressively into unhurried power. Through telepathy I tell the stereo it has my attention.

Recorded at the tail end of '87, Mind Wars is an often undiscovered thrash/speed classic that still wows fans of those closely-knit genres hearing it for the first time today. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the most underrated metal albums of all time. Keith Deen's vocals are a little stranger than most. He can go down deep for a menacing tone or two, can scream to high heaven, and even nails fairly high, clean notes when the urge hits him, and is just enough to throw your instincts into a swerve.

Following “Judas Reward” is the quick "Debt of Pain", a bullet train of a song even more feverish than its precursor that is actually a disguised version of Agent Steel’s “Back to Reign” (Kurt Colfelt has writing credits on both tracks). Except for the first chorus, the lyrics are completely different, and the pace is incomparable as new supersonic rhythms pass everything on the road while a coalition of harsh and scrubbed vox greenlights the chorus with a subtle, yet despairing urgency. Reigning in the velocity is “Immoral Wasteland”, gliding elegantly into a slower vein with semi-galloping rhythms, a surplus of wily solos, and multifaceted songwriting that's as traditionally-gilded as anything pre-'84 to the mindset of a later band like Demons & Wizards. "A Fools Gold”, “Terminal Humor”, and “Mind Wars" melt into a songwriting beast of an entity with no pauses or breaks. The musicianship maneuvers wildly, beating its chest in front of thrash/speed hecklers that believe musical competence in thrash is as probable as the Titanic resurfacing on its own. Rhythms and melodies just uncoil without notice, reaping unpredictable changes in timing and structures like the titles imply.

Side two starts at the very peak of the rollercoaster with the lengthier "Damned by Judges", a heavy, mid-paced jogger that peers just over the edge of the monster hill. Impending fear churns as the abyss beyond is devastated by three hurricanes: "Do Unto Others", "No Resurrection", and "Christian Resistance" - a trio of giants storming anything placid, mild, or weak. “Do Unto Others” is possibly sung three times too fast at times, sounding amateurish in its inherit chaos, but the rest of the track mangles nicely. “No Resurrection”’s frantic chorus is a high point, sung recklessly yet again with inflections flying chaotically like confetti to the roar of speed metal cacophony. “Christian Resistance” is the crème a la crème, the Big Bertha track with leaden, tightly stroked rhythms breathing with a life of their own, ordaining a chorus that magnificently finishes both song and album with a wind of pious denial and brilliance.

Anyone I've let hear this usually wants a copy yesterday, and if you’re lucky you can find the two-on-one cd with the debut for a few more coins. One can imagine the band’s disenchantment with the scene when the mild gust of recognition from Mind Wars barely managed to blow out the matches of less eventful and fulfilling albums. Unfortunately for the five-piece, most listeners are just now seeing the light (but that's better than nothing).

“…in the name of Jesus Christ we massacre...”