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Great, except for the drumming... - 77%

robotiq, January 12th, 2021

Drumming is the lifeblood of thrash. No album indicates this better than "Act of God". Znöwhite's long-time drummer Sparks Tafoya left the band shortly before the recording. The band had no replacement and bassist Scott Schafer filled the void. He could keep a hard, solid beat but he sounded like a part-time drummer. He made little use of the cymbals and his fills were unimpressive. Not everyone can be Dave Lombardo, but there were plenty of dynamic thrash drummers like Tom Hunting or Glenn Evans. Sparks Tafoya's performance on the "Live Suicide" EP from the previous year was proof of this, and he wasn't even an elite drummer.

This imposes a ceiling on "Act of God", an awesome record in most other respects. Ian Tafoya was the spine and mastermind of the band. His riffs were tumultuous, his solos explosive, his songs packed with hooks, twists and transitions. Unfortunately, great guitarists only take a band to a certain point. Great drummers turbocharge the finished product. The drumming on this album sounds more like a reference beat for the guitarist than a proper drum track. Schafer is blameless for these shortcomings, since he helped the band through a nightmare scenario and he handles most of the bass playing too (which sounds good).

It is galling because the song-writing is great. Znöwhite combined dark, gritty thrash with traditional heavy metal heroics. The soaring Overkill-esque choruses of "War Machine" and "A Soldier's Creed" will linger in the memory. Meaty thrashers like "Pure Blood" and "Rest in Peace" show how hard the band played, particularly the latter which is the leanest, meanest song here. The real highlight comes last; "Something Wicked (This Way Comes)" is a brooding ten minute epic that more than justifies its length. Most of the song keeps a slower tempo with a gloomy, menacing stomp. Imagine a thrash version of Rainbow's "Stargazer" and you’re not far off.

There are minor criticisms. Nicole Lee's guttural scream has plenty of power but lacks variety. A few higher-pitched shrieks always sound good in thrash and could have been used to emphasise certain words or lines. The density of the production is a mixed blessing; it is heavier and dirtier than most contemporary American thrash bands, but lacks the agility of a "World Circus" or an "Eternal Nightmare". At almost fifty minutes, the album could have been streamlined by cutting a lesser song (perhaps "Diseased Bigotry"). None of these criticisms are significant enough to derail the album.

"Act of God" isn't quite a thrash classic, despite thrashing harder than almost any album out there. Znöwhite, being from Chicago, had a tougher sound than the cleaner, more melodic Bay Area acts. The song-writing and riffing raise this well above the generic average. This is an album for the serious thrashers out there, those who have heard all the classics and want to delve deeper. It is awesome, but the drumming prevents it from being the masterpiece it could (and should) have been.

TO THE LAST BREATH!!! - 100%

ThrashFanatic, January 21st, 2018
Written based on this version: 2006, CD, Metal Mind Productions (Limited edition, Digipak, Reissue, Remastered)

In the year 1988, thrash had reached it's peak. Many stone cold classics were released that year such as Atrophy's Socialized Hate, Wargasm's Why Play Around, Vio-lence's Eternal Nightmare, and Metallica's ...And Justice For All. However, one thrash band rose up to stake their claim. That band was Chicago based speed metal/thrash metal band Znöwhite. The band released a few EPs in the mid-80's and played a rather straight forward form of speed metal/street thrash which was in vein of fellow Chicago metal outfit Zoetrope. Then all of a sudden, they blossomed into a vicious thrash band and signed to Roadrunner Records. We will be reviewing their 1988 one and only magnum opus, Act of God...

The album starts off strongly with the classic "To The Last Breath" which opens with a stunning fade in guitar solo by guitarist Ian Tafoya. The song then explodes with the fast and frantic drumming of Scott Schafer. Then female thrasher Nicole Lee barks out the lyrics with absolute venomous rage. Her best moment is without a doubt the pre-chorus where she shouts, "Get off your knees! Get to your feet and unbow your head. Nobody else will live your life for you, or you're better off dead! We shall remain." "Baptized in Blood" is a violent thrasher that is about a man who is drafted into a war and tries to cry out for help, but is ultimately helpless and is forced to fight. It is an excellent track, but that is only the start...

