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The life and death of funk thrash. - 94%

hells_unicorn, July 22nd, 2020
Written based on this version: 1989, CD, Noise Records

The longstanding notion that thrash metal was ultimately a victim of its own slavishness to orthodoxy may not be a complete myth, but it is a half-truth at best when one truly digs deep into where things were going as the 80s drew to a close. Even as early as the middle of the decade there was a penchant for off-the-cuff experimentation by the likes of Anthrax, Nuclear Assault and a number of crossover acts that came on board from the West Coast and New York hardcore scenes, itself a style that often lends itself to occasional genre-splicing for comedic effect. Then again, much of this veering away from the established formula was contained to a few novelty songs that would account for less than a quarter of a given EP or LP's duration. Perhaps one of the most blatant examples of this was the often overlooked debut of San Francisco-based oddball outfit Mordred, a band often credited as one of the pioneering bands in pushing the funk metal hybrid within a thrash template. But a closer examination of the contents that make up this seemingly Avant-garde affair reveals an album more firmly rooted in traditional thrash metal tendencies, albeit dressed up in an unusual costume and decked out with some quirky elements at its fringes.

While this quintet of mad thrashing party animals were toiling in the Bay Area underground since 1984, the contents that rounds out Fool's Game have a heavy New York tinge to things, resembling the more clean cut and vocals-centered character of mid-80s Anthrax and Nuclear Assault. The same basic interplay of gritty gang vocals chiming in alongside a crystal clear tenor reminiscent of Joey Belladonna in front man Scott Holderby steals most of the show, though the riff work has a pretty similar methodology to a typical Scott Ian take circa Spreading The Disease and Among The Living, with maybe a tad more of a violent character at times in a similar vein to early Death Angel. When combined with a few funky odds and ends such as the occasional record scratches and keyboard work by Aaron 'DJ Pause' Vaughn (who was a guest performer at this point but would later become the sixth permanent member of this band's classic lineup) and a goofy thrashed-up revamp of Rick James' "Super Freak", this album ends up walking a rather curious line between the serious side of thrash and the comedic one that was rising in prominence, avoiding the banality and awkwardness of Frolic Through The Park and a couple other late 80s duds in the process.

For the most part, the sonic picture painted here sticks to a conventional thrash metal methodology, scoring a number of catchy yet neck-busting bangers in the process. Upper-mid paced crushers such as "State Of Mind" and "Spellbound" prove to be just as riff happy and rock solid as any punchy thrasher out of the concurrent Zetro-era of Exodus, but with a bit more of a catchy, sing-along vibe, while the more melodic cruiser "The Artist" splits its time between a flurry of lead guitar passages and swift speedy segments and comes off about as elaborate as the more progressive variant of thrash that would come to dominate the scene in the early 90s, to the point of predicting some of what would be heard on Xentrix's For Whose Advantage. Truth be told, most of this album features some fairly impressive guitar shredding that could easily stand toe to toe with the Alex Skolnicks and Dave Spitz's of the world, while the flashy bass work of Arthur Liboon is highly prominent in the equation and comes fairly close to matching the fancy goodness that Les Claypool brought to Blind Illusion's debut album the previous year. Truth be told, apart from the "Super Freak" cover and the quirky novelty number "Every Day's A Holiday", the degree of experimentation at play here is quite minimal.

Compared to the rest of Mordred's comparatively moderate-sized body of work, this album is the one that will undoubtedly appeal to the bulk of thrash metal fans, largely because it kinda shies away from the overt goofiness and off-kilter experimentation of Faith No More. However, this is also their greatest offering in a more general sense given that the musicians involved are all highly competent and the more virtuoso-friendly style that is exhibited here allows them to shine all the more brightly. There is a balance of sorts that is achieved when introducing originality into the mix in small doses, and this album accomplishes this to the same degree of brilliance that Nuclear Assault did on Game Over. The incorporation of DJ Pause as a permanent member likely had something to do with the metal elements being toned down on subsequent releases, but much of this band's later decline can be chalked up to the concurrent trends in the music scene as a whole in the 1990s. This is about as alien to the boredom inducing drudgery of 90s groove and the garbled rot of late 90s nu-metal as one can get, and it's definitely an album that should be blaring out of the speakers of more thrashers, both old school and new wave alike.