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A Screw Loose on the Industrial Thrashing Machine - 95%

bayern, February 24th, 2017

The 90’s came beckoning with all their seductive noisy groovy/angry/alternative “charm”, and the fans had no choice but to adapt to these strange new sounds unless they wanted to bury themselves deep down somewhere, and spend the rest of their lives listening to their old copies of the Metallica, Destruction and Razor albums (which, if you ask me, may have been the better option).

Industrial metal is the finest invention of the 90’s music nomenclature, a branch which retained the aggressive aesthetics of the old school by enriching them with the fashionable for the times noisy appendages and electronic samples. For most representatives of this movement (Ministry, KMFDM, Die Krupps, Front Line Assembly) said electronics constituted an indelible part of their early efforts whereas for the band under scrutiny here this was a novelty that they had to learn to play around with.

Skrew’s meanderings around the music scene are invariably connected with Adam Grossman, the founder and the mastermind behind all of their exploits, and the only permanent member of the screw… sorry, crew. He was also an active participant in the late-80s’ thrash metal campaign with his first band Angkor Wat who managed to release a string of demos and two whole full-lengths. The style back then was jarring thrash/crossover with both hardcore and more aggressive thrashing standing on the side as capable “assistants”. Though not bad by any standards, the music wasn’t anything too striking for the band to have their names heard above the deep underground layers.

However, Grossman was determined to make an impact on the scene, and his sagacious awareness of the up-and-coming new vogues eventually paid off. Less than a year after the Angkor Wat sophomore effort he was back in action with his new formation, Skrew. And not only that, but his new team, also including the guitar player Danny Lohmer from Angkor Wat again, were ready with their debut opus, the album reviewed here. What has the man cooked up this time? The unnerving horrifying intro, involving some women screaming scared among other not very decipherable noises, is already a daring beginning which finds its logical follow-up on the samples on the opening title-track before very sharp guitars interfere “marching” onward in a remorseless steam-roller manner; one really has to try to come up with examples of a sharper, literally cutting rhythm-section from the 90’s; Grossman provides not very prominent hissing semi-declamatory vocals which are just background unobtrusive “noise”. Hypnotic, mesmerizing stuff which becomes chuggier and doomier on “Cold Angel Press” with more horrified, this time shouty women tearing the aether with their rendings. “Charlemagne” is an irresistible mixture of mellower psychedelic sections and speedy headbanging outbursts the latter becoming even more aggressive on the perennial mosher “Gemini”.

“Indestructible” carries on with the thrash attack, but in a more subdued, brooding manner the riffs still cutting deep acquiring an even darker shade on the next “Feast” which again sides with the quasi-doom movement regardless of the violent riffage. “Once Alive” is the next in line raging cut, a short direct piece which flows into one of the finest covers ever made, The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”, a stunning roller-coaster not very easy to recognize even by Mick Jagger and Co. themselves due to the more aggressive thrashy approach which still leaves the original’s leading motifs on the more familiar side, Grossman’s vocals inexplicably becoming nosier on this one with an overt hysterical pitch (whatever it takes to capture Jagger’s inimitable soulful croon). “Poisonous” includes some awful rap signing, but the rest is business as usual the band shredding with the utmost sharpness in a steady mid-pace. “Prey Fish” closes the album in a relaxed manner with Grossman showing his more emotional, cleaner vocal side to suit better this compelling atmospheric ballad which wraps up the album in a mellower, but still fairly interesting way.

This effort is more thrash than the next (at the time) works of Testament, Forbidden, Exodus, Overkill, Kreator, Anthrax, etc.Yes, industrial was the new thrash capturing the vigour and intensity of the original form in all its grandeur, unlike the primitive, one-dimensional aggro-fantasies of Pantera and Machine Head. Not surprisingly, quite a few retro thrash lovers were converted under the industrial banner. The main issue with these new purveyors of aggression was that with so many side gimmicks applied on top of the riff-driven “skirmishes” one was never sure when they were going to take the upper hand and drive the guitars away, like it actually happened on quite a few times (Ministry, Die Krupps, Front Line Assembly, Malhavoc, etc.) later. In this train of thought the audience should have unshakable trust in Skrew since they are pretty much the only act (save Swamp Terrorists) who have retained their thrashy roots all the way to the present day. They continued their ascension with “Dusted” (1994), a marvellous display of modern thrash which remains one of the milestones in 90’s metal and the band’s magnum opus.