"Pure Blood" and "War Machine" are awesome tracks as well, with Nicole's vocal melodies on "Pure Blood" being some of the best I've heard. "War Machine" has a cool mid section which leads you to believe the song ends. Then, the bass comes out of nowhere and a insane riff by Tafoya follows. "Thunderdome" is a badass number which references Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome with it's intro chants of "TWO MEN ENTER, ONE MAN LEAVE!" The song closes out with the chiming of what seems to be a music box. "Rest In Peace" and "Disease Bigotry" are riff fests, while "A Soldier's Creed" has a powerful intro which leads into some very memorable riffs. The album closes with the 9-minute epic "Something Wicked (This Way Comes)" which is a mid paced number with a quiet intro which leads into a powerful verse and then goes back to the quiet section, then to a awesome solo, back to the quiet section, and then finally closing out with an epic chugging riff. It is truly one of the best thrash songs ever!

So there you have it, that is Act of God in a nutshell. The album and band was unfortunately left in the dust and ultimately faded into obscurity thanks to the rather goofy artwork of an elderly woman holding a billiard ball in front of an ocean. Don't let the misleading artwork fool you though, as this is arguably worthy of the top 10 best thrash albums ever. I paid $80 for my copy, but it was worth every penny! I highly recommend you check this out, and also check out Ian Tafoya and Scott Schafer's other band Cyclone Temple. Cyclone Temple is more on the end of technical/progressive thrash but is just as good as this masterpiece. Fans of Zoetrope, Metallica, Defiance, and Anthrax will like this album!

Highlights: EVERYTHING!!!

Get off your knees! - 90%

Liquid_Braino, August 19th, 2016
Written based on this version: 1988, CD, Roadracer Records

During the late 80's I was one thirsty thrash fiend, perusing the metal section of record stores and gambling way too much in regards to buying cassettes based off their non-musical attributes in hopes of snagging the latest diamonds of fiery aggression. As a result, I only discovered how great this album was about five years ago. This shouldn't be a surprise.

A moniker like Znöwhite doesn't exactly advertise the performers as a group that means serious business. The word itself brought to mind names like Mötley Crüe and Enuff Z'Nuff, and image-wise I thought of Cinderella's skankier cousin, so by the time I saw this cassette in the racks, any interest I had in glam shit had long since vanished and I wasn't keen on wasting money on pop metal I was enduring on every ‘hard rock’ radio station. If the name alone didn't repel my interest, then the album cover was there to cause my hand to recoil like a cobra. It's like Roadracer (fuck that takes me back) Records was on a mission to ruin these guys. If I was to have discovered this album through a friend's Memorex cassette, I would have assumed that the sleeve was decorated with an enormous monstrosity rampaging through some burning metropolis. What I would not have expected was a demented old lady holding up an 8 ball as if to ask "Would you like a peach, young man?"

Looking back, I wouldn't ascertain that the Znöwhite crew were particularly shocked that their legacy within the annals of thrash was beyond minuscule despite releasing one of the best of the genre in the late 80's. It seems like they did everything they could to flub up any marketing strategy to such an extent that I'm amazed that the song titles weren't reconfigured to gems like "Layin' my Heart on the Line" or "Back Alley Bratwurst". The only other possible judgmental error from a label strategist standpoint would be that they didn't follow the pattern of many thrash metal bands that began their discographies as violent and frenzied before subsequently slowing down the pace for each successive album, maybe tossing in a prom dance number while ditching the bullet belts and washing their hair with shampoo. Znöwhite rode against the general current of 1988, jettisoning their streetwise speed metal trappings for a hyper-aggressive thrash onslaught. But hell, what a wonderful "error" that turned out to be, ending the band's career on a superbly high note concerning a scene that wound up folding a few years later anyways.

The tempos are accelerated, frequently barreling along at the pace of Reign in Blood or Terrible Certainty, but the band also mix shit up like the partial up-kick in speed at key moments during "A Soldier's Creed", the mid-tempo punch of the brilliant "Pure Blood" and the trudging march of the epic "Something Wicked (This Way Comes)". The rhythm section is tight enough to hold all the maddening riffs in line along with enough of an igneous layer of low end to keep shit mean without reaching muddy levels.

