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Great, but perhaps not essential - 85%

iamntbatman, June 8th, 2010

Ah, now this is the Toxic Holocaust we all know and love. By the time of the writing of this second demo, mastermind Joel Grind had settled on the core Toxic Holocaust approach: fast, furious blackened thrash driven by a minimalist punk approach to the concept. The songs on this demo are just as developed as anything Grind has written and, other than a dirtier production than we're used to on the full-length albums, this stands along with the best stuff Toxic Holocaust has recorded since.

The drumming, as always, drives the riffs along with dedicated simplicity. Charging bass-snare-bass-snare rules the day with few exceptions (such as the unusual-for-the-band blasting on "I'm Not Dead" and "Prelude to War") and fills are mostly snare rolls. The punchy bass follows the guitar exactly, beefing up the low end of the mix without needless noodling. The riffing, as usual, is the highlight. Songs consist of two or three riffs each, but with guitar lines this fun the appeal is impossible to deny. Tremolo lines are rare (they show up most notably on closer "Whores and Vodka"); more often they're two or three chord manic thrash workouts that simply don't let up. Some of the songs on Critical Mass are even shorter and more furious than usual for the band, including the aforementioned "Prelude to War" and the twenty-five second "The Stalker." Grind's vocal approach has always been sort of difficult to describe. It's got a thrash-shout sort of delivery, not unlike Tom Araya I suppose, but it's sort of a combination of a hoarse shout and a breathy rasp. For the longest time I was convinced that Grind had to double track his vocals (at least) to achieve this effect, but having seen them live I can assure you that it's somehow naturally produced. In any case, his signature style is on display here, if a little more blackened than usual and with a tad more reverb than is used on later releases.

While tracks like "Damned to Fire" and "Dead to the World" are up there with the most headbangable of Toxic Holocaust tracks, something has to be said about the awesome cover of Bathory's "Sacrifice." Often enough, you hear covers by metal bands that make you nod and say, "it's totally awesome to see a modern extreme metal band apply their style to this classic heavy metal track" or something along those lines. Like Toxic Holocaust's Venom cover on their previous demo, this version of "Sacrifice" serves to show exactly where Joel Grind's influences lie. And as if the song weren't already a pretty ripping example of first wave black metal, the stakes are increased by the use of a thicker, chewier guitar tone that's really spot on. I suppose I'm not the only one who thought that this track was spot on, as it was used three more times on various subsequent splits.

Additionally, five of the remaining tracks here are found on the band's debut full length album, which someone diminishes the worth of this release. Of the remainder, one is simply a sort of ambient intro track and three are thirty second assaults that don't quite contain the usual quotient of thrashy headbanging fun. That leaves "The Need to Kill" and "Whores and Vodka" as the only two high-quality tracks unique to this demo. Completionists will want to track down this release as it's fun stuff from start to finish, but more casual Toxic Holocaust fans will likely already have most of these tracks on other releases and can come across the remainder via download. If you're new to the band this is as good a place to start as any, just be forewarned that the production isn't as clear as on later releases.