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Thrown into the pitch black. - 73%

Napalm_Satan, February 19th, 2016
Written based on this version: 2015, CD, Inverse Records

(This review has been brought to you by our resident review queue machine Diamhea, in his quest to prove his inferior music taste. Go and read his reviews, they're great!)

Rifftera. What a dumb fucking name. For real, this is up there with the likes of Destroy Destroy Destroy and Metal Band as far as shitty names go, only this isn't even funny. Gladly though, the music is far more competent than the name-making department and on the whole avoids the worship of our favourite Texans too much. The tag 'alternative' makes no real sense here, there isn't anything even remotely alternative à la rapping, funk, or any other kind of poorly integrated non-metal bullshit here. More properly, this is something like The Haunted, but with keyboards and a bit more thrashiness in places. In other words, this embraces 'modernity' in every way imaginable. To be honest, it also isn't really stellar in any aspect, but they are good enough at what they do to avoid drowning in the sea of what I like to call 'modern slush'.

The riffs for instance, take the form of low-tuned grooves and chugging for the most part. They aren't dumb-fuck and redundant like any number of countless 'Walk' rip-offs, and do a fairly good job of driving the song forwards. I would have liked it if the band lived up a bit more to the 'thrash' part of their name, and the incessant grooviness does start to wear thin as the album presses on. That said, something like 'Rotten to the Core' (which sadly is not an Overkill cover) is a crunchy, modern and competent groove/thrasher of the up-tempo strain, and is easily the album's highlight. They at least give the album a nice heavy undercarriage, which is more than can be said of some of the style's progenitors and their need to fill up the space for riffing with an endless series of leads. There aren't even that many breakdowns and the stupid one chord hits that come with them, a good thing given that I never really saw the appeal of them beyond at a live show. They just fuck up the flow of the song.

The drumming is competent enough, performing a solid set of pummeling yet straight timekeeping beats shot through with sporadic pedal-work and the occasional fill. The bass blends into the background, providing the ever-necessary support role of giving the album a low end, but there aren't any cool bass-only intros or little fills here and there. There are a few solos on the album, and are decent enough. They serve as a nice melodic counterpoint to the pummeling, shuffling riff-base. An odd thing to note with this is that for something with 'melodic' in the genre descriptor, this is surprisingly atonal. Melody only really comes through with the solos and keyboards, whose presence isn't really layered on heavily enough to cover up the riffs. They help to give the music some sort of texture and flow beyond the groovy stop-start business underneath them, and are an interesting touch. However, I feel that they didn't do enough with them, and are often relegated to the background, far away from any of the instruments. Tracks like 'One Step Closer' prove to be much more enjoyable than the others here, because the loopy melody used helps to divert some attention away from the riffs until the song speeds up.

Two vocal styles are employed on this; growls and cleans. The growling is decent enough, not particularly expressive or that aggressive, but they function as a percussive instrument and feature a slight screaming edge to them that makes them come across as a bit more rabid than most growling. They remind me of a fusion of Mikael Stanne's growling and Tomas Lindberg's higher pitched growling, and are inoffensive at worst. The cleans are also decent, if a bit weak at times when juxtaposed with the heavy-as-fuck groovy riff-base. They are more of an atmospheric tool and are used in conjunction with the keyboards to make some sections a bit more ethereal, and of course work best on the other highlight of this album, the keyboard laden 'One Step Closer'. The growling means that this isn't especially catchy music, being relegated more to moshing/headbanging material.

I think the main problem with this album is the songwriting. These songs do tend to drag somewhat, though the nature of the groove means songs tend to become a bit redundant. They are a bit overlong on the whole, with the title track being too damn long for its own good. Nothing here is ever grating, but there aren't really enough riffs or changes of pace to justify some of these song lengths, no matter how much headbanging fun the songs may provide. The songs stick almost exclusively to verse-chorus structures with no real deviation from this formula. The fact that the growling makes this kind of hard to sing along to makes this adhesion kind of pointless, and makes the album come across as formulaic and a bit 'meat and potatoes' level of standard.

I do like the production. It is modern, as in, everything is loud and clear, with a nice heavy and meaty sound throughout. Nothing sounds overly compressed, mechanical or slick, and the keyboards sound nice and real. The guitars have a slightly muddy but decent enough tone, the drums are pleasingly heavy, the bass has a cold yet rich tone, and everything is mixed very well, with nothing overtaking anything else. Perhaps it is a bit too clean and polished for some, but this is the same guy who likes the production on Slaughter of the Soul and Wintersun. It is a good job, possessing the necessary clarity and dynamics to make this music come across well to the listener.

This is a decent enough release. It is nothing to really write home about (then again, me praising something thoroughly modern and clean like this is quite an achievement), but it is a nice bit of vaguely derivative, flawed, yet solid groove/thrash, I call it this since this is barely melodic and not even remotely alternative. It is good to pop on once in a while for a decent attempt at headbanging music with some atmosphere, and will find a loving home in the collections of fans of The Haunted, Avatar, Soilwork, or latter day In Flames. I do hope to see more from this band, maybe taking some more cues from the aforementioned At the Gates album (hint: THRASH! and shorter songs) and perhaps looking into some symphonic bands on how to use the keyboards more effectively.