Like so many forms of art, metal is in a consistent state of evolution and development. A multitude of styles and subgenres have existed to varying degrees of acclaim. Thrash, which fused the raw aggression of punk and the technical proficiency from the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, has remained almost unchanged since its inception during the early 1980s. Angst and discontent with contemporary society have long fueled the fires of the movement.
Recent acts have gravitated towards subjects such as partying and excess, straying from the nihilism, violence, and anti-social themes that are commonly associated with the sub-genre. Still, there are those who are more in line with older traditions. One such band remaining true to thrash's formative period is Plague Years. Circle of Darkness, the groups' sophomore effort is true to the classic thrash formula. With unrelenting speed, the group establishes itself as a formidable and uncompromising force.
The album title and artwork are a bit of a throwback to the days of 'Satanic Panic.' Landmark albums such as Hell Awaits and Seven Churches were heavily laden with Satanic imagery that served as a reactionary assault on the status quo. Plague Years don't rely entirely on the subject and depict hell and darkness in a very descriptive way that never falls into repetition. In describing the overall structure of the album, Reign in Blood is the template that Plague Years appear to be following. None of the songs possesses a lengthy running time and the whole album passes at a rapid-fire pace. The primary focus is on speed, and much like Slayer's definitive album, the lyrical content covers a variety of topics.
"Witness Hell" is a firm indication of the band's ability to illustrate the bleakness that accentuates the subject matter. The blistering pace of the song coincides with the first-person perspective of subjugation and torture. The vivid descriptions of sadism and pleasure from the suffering of others harken back to songs like "Criminally Insane", in which the frenzy of the song mirrors the compulsion of a murderer. "Incantation" and "World in Blood" weave vivid tapestries of necromancy and warfare that grab the listener's attention with spellbinding results.
Plague Years also focus their aggression outwards towards current social issues. "NRFTL" is the anti-authoritarian anthem that's needed during the ongoing discussion in regards to police brutality. While there has certainly been no shortage of metal songs that have stood in opposition to the establishment, "NRFTL" is an all-out assault on the escalation of corruption in law enforcement. With their uncompromising style that dominates the entire album, Plague Years make it very clear that they're not ones for sitting on the fence and are more than willing to take action to affect social change.
Circle of Darkness is nothing short of a modern thrash classic. Fans of the genre's pioneers will gravitate towards the speed and savagery of the music. If there were any doubters that thrash metal didn't have much life left in 2020, Plague Years have certainly silenced any doubts.