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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.