The real breakthrough with this release though lies with Ian Tafoya's guitar antics, bombarding the senses with a barrage of huge riffs with M24E6 machine gun fire precision. The fact that most of them involve a fair amount of open E-chord abuse doesn't bother me a bit in this rare instance due to the frequent shifting patterns of the riffs plus the high velocity involved as they align with the rampant tempos. The tone is the real kicker though. McDonald's could lay waste to a good swathe of rainforest with just this guitar tone alone. It's fucking angry, that's for sure. It's also sharp, craggy and prominent in the mix, busy as hell and louder than hell. There's also reasonably tastefully performed guitar solos that pounce almost unexpectedly at times with a shrill tone that toes the line between vicious and wince inducing.

Playing this album for the first time, once the first chorus of opener "To the Last Breath" kicked in, my pants exploded. This was the kind of magical stuff I was perusing for on a weekly basis back when I was too young to waste all my money at the pub. It wasn't merely that this music was ferocious and fast yet never off the rails; this song and many others here were incredibly catchy as well. Here is where Nicole gets her accolades. Kind of like a J. Hetfield meets B. Blitz on helium, her style is generally rough but with enough range to add a welcome sense of melody and swagger to these songs, providing some of these choruses with a triumphant-like appeal. But what really sets Nicole apart is her rhythmic punctuality no matter how fast she's dishing out lyrics. Not only does she provide the melody, but her delivery is so precise, punchy and clear that it's percussive in nature during the frequent fast sections which in turn adds an extra sense of intensity.

If I have one complaint about this album, it would have to do with the epic length final track's "quiet passages" consisting of very simplistic clean note playing to establish a haunting mood or something, but really sounds more like someone trying to tune his damn guitar. The fact that it happens not only for the first minute, but later on during the song as well is actually kind of a bummer. Yet it’s not a big deal, as this album is a torrent of maniacal riffs, terrific lyrics and one venomous lady. Even the extended droning of what sounds like a room full of music boxes tinkling and chiming away after "Thunderdome" comes across as hilarious rather than obnoxious, like the band were shrooming when they decided to add that weird supplement to the song (possibly the same shrooms which gave the album cover the go-ahead).

Unfortunately this album never achieved the level of notoriety it deserved despite being on a label boasting no shortage of unquestionable classics. I know I'm harping too much about the cover, but shit man, if that was some response to a PR asshole at the label suggesting Nicole in a halter top for the cover, a monster eating a city would have been a better option. Nicole was about to bolt from the band at this point anyways, so Znöwhite were already in trouble, but at the very least, as a musical document Act of God is to me essential for thrash fans whether they know it or (most likely) not.

Come on, oh baba don't ya wanna go? - 89%

BastardHead, May 16th, 2011

I'm gonna come clean with y'all here, this is the only release from the Chicagoan thrash quartet I've ever heard, and one of the only reasons being because of their hometown. Being a part of the Chicago scene myself, I always found it baffling that the third largest city in the US has left such a small footprint on the annals of metal history. I think the biggest band we've ever spawned was Trouble, plus a few underground favorites like Usurper and Judas Iscariot (I know the latter is from DeKalb, it's close enough and with a scene this bizarrely tiny I feel it's forgivable to stretch a bit), but the Illinois in general pales vastly in comparison to what areas like New York, Florida, and California have given us. So I was beaming with hometown pride when I heard that Cyclone Temple wasn't always a fairly mediocre "long thrash" band, and was previously known as Znowhite. And lemme tell ya, the name and cover art do a damn good job of hiding what is easily one of the top 10 brutal thrash releases of all time.

First off, the band gets a lot of press for being female fronted, but that aspect takes a caboose to the sheer intensity's engine. When I say "brutal thrash", I think of stuff like Sadus, Kreator, or Sodom, and Znowhite is surely not as intensely over-the-top as these bands, but it's by far one of the heaviest and most vitriolic thrash releases of the late 80s (and possibly ever). The fake-out ending of "War Machine" and the opener, "To the Last Breath" are great examples, boasting some of the most high octane riffage the genre has ever seen. In fact, the only time I find myself disappointed with the guitar work is on the overlong and heart crushingly anticlimactic closer, "Something Wicked This Way Comes". The slower, more twisted atmosphere that song attempts to conjure just falls flat in comparison to the 8 slabs of beastly thrash that precede it. The band's strength lies in never taking the foot off the gas and just letting the songwriting and aggression manifest themselves through fast paced and cutting guitar work. Znowhite reminds me of a slightly less sharp but infinitely grittier Anthrax, as the punchiness and hard hitting rhythms of the New York legends is definitely present here, but they sound as if they were filtered through a sandpaper loofah. Really, the tightness of the rhythm section is really accented by the bone breakingly crunchy guitar tone. It's like Extreme Aggression with added low end and at least two extra sets of balls.

