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The planet has just some cracks - 76%

TheBurningOfSodom, March 2nd, 2019

What's better than finally finding a 98% rated '90s thrash album which is not called Idolatry, nor Epidemic of Violence, nor Extreme Hatred (released in 2000, but still)? Surely it must be something special... unfortunately, I haven't entirely felt it. I'm gonna put my two cents in about Planetary Destruction, debut and lone full-length by Stygian, released in 1992. I enjoy listening to it from time to time, but the idea that it isn't actually an unfairly forgotten masterpiece never totally left my head. Better start my arguments with a bit of contextualization.

A product of its times, really. '90s thrash was all about over-produced, reduced-tempo goofy attempts of releasing some music which could be called 'thrash' and could be enjoyed by both thrash and rock/nu-metal fans, for the most part ending up being inevitably despised by both categories. With the obvious aforementioned exceptions, and saving maybe some not-that-bastardized efforts by respectable bands such as Arise or Horrorscope, there's little to zero possibility to find some unsung masterpiece of the entire genre history in this decade. Now, I'm not the highest music expert in the universe and my opinion counts as much as yours, but I feel some people really need to acknowledge that 'being excellent for a '90s album' doesn't exactly compare to 'being excellent'. To be honest, Planetary Destruction falls somewhere in between the 'groovy trend-jumpers' and the 'last masterpieces of the genre' categories: I can't think of a more concise name, so I'll call it the 'albums released by bands late to the party and thus bringing nothing new to the table but still decent'. Ya know, Evildead, Forced Entry and the like. Now that we've finally classified it, let's talk about the music.

Since their very first demos, I feel Stygian were trying to give their personal answer to Testament. It's even too blatant, considering the not-too-fast average tempo of the drums, the meaty guitar tone, the Chuck Billy-styled vocals, the fretboard wizardry of the guitars... wait, now that I think about it, Stygian did have something special! Mike Delmore may not have the same classical touch of Alex Skolnick (who does?), but the solos are everywhere and for a reason, he is surely the most talented guy in the band. Yes, it's definitely an alternative for the '90s Testament albums. I, for one, actually think it would work as a follow-up to The New Order. One might argue that Testament played '90s thrash even before '90s existed, but I digress. The point is, is anyone interested in it?

Well, now that I've bashed it way too much, since I feel that calling it a second-tier rip-off of a second-tier band isn't exactly the biggest compliment I can make to it, I'll come out and say this is a good album, and you should give it a spin. Nothing groundbreaking for sure, but there are some pretty awesome tunes in 'Cremation' or 'Preacher and the Politician', peppered with some of the most tasty solos you might hear in the genre. The former in particular has a 'Master of Puppets'-styled break in the middle which will turn many metalheads happy, no doubt about it. The latter contains a chorus so catchy that it's almost unbelievable, just check it out and hear for yourself. 'Fall from Grace', despite its very generic lyrics (a constant of the album anyways), is your straightforward tune with a neck-snapping break leading into the last solo. The title-track is in a similar league, and you can tell it's the opener by the fact they somehow managed to squeeze 6 solos into a 3 minutes and a half song. Two successful choruses too. The 7-minutes closer 'The Switch' is the obvious choice to hear the most 'progressive' Stygian went on this album, and it's a very ambitious track, still with a special consideration in keeping the transitions between the various sections smooth. What about the middle part, with the second solo kicked in by a Tim Owens-like falsetto by Gary Golwitzer? Brilliant stuff.

