Album Review: Destructor – ‘Back in Bondage’

Destructor is one of those bands that seemed like they had everything made, but had horrific luck stop their momentum in one of the worst possible ways you can imagine. See, the Ohio-based power/thrash metal band had put out an album in 1985 called Maximum Destruction that was apparently really good (I’ve never actually heard it, so I’m going on what other people say about it here) and were working on a second album…and then, in 1988, their bassist was murdered, which caused the band to break up until 1999. Since then, the band have put out two new studio albums (2003’s Sonic Bullet and 2007’s Forever in Leather), but they haven’t really regained the momentum they had.

Some of you reading this may be thinking “Wait…you said two new studio albums, but didn’t name this one? So what’s this then?”

Well, in 1999, the band reunited and, in 2001, re-recorded an album comprised of material originally written for the band’s second album in the 80s. The planned title (even back then) was Back in Bondage, but, for various reasons which I’m not actually clear on, it never actually got released. So, in terms of the writing and recording of the album, this is the band’s second album, but it took over fourteen years to finally get released (and even longer if you want to count writing time for the record as the genesis of it) and has ended up being their fourth album as a result. The plan is for the band to release their next record later this year (and, from what I’ve heard, it is mostly recorded already, so, unless Destructor have been taking cues from Jari Maenpaa on scheduling albums, I’m inclined to believe them!), so this is more like finally answering the age old question that Destructor fans have no doubt been asking of “What would have happened had the band actually followed up Maximum Destruction” than anything else.

So, with that quick history lesson out of the way, let’s start looking at this album properly.

Cover DESTRUCTOR_Back In Bondage

Destructor’s style of power/thrash metal does definitely live up to the old school feel, as the music is fast and aggressive, but with an ear still towards melody that separates it from typical thrash metal. My best comparison would probably be something like a less technical Heathen or early Anthrax (or, at a pinch, Kill ‘Em All-era Metallica), as the dark vibe of thrash is very much present, but it isn’t being pushed to levels of brutality that the likes of Exodus, Slayer and Testament would go for and still features enough melody to make the speed metal influences fairly easy to pick up upon. I also get reminded more than a little bit of Visitor, oddly enough! It’s a sound that you don’t hear as much nowadays as you might expect to (only Ranger seem to be making a good shot at it these days, and their focus is still more speed metal focused overall) and the band do it well in all but one aspect: the band puts a bit more in their songs than they should do, resulting in just about all of the songs on the record pushing past the five minute mark (with ‘The Shedding of Blood and Tears’ being the longest at almost nine and a half minutes!). This might not sound like a big problem at first, but, with thrash metal, it can be a major problem because the repetition can become very noticeable and the lengths cause the record to drag as a result, which is NOT what you want to have happening in a subgenre where the entire point is to be loud and fast! Now, to the band’s credit, they manage to avoid it feeling like a huge problem and they definitely are well written, but I still feel that the songs could have done with a bit of trimming down to help tighten them up a bit. I also think they could have done with being a bit more memorable, as I think the songs tend to have a habit of not leaving an especially long lasting impression on me once they’ve finished. However, I’ll freely admit that I am very used to listening to more instantly catchy material after the last few weeks, so this could be fairly written off as me trying to ask something of the record that isn’t fair to ask of it.

The next point to comment on is the vocals. I’m just gonna flat out say it: Dave Overkill (who also plays guitar on the record) sounds great! His natural voice is high pitched, but has enough grit to it to make him fit in naturally here and sounding great for his age and his high pitched screams are fairly impressive. The guy deserves some props for his vocals on this record, because he definitely knows how to produce a great vocal performance!

The performances are also not too bad. Drummer Matt Flammable does a fairly good job behind the kit overall, bringing an old school drumming style to things which feels surprisingly fresh when you’re used to drummers using blast beats or constantly abusing the double bass drumming technique while still showing that he can do double bass very well when he has to, which is all the more impressive when you realise that he’s around Overkill’s age as well! The guitars provided by Overkill and now departed guitarist Pat Rabid are pretty good, again capturing the old school vibe very nicely. Bassist Eric Reineke (who has also departed the band since this album was recorded) isn’t really given an opportunity to shine beyond the occasional bass solo, but he does his job on the record and does it well, so there’s not a lot to comment on there.

The production is the last thing I need to discuss. It really nails the old school sound perfectly, while still having a few more modern elements which can stand out when you spot them. I think this production is pretty much flawless, if I’m honest: it’s mixed so that the bass is easy to hear without it overpowering the rest of the record, the vocals are loud enough to not be fighting over the guitars, the guitars are mastered loudly enough to pack a punch while still not overwhelming the rest of the record, the drums are easy to hear and the overall sound is a perfect old school sound. My only criticism is that the mastering means that the record is still at the volume of modern records (although a remastering for the present day will tend to do that, admittedly), and even that’s not a big issue because it avoids reaching the level where I feel it is worth making a huge fuss over it. Seriously, everyone involved in the production of this record did an amazing job and I only hope they’ve gone on since this record was recorded to have good careers in the music industry!

So, ultimately, my big complaint is that I feel the songs suffer from being a bit too long…and that’s really it in terms of fair criticism. I know I normally can be relied upon to give reviews which avoid being completely positive, but this time, I have to say that I’ve got so little to criticise Back in Bondage for that I’m going to say that this record does more than enough to make it an almost essential album to fans of early thrash metal and early power metal. Trust me, this is one record that you’re going to want to pick up, for, though it might not rival the classics of the genre and may be flawed in the song length aspect of the songwriting, it gets so much right beyond that that you’re almost certain to love it!

Back in Bondage will be released on the 26th of February by Pure Steel Records. A promo copy of the album was provided for review purposes.

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