Despite the overall pant-shitting intensity of the music and generally monotonous shouts of Nicole Lee, the songwriting here actually manages to be very accessible and catchy at the same time. The incredibly 80s gang shouts in "Thunderdome", every riff in "Soldier's Creed", and the chorus of (once again) "To the Last Breath" are prime examples of moments that are not only incredibly awesome but also infectious. Yeah yeah, the singer is a chick and the guitarist is black and affirmative action and yabba dabba doo, but none of those superficial aspects should be the reason Znowhite and Act of God get noticed. This really holds it's own against almost everything else released around the same time, and that includes rippers like the aforementioned Extreme Aggression, Agent Orange, and Eternal Nightmare. The only thing I dislike is how the leads kind of go in one ear and out the other (which isn't a huge problem since the riffs make up so much of why this album is enjoyable), and the bafflingly poor closing track. Everything else is sublime, razor sharp, punishing riff writing coupled with enraged shouting that so perfectly captures everything that made thrash metal great in its heyday. This is a must listen for any self respecting thrasher.


Originally written for http://lairofthebastard.blogspot.com/

Sole full-length, apocalyptic thrashing masterwork - 100%

autothrall, October 22nd, 2009

Judged solely by its interesting cover art, you wouldn't expect Act of God to be one of the most refined and brutal thrash metal releases of the 80s. Nor one of the very best. To up the ante, Znöwhite is also quite possibly the best female fronted thrash band to ever have existed, at least on this album. All Hail to Thee was a decent if average effort, more like a straight up Midwest street thrash style, but Act of God transformed the Chicago quartet into something so much more.

Of immediate note is the sheer force of sound being delivered with this album. The guitars are chunky and vicious, you can almost hear the rust flaking off them. This is the perfect apocalyptic thrash record, gunning in some doomed bucket of steel across a landscape of nuked cities. Nicole Lee's vocals are simply intense, like blades raining from the burning sky, yet still melodic enough to provide catchy chorus parts. "To the Last Breath" opens the album, a thrashing juggernaut of punctual chords and octave slides which feels a lot like killing someone by smashing their head repeatedly with a blunt object. The leads are frenzied and spurious, the atmosphere created is like no other thrash album of its day (Realm would be close, but their style was focused more on technical flair and hyper melody than the brutal, humble edge of Act of God). "Baptised by Fire" creates a chugging flow of build-ups that converge into a thrusting speed metal riff which cruises beneath Lee's siren-like vocals. The anti-Nazi anthem "Pure Blood" teases us with a slower, somber riff but yet again picks up into the triplet-hammering WWIII thrash that dominates the record. "War Machine" is one of my favorites of the album, the guitars develop a subtle groove to them with punchy, invigorating riffs. And the bridge is performed with subtle melodies, soon consumed by the gang shouts of the chorus.

"Thunderdome", the mandatory Mad Max tribute which no post-apocalyptic thrash album should be without, opens with a silly sample before jackhammering your face in with its incredibly brutal grooves and flighty breaks of speed. Simply incredible. Two men enter, one man leave! "Rest in Peace" starts with a slow flow and then the drums break for another of those battering rams of thrusting force. "Diseased Bigotry" is hands down my favorite off the album, because it surpasses perfection. If you could bottle all the aggression of thrash/speed metal, apocalyptic warfare and utmost hatred, THIS is what it would sound like. A fucking orgasmic cycle of some of the best riffs ever created into absolute punishment. The vocals are vicious, and for fuck's sake, this track is as good as anything off Master of Puppets and Reign in Blood... It's a hard one to follow, but "Soldier's Creed" is a bombastic mid-paced thrasher which begs for fist pumping and horn throwing. The album ends with the near 10-minute "Something Wicked (This Way Comes)". Because you see, being Mad Max fans was not cool enough, Znöwhite were also into Ray Bradbury (kind of like this blog you are reading)?!

