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The perfect storm - 94%

Napero, September 21st, 2012

There is no real reason to compare the thrash scene in the end of the wonderful 80s, and today's metal/deathcore scene. No reason whatsoever. But if you really insist on doing that, it's not hard to see certain things that could be judged equal in the big picture. Both musical styles are connected to the aggressive popular scenes of somewhat similar social backgrounds and target audiences, and both scenes have bloomed within a span of half a decade, eventually turning a bit stale in the process. But that's pretty much where the equalities end. And the old thrash begins whooping the ass of today's tough-kid scene. One of the main problems the youthful core suffers from today is the incredibly formulaic execution and worship of the breakdown template, the limited armoury of vocal styles, and the minimal differences between the bands, either style-wise or musically.

Not so with the late 80s thrash. Noo, siiiir. The thrash bands of those days, while perhaps sharing a similar visual style and attitude, had individual sounds and songwriting. Perhaps it was the lack of internet, perhaps something else, and that certainly isn't the subject of this rant. But if you look as objectively as you can, maybe the best works of every scene are always created in the fleeting moments just before the plummet and death, when the experimenting has been done, and the crowd knows what works and what burdens should be offloaded; there are innovative or accidental successes in the early stages of a genre's development, and refined and progressive masterpieces created after the forge has already cooled a bit. But Handle with Care was released on the top of the thrash wave, and should be considered the apex of one of the branches in the family tree of thrash. It surfed on the crest of a perfect crashing surge, and managed to condense everything essential from its surroundings onto a single CD.

Nuclear Assault's 80s sound always had a special kind of relentless character, despite the fact that there are rather slowish songs on Survive and Game over. The combination of Lilker's moderately distorted, echoing bass gallops with Conelly's dentist drill vocals and the driving riffing, made even the lower RPM songs feel like what Orgasmatron's cover art looks like: a runaway piece of wicked machinery, uncaring and devilishly crushing. Sure, the sound and production would be different today, but it's about the music, not the wall of sound. And they always were easy tell apart from the other bands. They had something of their own, even outside the specific vocal style. And maybe that something is due to the New York thrash scene's connection with the hardcore scene, and the crossover-ish influence from there.

Crossover, in the shape chosen by M.O.D. and S.O.D. and their kind, is not what holds Handle with Care together. The album is a different beast, and the crossover in its most traditional form has little footprint on it. But it's evident in the sound, the attitude, the lyrics, and many aspects of the songs, even perhaps on the cover art and the message. There is something unavoidably hardcorish and even perhaps crusty about the whole deal, even if any sort of tabulation or other musical notation would unavoidably fail to deliver that elusive something. In a thorough, fact-based analysis, Handle with Care is pretty much a pure-bred tharsh album, and yet, there's a nagging feeling of something awesomely punkish in the back of the head once the album is over. With the exception of a few crude joke tracks, it lacks the comedy factor found in Bay Area bands, and while the 35 minutes of music is a virtually perfect mosh soundtrack, it's a void of comedy. However, the seriousness contrasts beautifully with the apparent ease and flow of the songs, and the seriousness is perhaps not quite as serious as it first seems. Yes, this makes little sense, but that's the case anyway.

It should be noted that the 1989-90 Nuclear Assault was the perfect live band as well. They easily crushed the nuts of most foreign bands that played in Finland at the time, including the stoned-off-thier-collective-asses Megadeth, and only the Arise-era Sepultura, and perhaps Sodom, could really challenge Nuclear Assault's assault. What wouldn't a man pay to be able to see them again in the 1989 NY clubs!

In any case, Handle with Care's contribution was both perfectly and badly timed. The scene was withering, and while they successfully incorporated most of their scene's good things, the best of crossover's characteristics, their own musical development, and the fury of the the aggressive end of the thrash spectrum, it came way too late, and the waning interest in thrash perhaps cost this wonderful album its place in the Sun. And perhaps the crappy timing also meant that instead of this masterpiece, the retro-thrash movement... if it can indeed be called that... focuses on other brands of thrash, and finds the overdone return to certain cartoonish and beer-and-moshing kind of fun more palatable than this direction of potential development.

Surely, thrash still had some ammo left when it bled to death. There was the interesting, and perhaps the most potential possibility, the progressive edge: listen to, say, ...and Justice for All, Mekong Delta's whole discography up to 1992, Stone's Emotional Playground and Colours, and find the wonderfully surging and abundantly changing but stealthy songwriting excellence found on such staples as Megadeth's Rust in Peace, and think about it for a while. Hadn't the interest dried up, there would have been plenty of room to expand the realm of thrash. On the other, almost opposite edge, the dirtier thrash perhaps lost ground to the new flood of death metal. Yeah, Handle with Care does not contain much in the way of death metal's different kind of anger, but it certainly has an attitude that could have appealed to the same crowd, and at the same time, it could well have been the bud that might even have blossomed into the beginnings of a new trend.

This album contains the distilled wisdom from a pizza slice from the whole thrash scene of the late 80s. It certainly has a character of its own, and it's easy to see that it's unlikely to be liked by all thrashheads. But at the very least, it was a creature that can be told apart from the rest of the shrubbery on the thrash landscape. And it kicks ass, so unless you've already heard it and made up your mind about it, skip a few spins of Evile or Gama Bomb or whatever you youngsters are listening to today, and spend an hour hearing this twice. Your eyes might open to a new manifold of possibilities.

Handle with Care is a remarkable forgotten album with potential to become a true classic, but it turned into an unfortunate victim of changing times and bad luck. And it's worth your time. Guaranteed.