But... there are downsides too. The instrumental 'Environmental Suicide' has nice tempo changes and the obvious display of technicality by Delmore, but I find myself preferring vastly the 7-minutes demo tune 'Earthly Homicide' (despite the similar title, they're not related in any way), which was probably left off in order to cut some minutes from the total running time. Some tracks then fall way below the level of excellence of the aforementioned highlights, and ultimately the always stunning leadwork cannot save them all. Rather, when the songs become weaker (and, incidentally, slower), you'll start to notice how many riffs may sound already done before (my picks are the 'Behind Death's Door' fast riff, which is practically 'Crippling Velocity' verse riff by Demolition Hammer, and the said break in 'Fall from Grace' which echoes the one in Exodus' 'Impaler' quite loudly) and how the vocals are substantially the same throughout the whole album. Really, Golwitzer at times sounds like an hybrid of Evan Seinfeld of Biohazard and Janne Joutsenniemi of Stone, and I'm not talking exactly about the most technically gifted vocalists around. Even worse, 'Catastrophic Deed' doesn't even have a solo to spice up its monotonous groove. An exception is the mandatory ballad 'Needful Things', but I'm not fully convinced by it either, again because of the vocals, basically devoid of any emotions. Maybe none of the 10 tracks are intrinsically bad, but unfortunately a good half of them are simply unmemorable.

Speaking of Golwitzer, if you're into the underground scene, you might remember him for the minor cult band Wrath, but as you may have guessed from the last paragraphs here he's no more the unrestrained howler you were expecting, probably to keep in line with the music. I recognize the 'nostalgic' factor people see in Wrath, but those vocals really weren't that easy to digest. Less original now, thankfully less eardrum-shattering too, but ultimately quite repetitive. Dennis Lesh's performance on the drums is the typical 'nothing special' one, but still solid, with some interesting fills, just like James Harris' bass is often predictably drowned in the muddy mix of the instruments, with the exception of the closer. Notice how everything smells of second-rate thrash from a long distance. Perhaps the real diamond in the rough is not the album itself, but the poor fella Mike Delmore who was clearly leagues ahead his bandmates.

That's it, guys. Planetary Destruction may not be the 'classic after classic' album some try to sell you, and Stygian are forgotten for a reason, but it possesses some peaks of brilliance that are at least remarkable. Listening to the whole thing in one sit is quite a tiresome experience, nevertheless I guarantee you that the choice cuts are worth a try.

A Power/Thrash Classic - 100%

THRASHATTAXE, May 10th, 2012

Stygian’s sole full length album is perhaps one of the greatest of all thrash metal albums. Despite this album being one of my personal favorites, the musicianship mixed with aggression prove that Stygian was interested in making an album that was not afraid to have variety of melodies, harmonies, and heavy riffs. It is a shame that this album did not receive more attention, or rather as much attention as Gary Golwitzer’s other band Wrath, but for a release in 1992, when thrash metal bands began to experiment with groove, death, and altering the traditional styles of the 80s, we should be lucky that this album received the attention that it did. What is seen here is a technical thrash metal band, sometimes even labeled as Power Metal, that not only retained the late '80s thrash metal sound, but pushed the envelope in directions that I do not believe their European thrash counterparts, save Angel Dust, Paradox, and Xentrix, would have gone.

Examining the album from the beginning, we see the first two songs, Planetary Destruction and Behind Death’s Door, providing your run of the mill, basically Bay Area style, thrash metal complete with the aggressive intro, vocal high note, thrash riffs mixed in the verse, and complex guitar solos on behalf of Bob Allen and Mike Delmore. I must say, these guys are talented and seem to work off each other very well, but the real treat arrives in the song, Cremation. In Cremation we hear what begins like another typical thrash metal song, but breaks in the middle to an acoustic guitar part with an electric guitar solo that provides a full range of melody which then erupts into a dual solo that rivals the solos from Victims of Deception, Rust in Peace, and Heresy.

Other examples are seen in the instrumental, Environment Suicide, but most importantly in the song, Preacher and the Politician. This song is easily the best song on the album and Stygian shows how they don’t limit themselves to a consistent key signature or a static degree of aggression. What we have here is a song that will stay strong with the intro and verse riffs and then break into a melodic and harmonized chorus. Combine that with Gary’s vocals and edgy lyrics, as the song deals with religion and politics, and you have a song that proves that metal is one of the only styles of music that can really put forth such a variety of feelings into one song.