To dub Act of God underrated is not nearly enough. Thus, I demand this band be payed reparations for the criminal neglect of their magnum opus. With the exception of Lee, the remainder of Znöwhite called it quits not long after this album, first replacing her with Debbie Gunn (Sentinel Beast), and moving on to form Cyclone Temple, who were sadly not this good. This may be a good thing in the end, as they had achieved their masterpiece early and thus did not tarnish its good name with their later, mediocre output. If only some other bands had followed suit...

-autothrall
http://www.fromthedustreturned.com

A piece of true characteristic power thrash - 90%

morbert, July 8th, 2009

Yes, there were quite some other thrash metal bands in the eighties featuring female vocalists like Détente, Sentinel Beast and of course Holy Moses. All enjoyable, agreed, with Holy Moses’ ‘Finished With the Dogs’ being the quintessential aggressive female fronted thrash metal album but Znöwhite managed to get their own niche on “Act of God” by combining aggression and speed with melody and emotion in the best possible way.

One just has to listen to the (pre)choruses on ‘War Machine’, ‘Rest In Peace’ and ‘A Soldier's Creed’ to immediately understand my meaning concerning a good melodic approach without feeling out of place with the thrash assault the album almost constantly lays on you. I must admit during some verses Nicole Lee sounds rather forced and even a bit childish but each time this might happen, a (pre)chorus sets in which immediately makes you forget you ever had doubts.

The wall of guitars is enjoyable and there’s only one man responsible, Ian Tafoya. I wonder how this band sounded live in that period since it’s obvious some parts are hard to perform with a single player. But who cares when listening to this album. His thrash riffs are often comparable to Flotsam & Jetsam during their No Place For Disgrace period but his melodies have a totally different atmosphere, especially when Nicole Lee adds her vocals to them, making this band sound entirely different in the end.

The only real complaint I could think of is the production of the drums. Especially the kick often gets absorbed and the snare from time to time sounds a bit too much like a neat gardening tool with extremely dated reverb instead of good ol’ aggressive lumberjacking. As a result the album doesn’t sound too good in a car stereo and can best be listened to at home on a good installation or headphones.

This album is even responsible for a famous Mad Max catchphrase, which I already knew by heart, to get imbedded in my brain even deeper. Thanks a lot. If you consider yourself a thrasher or even if you just like the combination of old school speed and characteristic melodies, your collection will never be complete without ‘Act Of God’…. unless you despise female vocals which don’t sound like a tart in a dress or the next supposedly horny Spears or Beyoncé imitation.

Overlooked But Extremely Good Thrash Metal. - 92%

CHRISTI_NS_ANITY8, April 17th, 2008

This album is another umpteenth example of how life is weird and unjust with some bands. I mean, how can you ignore an album like this? Here Znöwhite improved a lot their sound, passing from the classic but very good speed metal of the beginnings to this more personal thrash metal with some more melodic lines. Anyway, considering also the year, we can find lots of more technical parts in their sound because by the end of the 80s lots of bands chose that way of playing thrash metal.

Nicole Lee is still one of the best singers in this genre and maybe the best female one. His voice is always sharp as a razor but never excessive. It’s powerful and truly evocative. I couldn’t imagine this band without Nicole. “To The Last Breath” is heart breaking during the more melodic refrain, to restart in great galloping thrash riffs during the verses. Already from here we can notice the essential but powerful production with the crispy and sharp sound of the guitars. The drums sound and the way it’s played is truly raw and simple, with a predilection for the simple snare-bass drum tempos with very few rolls on the rest of the drums.

“Baptised By Fire” is pure violence and speed. Here the guitars play the main part, without forgetting a bit of melody in the solo. The rest is raw as a sushi. Here the vocals are something unbelievable for the burden of anger towards wars and the society. “Pure Blood” is about the Arian race and the stupidity of that way of thinking and it begins with a march tempo to finish in several hyper technical and catchy galloping rhythmic riffs. They are the fundamentals of this truly characteristic Znöwhite sound along with the vocals.