“Shadow of Doubt” (1996) saw Grossman losing the other axeman and with just him providing the guitar pyrotechnics, the delivery lost its sharpness also epitomizing some heavy grooves which up to that point were alien to the guys’ repertoire. Still, the album had its intriguing moments and was another worthy addition to the band’s discography. “Angel Seed XXIII” (1998) was a further descent into groovy territory losing whatever bite the previous effort had, also sounding quite repetitive and stale with Grossman obviously not having much more to add to the carnival which was shaking off its numetal vestiges, preparing for the reinstatement of the old school. The man put an end to Skrew’s existence, presumably for good. Then suddenly, literally out of the blue, the band rose from the ashes some 17 years later with “Universal Immolation”; by all means a return to form seeing the guy(s) angrier than ever moving towards the death metal arena with interesting progressive touches embedded. Industrial is a distant memory the guys moshing relentlessly with Grossman focused on his guitar shreds entirely, surrendering the mike to a more suitable, more brutal throat.

Yes, the axiom was proven right once again; you just can’t trust this industrial batch, they go wherever the mood swings them… With Adam Grossman, however, one should at least feel safe: there would always be murderous rather than dancey rhythms provided, products of his “skrewed up” imagination.

Twisted limbs and genital sins. - 65%

Diamhea, December 3rd, 2014
Written based on this version: 1991, CD, Priority Records

Skrew have been around for a long while, and their earliest output is very much a product of its time. If you are familiar and enjoy post-Twitch Ministry you will already be comfortable with what Skrew is working with, but that isn't to say there aren't some interesting qualities (for better or worse) that make Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame something off an oddball entry, even in the band's already relatively varied discography. Although they shifted to emphasize the modern, yet sufficiently grimy metal element later on, this debut's qualities are pretty much spot on for a release date of '91 concerning this particular pairing of leaden, corrosive industrial sampling and aesthetics with the unhinged thrashing of guitars. The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste probably comes closest to this, at least concerning the vocal approach and emphasis on excessive sampling as opposed to riffs as the primary strength.

Resident ugly motherfucker Adam Grossman is an off the wall entity and virulent centerpiece to Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame's front line, which is augmented by multiple layers of percussion and omnipresent, soaked-in-petrol riffs. Hardly a demanding performance, as he needs to do little more than talk over the riffs thanks to the suffocating effects he is drowned in, but that isn't to say it doesn't fit the music. I turn to early Skrew to fill that void when I grow tired of the endless repetition that makes some of Ministry's similar material hard to sit through more than once (I'm looking at you, "So What"), and this record is a comparable and relatively proficient alternative. However, it is hardly original or groundbreaking by any measure, and really seems to lose it when the experimental side of the band starts to opine a bit. "Poisonous" is obviously the track I am referring to in this regard, which features an N.W.A. style rap performance that dates the album immensely. I can't even comment on whether or not it is good for what it is, but I do know that it doesn't fucking fit and is a good way to lose traction right before the end of the record.

Anyway, the only remaining reason you might actually care about Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame is the fact that Jourgensen and Scaccia both actually perform on some of the material here. Most of the songs in consideration in this regard are pushed to the front of the tracklisting, and it is clearly no mistake since these are some of the better numbers. "Cold Angel Press" (great track title!) is the best song here and features some horror film soundtrack-esque keyboards. The title track is a destroyer of worlds as well, and could easily pass as a B-side on The Mind is a Terrible Thing to Taste. It should come as no true shock that Skrew truly love sampling, but I feel that it could be better integrated into the sound here. There are lots of audio clips that pop in and out, but it is rarely layered in a memorable cadence. Generally, the riffs continually nip at the heels of the industrial element, so it is constantly forced to look over its shoulder (getting really metaphorical here) and the end result comes off as somewhat distracted at times as a result.

I've had this record for several years and pop it out from time to time when I am pining for a particular fix of industrial metal. The riffs are considerably pronounced for music of this style, as there are some decent shredders like "Once Alive," but roughly half of Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame is sorta whatever. This band recently reunited and put out a new album, but it doesn't seem to be in the same vein at all. Maybe it just isn't possible to evoke the same feeling that was so critical to the style during the turn of the final decade of the millennium. Skrew made their anguished voice heard here, and this is one to check out of you are a fan of Uncle Al. Could be better, but hey I'll take this in moderation.