I must commend all of the musicians on this album, including drummer Dennis Lesh and bassist James Harris, as without them this album would not have been possible. This album proves that American thrash metal was capable of many things and had many horizons if time and trends did not cause its abrupt dissipation.

What Stygian left us with, however, is something that proves that thrash metal was capable of having more than just dark lyrical content and blandly heavy riffs that could not progress in any direction other than what Metallica and Slayer had already covered 6 years prior. This album was indeed experimental and the remnants of lost bands like Stygian are now seen in Iced Earth, Nocturnal Rites, and Grave Digger.

The thrash genre was indeed a genre of variety and while the popular bands like Testament, Death Angel, Heathen, Exodus, and Onslaught will continue making albums, we only have the one album that Stygian put out, an album that we know will always provide a quality listening experience and coming from a band that will never feel the pressures of a changing time and attitude. While it may be on the shelf, case, or wall of the heavy metal collector, it's albums like these that will always have a special place in our memories, knowing that every time we happen to browse through our collection, we can understand that Planetary Destruction will deliver a performance that is nothing short of energetic, technical, melodic, and unique as a result of its efficiency to do all three while simultaneously retaining their thrash identity.

Galaxies - 93%

grain_silo, July 13th, 2011

1992 was not a good year for thrash. It’s a shame this album didn’t come out a few years earlier. The reason I say that is because this album is GOOD. I really feel this band could’ve done pretty well if they had delivered this album to a better scene than the shit that 90’s was turning into. With death metal taking over and this album not containing a shred of death metal influence, it’s no surprise this band didn’t stay around for more albums.

The production on this album is pretty much perfect. The guitars are loud and heavy. The drums are really loud and sound really good. The vocals are perfect. There is only one thing; the bass is kind of quiet. You get a click every now and then but for the most part it’s too quiet.

The vocal delivery on this album is spot on. He kind of sounds like Xentrix meets Testament during “The New Order”. He is a pretty low singer but occasionally goes into some pretty unique highs. The riffs are heavy, fast, and everything thrash should be. The solos are very well-structured, not too much shredding solos going on here, which is a plus for me. A very heavy example is, “Behind Death’s Door”. It starts with a very heavy riffs and the high screech comes with the THRASH. The song pretty much destroys you from beginning to end. “Cremation” has an amazing break with an outstanding solo. “Needful Things” is like their ballad. It’s surprisingly good. It’s no “Fade to Black” but it delivers as far as ballads go. It’s also the only slow song on the whole album. “Environmental Suicide” is an instrumental, and wow is it good. The album ends with “The Switch” which is also the longest song on here at around 7:00. The song lengths are good, not too long and not too short. The whole album is longer than 45 minutes but it’s so good, it doesn’t feel that long.

I would highly recommend this album to anyone who likes thrash. That seems kind of vague but it’s that good.

Best tracks – “Behind Death’s Door”, “Environmental Suicide”, and “Planetary Destruction”

Absolutely Amazing! KILLER Thrash! - 100%

Desiple_of_The_Ice25, July 3rd, 2007

It's about time that I found some Stygian. I first heard of these guys through an ALL time favorite band, Wrath, thanks to their album that still moves me to this day, Nothing To Fear. It was said that the lead singer, Gary Golwitzer was kicked out of the band for composing material that the rest of the band Wrath wasn't looking for in a vocalist. After, he came to join (or form) Stygian, and that he completely changed his vocal style. They were labled as "Thrash Masters", yet for some reason, were also called Power Metal.

After searching long and hard for this album, I finally found it. Before I knew it, I was REALLY pleased with what I heard. I wasn't expecting thrash this amazing. These guys personally I think SHOULD be more well known than they already are. Being a big fan of Gary Goltwitzer, I paid lots of attention to his vocal style on this album. In my perspective, if he would have sang like this in Wrath, they would have been far more known because not to say his voice is better on this, it really is different from his former work of Wrath. Gary changed his voice from a high pitched pterodactyl to an angry almost Paul Baloff versus Chuck Billy. It's really just more to stomach and easier to handle than before.

