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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.