Reviewer: Metal-Rules.com UK Team
Promising a classic thrash metal sound with some modern influences, the debut album from Italian quartet BLACKAGE is a tantalizing prospect. As a young group who only started playing music together four years ago, and yielding a current line-up who are more recent even than that, BLACKAGE is the sort of band who are perfectly positioned to further the development of the thrash metal genre. To a group like this, more modern bands with thrash elements like LAMB OF GOD and MACHINE HEAD can be just as influential and nostalgic as the classic acts of the 1980s when the genre first exploded into the world. Whether or not the promised combination of classic and modern influences results in a new slant on thrash, it is always fun to see new blood stamp their mark on this seminal area of heavy metal.
The idea of a new band wanting to begin writing their own history is established in the opening track 'Blank Slate'. A minute and a half of establishing noise, letting the listener know just what they're in for, what becomes apparent right away is that the modern influence is definitely the tone of the music. The way the guitars are tuned gives the sound a deep and slightly fuzzy feeling, and as 'When Saints Fall Down' begins the classic thrash elements begin to make themselves known. The tempo changes, the way Michele Cortinovis grabs his cymbal, and most prominently, the chugging rhythm of both guitars and bass. There are some kickass solos and harmonies, though I was a little lost trying to decipher just what vocalist Damiano Urgnani was saying. Nevertheless, this was definitely a promising start.
'Myocardium', the video for which can be found on Youtube, is another slice of driven and frenetic music. The rhythm of the vocals and the music sync up nicely, though once again I find myself wondering how Urgnani can be so incomprehensible when he is singing pretty cleanly. Gabriele Savoldi displayed some great bass skills in this one, and there is another solid guitar solo. 'Vending Machine of Monsters' is almost hypnotic in places through its chanted backing vocals, and the established rhythm is perfect for headbanging. I liked the way this one seemed to end before exploding into a final flourish. 'Annihilates' sees Cortinovis work those double bass pedals, and there are a lot of pinched guitar notes. I wasn't overly keen on this one because it felt like the band tried to do a little too much. Rather than changing tempo they seemed to change styles a couple of times, adopting a more doom-based sound in the middle of the song. I must also point out that by this point I had given up any hope of understanding a word of the lyrics, as far as I was concerned they were now just part of the overall music.
'The Mirror Which Flatters Not' kicks off like an old SLAYER track, and does well to maintain that vibe throughout. There's a cool break in the middle which starts off on the bass before the guitars join in, leading to a layered solo. Things end rather abruptly with an explosion, and then there is a full minute of George W. Bush soundbites, followed by samples of firefighter dispatches from September 11th. This leads into 'United 93', a song with another nice bass break from Savoldi at the start. There are some wonderful bits of atmospheric guitar work, but once again my enjoyment of this song is hindered by a lack of lyrical understanding. Given the title it's obvious that there is some heavy subject matter being dealt with here, unfortunately I am unable to digest that because the vocals really are not clear, and this is coming from someone who listens to a lot of black and death metal.
Penultimate track 'Tears of Blood' sees something new, clean backing vocals which are sung rather than shouted as they had been at other points in the album. The result is fleeting, oh so fleeting instances of completely clear and understandable lyrics. Aside from that this song featured more quick and forceful drum work and a somewhat surprising atmospheric clean guitar break right in the middle. Overall this was pretty fun to listen to. Things then come to a close with 'Dreamcatcher', which like 'Annihilates' felt a little overloaded. From the opening salvo the song began to build in crescendo, but when things got moving it veered off in lots of different directions. There was some decent guitar work but I just couldn't help thinking of this song as the result of the band cobbling together far too many components.
In the end this is the work of a band who are still finding their sound. There are a lot of great pieces of music in this album but for me the overall product just doesn't have that heart of the great thrash metal bands. I appreciate the thought of these guys going balls to the wall and just unleashing what they feel is the heaviest stuff they can, but I think the guys' structuring and composition definitely needs some work. Above all else, I would like to see the vocals become clearer on subsequent releases. If BLACKAGE take 'Tears of Blood' as the blueprint for their future sound, I think they will do quite well.
Review by Michael Dodd