“War Machine” features a more melodic and sad touch, especially in the great vocals parts by a restless Nicole that sometimes, in tonality, brings us back to the speed metal demos. Great. Check out the stop by the end with the following melodic guitars and speed restart. “Thunderdome” is a fist in the stomach for brutality and intensity while “Rest In Peace” features a pure slow tech thrash metal tempo during the first part to go again with lots of up tempo parts and sad/dramatic melodic guitars lines.

But, what can be said for songs like “Diseased Bigotry” where we have a massive load of riffs with a more melodic refrain or for the total bass drum speed in “A Soldier’s Creed”? How can you resist to such a good music quality and tempos. I keep on being totally shocked by the guitar work…I mean, it can pass from melody to cold, violent riffs in a so easy way. The long, doom and really obscure “Something Wicked” ends this great album that should be listened at least once during life.

Flawed but redeemed - 95%

automg, August 15th, 2006

At first glance, there is nothing remarkable about Znowhite's sole contribution to thrash, just on the cusp of the "saturation era." Several characteristics of later-era thrash are present: uninspired riffs, dull and often formulaic songwriting, and trite lyrical/thematic content (Thunderdome?). The only distinctive quality of the music is the inclusion of some power metal elements, which does little to improve the songwriting. This album would be just another upon the heap of saturation thrash obscurity were it not for one critical element...

What redeems Act of God is Nicole Lee's vocals. Though not a dramatic departure from her vocal work on Znowhite's earlier, punkier material, the vocals on this album indicate a large quantity of whiskey and cigarettes made their way through Lee's vocal cords in the few years prior. Lee brings the album alive with a fierce delivery that not only fits the music perfectly, but elevates it above its shortcomings. This has to be some of the most unique female thrash vocal work ever, because it retains feminine voice qualities while delivering the raw intensity of early thrash. It is a perfect compromise between Lynda Simpson's girly wails and Sabina Classen's throaty growl. If only there were more female thrash vocalists...

Thrash just the way I like it - 100%

Axis_Corpsefucker, September 25th, 2005

Heavy muffled-guitars, almost static/noise like at times, creating flawless thrash the way it should be done. This album has to be by far the most underappreciated album in thrash. All the songs are awesome, this is one of those cds you never push the skip button on. Just an amazing blend of excellent talent, this album will rape any thrash contemporaries.

Head-banging chugging, mixed with groovy riffs and punk-style singing all under a fast-paced overtone, what more could a thrash metal head want? Every one of their songs contain a kickass headbanging chugging moment, almost rivaling, no perhaps even surpassing Sepultura in that aspect. Groovy riffs to keep you entertained and fast-paced chugging to send you running around desecrating graves and pissing on your landlord’s car, the guitar styles of Ian Tafoya has done a marevelous job of piecing together this instant classic. The drumming is finely done, nothing flashy but still a decent job done by Scott Schaffer. The bass, like in most releases from the 80’s, are unfortunately unaudible.

Now the second highlight of the album comes from chick-singer Nicole Lee. Her cigarette-whiskey non-melodic singing fits this album so perfectly, it just blossoms the album in so many different aspects. Occasionally the guitarists add some backing-vocals shouting in the style of Agnostic Front, and adds a really “pissed off” atmosphere to the whole thing.

Oh, and did I mention the chorus? The choruses for this album are just excellent. Its melodic, but isn’t cheesy. Its really catchy but doesn’t go to the point where its lame, its just perfect to keep you entertained when you’re craving a different lick to come up after listening to a fast-paced riff that’s been going on for a while.

The overall style, is slightly classically influenced but just pure thrash with melodical choruses. They just blend everything in so perfectly, the album is almost flawless. The guitar work, vocals, drums, bass, even the lyrics adding political anger fits the whole atmosphere so well.

So all in all, if you like fast, pissed off music full of head banging riffs and like melodical riffage to come in exactly when you’re craving it, this album is definitely for you. The production is 80’s but none of that crap matters, this album will destroy any thrash contemporaries, and will stand the test of time for years to come, THRASH TILL DEATH!

RECOMMENDED SONG: To The Last Breathe, War Machine
LYRICS: Political angst
PRODUCTION: Heavy muffled-guitars, standard 80’s production
PACKAGING: An old lady with an 8-ball on the cover
OVERALL: Buy or Die! The album’s occasionally on ebay and other sites, it’s a bit hard to find but its worth it