The riffs on this album are absolutely awesome. It was very clever what Stygian's guitarists did, because there were some songs that had some very technical/melodic-ish riffs, as well as there were very Typical thrash riffs played in a more technical sense. Just listen to Behind Death's Door and you'll get what I mean.

As for the drums and the bass, as usual for the bass anyway, well produced, but it's the bass, there's not a whole lot to say about the bass in my opinion. The drums are without a doubt VERY well done, and heavy. For their time they could have really gotten big for the drums.

Really, all the songs on this album are very well done and have a little bit of significance on their own. Planetary is a GREAT introduction to the album; it's heavy, thrashy, and all in all, a great song to begin with. It has some GREAT drums, and the riffs are awesome. Planetary Destruction is organized and planned out well.

Behind Death's Door is pretty good, and DOES add to the significance of the album, but that's really about it. Gary's vocals kind of gotten a little bit been-there-done-that, and you really just heard Planetary Destruction over again, but different.

Cremation is fun, and sounds A LOT like an Iced Earth song with the galloping, but much better than Iced Earth, which is really hard for me to admit. The riffs are very simple, yet technical making it sound very original and unique which gives Stygian a very signature style for their thrash.

Catastrophic Deed is really a simple song, but the vocal tracks, and progression make it a song that you would really love to listen to live if you saw them at a show. Maybe not one of the greatest, but like was said, adds to the significance of the album. It's a keeper. Heavy, and thrash all the way.

Needful Things is a ballad we have all heard before if you dig Bay Area Thrash. Just listen to The Ballad by Testament and you pretty much have this, but yet, this is more static. It pretty much is taking a typical thrash ballad and Stygian-ing it. Though for some reason, as it may not be the best song, in terms of progression because it is VERY repetitive, I can't stop listening to it. The 12 string acoustic riffs are very well done, and Gary sounds JUST like Chuck Billy. If you are looking for a decent (at the least) thrash metal ballad, this is DEFINATELY one to listen to, but it's all VERY familiar if not a little too familiar.

Fall From Grace I figure has some great drum work, and some clever, yet simple riffs. The lead work is friggin amazing on this one, but also, on this entire album. You ask me can lead work help to save a song? YES it can, it helped save this one thanks to the intro. I like this quite a bit actually.

Deadly Psychic Evil starts off with 12 string acoustic eery-ish melody. It started off a little bit under produced which is really too bad because this song is awesome. Though, once the song gets going, you forget about it being under produced at the beginning. This one is also a keeper, like the rest of them really.

Environmental Suicide is totally a fun and cool song. It's a short instrumental, giving us some GREAT riffs, and killer lead work. What is too bad that I might say is that it is a little short, because there could have been so much more yet, at the same time, I am very satisfied with it's length, or lack thereof in this case. Nice fun tune.

Preacher and The Politician has some AWESOME challenging riffs that is really quite surprising that have never been done before because they are very catchy riffs. I am SO pleased with this piece, because it has some nice melodies/harmonies, help adding to the significance of course, with it's magical riffs. Definitely one of the best.

The Switch is the longest number on here. It has to be ONE of the best songs by far which you can tell these guys put A LOT of hard work into. One of the funniest concepts that I grin at is that there are times where Gary seems to sound like Kurt Grayson (the other singer of the third album, Insane Society by Wrath). This is definitely the most progressive of songs, and is without a doubt the perfect track to end this with. I think that Gary might have gotten some lessons on his vocals because they are far more improved. Every minute or even less than that, they progress to something completely different in the time signature. This is an honestly dynamic keeper concluding this amazing album.

Stygian really have something amazing here. Yeah sure, they released it a little late for the thrash genre, but I honestly think these guys have something that is so great that their overdue stature means NOTHING.

Bottom-line: DEFINATELY a classic. I URGE all of you Thrash lovers and metal heads to check this one out.