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The savior that few remember. - 84%

hells_unicorn, April 2nd, 2019
Written based on this version: 1989, Vinyl, R.K.T. Records

Thrash metal's history is often plagued by either overt revisionism or brazen Monday morning quarterbacking, particularly when it comes to those obscure acts that maybe should have made more waves but either arrived too late or were otherwise hampered by forces outside of their musical viability. Though it can be a bit grating to go through the motions of justifying one position or the other, there are a few cases where it becomes necessary to call out certain third parties when it comes to a potential thrash metal classic ending in failure, and none are clearer cut than the case of the U.K.'s Metal Messiah and the short-lived label R.K.T., which was responsible for producing and distributing their lone LP Honour Among Thieves. When considering that said label was also responsible for marketing one of the more ridiculous concepts in thrash metal in Metal Duck (yes, about a decade after there was a "Disco Duck", we were then treated to his younger, metallic brother), it might have been guessed that it was bound to be amateur day on who would be tapped to produce this album, but when an album is put together and released in 1989 that has a sound quality that would have been considered weak in 1984, even this excuse doesn't really hold up.

It is a royal shame because for a band that had its roots in Britain's punk scene, this is a highly impressive and engaging slab of thrash with a side-order of old school NWOBHM tendencies that straddles the line between Metal Church and early Nuclear Assault. When sifting past or otherwise adjusting one's ears to the tinny, barely better than demo quality production, what emerges is a highly complex set of crushing riff monsters that may well have put England on the map in a time when the scene was being dominated by San Francisco, New York and Germany. Things are maybe a tad overambitious as the album kicks off with two de facto intros, one being a minute long ambient synthesizer prelude that gives things a notably cinematic flavor, which is perhaps fitting given the generally elaborate character of the entire album, while the first full length song "Metal Messiah" has a near 2 minute mid-paced introductory segment that features some melodic content and a fairly competent lead segment after the Kirk Hammett mold before it gets going. All that being said, once this song gets going, it's a full blown speed fest that gets intense enough to rival the Teutonic brutality of early Assassin and Destruction.

Though the low-fi sonic character of this offering and its faster moments give off an impression that this is a British outfit chasing after a mid-80s Teutonic thrash sound, the total picture is far more multifaceted and reveals a band that was very much in tune with the progress that the sub-genre had mange up until the close of the 80s. More elaborate crushers such as "Mad Dog" and "The Awakening" mix in plenty of mid-paced elements to keep things varied, not to mention are chock full of impressive lead guitar gymnastics that go well beyond the occasionally obligatory solo segment, almost hitting territory similar to the Kill 'Em All mold of frequent lead breaks used as placeholders. On a more subtle note, the galloping menace that is "Kiss Of Nosferatu" cycles through some haunting balladry somewhat along the line's of Flotsam And Jetsam's "No Place For Disgrace" with a hint of Helstar's "Winds Of War" to strong effect, while the tech happy "Nightwing" throws in some jazzy bass and drum work before launching into full on Slayer territory. But the coup de grace that seals this band's formidable potential is the massive 8-minute, guitar solo steeped madness of "Curse Of The King", channeling that early Diamond Head epic influence a la "Am I Evil?" and doubling the aggression factor.

Sadly this magnificent debut, in addition to being hampered by being saddled with a trained monkey handling the engineer's controls, would also be the last word for this band. In retrospect, this isn't the worst album production to come out of the 1980s, but for the close of the decade it's way behind the curve and apparently was bad enough to demoralize this band to the point of them breaking up and the majority of those involved reverting back to their punk days. Thankfully the recent revival of thrash metal resulted in this album getting a proper CD release in 2012 thanks to Most Tuneage, ironically enough a sub-label of a punk label, though the flaws in the original master version endure for those hoping to hear something along the lines of what Metallica enjoyed when Flemming Rasmussen was in the control room. All the same, this is an album that any die-hard thrash fanatic should hear, and given that they've been active since 2007 (in response to renewed interest in the style, no doubt), a new album or maybe a proper rerecording of this one might be in the cards. But either way, that menacing purple face in the sky commands you to give this a go, or the Persian palace below gets it!