If you read enough music criticism, you’ll eventually stumble across someone talking about the cyclical nature and popularity of genres and sub-genres. No one from the worst, cut-and-paste Siberian black/folk metal fanzine editor on up to the erudite tastemakers at the New York Times is immune from this bit of commentary, simply because these cyclical movements are a god’s honest real thing. What fewer people have discussed is the cyclical movement that occurs within bands themselves; how long-standing outfits with histories that go back to the days before cell phones and when cable television was a luxury have seen ebbs and flows in regards to their own energy, efficacy, dedication and reference to their own roots. I don’t know if I’d call it a trend, but it’s definitely a noticeable pattern as band x comes storming out of the gate, young, dumb, full of cum and somehow channelled that acne-ridden intensity into what has resulted in some of the most recognised classics of our particular corner of the entertainment world.
Unfortunately, there are the clumsy middle years in which complacency, exhaustion with label bullshit, roster instability and directional shifts towards what’s popular in the mainstream created some real half-assed or downright terrible pieces of circular shit. A coming to the senses and a realisation of what really butters that bread has seen bands with members now in their late 40's and early 50's looking to their pimply, pre-beer gutted, wispy moustachioed days for inspiration. You combine the subsequent experience and increased skill with the realisation of what was really driving the engine and it works to explain the angrier-sounding, high-quality releases emerging from long-in-the-tooth old school warriors. Granted, for every Voivod, Testament and Exodus who’ve managed to crank out relevant material recently, there’s a Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth who’ve been unable to shake the doldrums despite attempting to reference their days of sturdier hairlines.
But despite everything written above, folks in bands still put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you and I. They’re still human beings who change and grow, for better or for worse. Even Destruction, a band whose members have the sturdiest of hairlines and luxurious locks, had that wonky Schmier-less, “Neo-Destruction” era. Outside of that self-imposed humiliation, however, they have remained pretty faithful at delivering above-average, if not wholly enjoyable, thrash albums. Under Attack is album number fourteen and if there’s an underlying message at play it’s that you can teach old dogs new tricks while not teaching them new tricks.
The teetering on the edge out of control, tripping-down-a-hill technical wizardry of the Destruction I knew as a kid via vintage releases like Sentence of Death, Infernal Overkill and Eternal Devastation has long been augmented by years of maturity and on-the-job know-how, especially when it comes to the band’s live presentation which, despite their playing smaller and mid-sized venues over here in North America, has been tailored for the big stages of the European festival circuit. As well, the band’s sound has been refined but still retains the hallmarks of what made them Teutonic thrash titans.
Cigar-smoking shorty guitarist Mike Sifringer leads the charge, as always, with a fiery dash of note runs and economical power chords being slid and shifted in memorable patterns. There are more moments where the riffs, especially the chord progressions, are given room to breathe; the intro to the album opening title track for instance, before giddy-upping into an exceptionally tight and catchy riff to which Schmier adds well-placed vocal phrases. His voice (outside the patented sky-high pitched shriek he’s been cutting back on in recent years) may be a one-dimensional snarl, but the manner in which he moves up and down within his limited range and his placement of inflections creates more for the listener to wrap their ears around and to actually recall once the album comes to its conclusion. The title track, “Generation Nevermore” and “Dethroned” all provide exemplary examples of how the pair work together to create not just fast and furious thrash, but anthems strong enough to rouse listeners ranging from the couch sloth and those at the bar to frontline bangers and the guy who tries to see every band playing all four stages over the course of a weekend festival (umm, that would be me).
It becomes clear after a few spins of Under Attack that Destruction’s strength is, and always has been, their ability to wrangle those finger-twisting, alternate-picked note riffs into something worthy of a fist held aloft while making choruses a focal point. Whether it’s because they're older dudes who grew up with classic rock and metal in an era where music was infinitely and decisively more melodic (before being the ones to come along and create the tuneless noise of parental and mainstream derision) or whether it’s because of age, practice and exposure to a deeper well of influence, Under Attack’s clout lies here.
Even songs which are a bit on the weaker side of the coin possess some sort of rallying point; the verse riff in “Elegant Pigs” consists of a milquetoast shuffle, but the song comes alive during the pre-chorus’ chord progression and Schmier’s lyrical scheme which will have the disenfranchised singing along to the punctuated accents in the likes of “narrow-minded bourgeois!” and “destroyers of philosophy!” on second listen. Then, there’s “Getting Used to the Evil” which is the album’s red-headed stepchild; a mid-paced crawler that starts off almost like a ballad and is centered around clean-picking and a riff that wanders into sludge territory. It does stand out, maybe not for reasons pertaining to merit, but it is a noticeable detour kept in the sphere of relevance by Sifringer’s dynamic soloing. His leads in this case act as a saving grace, but elsewhere are a necessary pieces of the puzzle as his guitar work is at once challenging and full of skillful flash while being melodic and far more tuneful than, say, anything Kerry King has done since Hell Awaits.
Another point that bubbles to the surface is how you can hear not only decades of thrash metal inspiration and influence, but careful listeners will hear the geography: there’s a distinct New York feel to the dirty strutting of “Stand Up for what you Deliver,” some unkempt South American fire in “Second to None,” Bay Area classiness is all over the title track and, of course, the obvious dominance of the vicious linearity of their homeland’s style colouring the majority of the rest. Not that that takes away from this being a solid entry into the pantheon of thrash metal and the band’s discography that geezers and young'uns should be able to rally around.