Released: 2007, Black Lodge
Boy, Tom Araya sure sounds different on this album. Oh, wait...sorry, my mistake, didn't check the cover first. Swedish death-thrashers Maze Of Torment (named after the Morbid Angel song from the godly ALTARS OF MADNESS album) was formed in 1995 from the remnants of the band Harmony and have, over the course of the past twelve years, released three singles and five full-lengths on a total of seven different labels. While their earlier albums had been heavily death metal-influenced, prior release HAMMERS OF MAYHEM had seen a recognizable shift in a more old-school thrash direction, and 2007's sixth full-length HIDDEN CRUELTY continues that trend. Unfortunately, it carries it perhaps just a little too far.
From the opening seconds of "Breach The Wall," you can hear exactly what path the band has taken on the new disc as a quick drum fill roars in underneath a berserker so-Jeff-Hannemann-it's-not-even-funny guitar lead. Gone are almost all of the band's death metal influences save for Erik Sahlström's occasional delving into deathgrowls amidst his anger-laden shouts. In their place is the textbook for Thrash 101, resulting in near-unabashed Slayer worship with a moderate dose of Kreator thrown in for good measure. Come to think of it, add a little tiny taste of Testament as well, since while his rapid-fire verse delivery is pure Araya-stylistics, Sahlström's deathroars sound a good deal like Chuck Billy's. Sounds incredibly derivative? Sure is. The good news, though, is manifold. First and foremost is the fact that the production is excellent...Enblom's drums, while obviously taking not just pages but entire chapters from the Book Of Lombardo, sound full and rich. Rhythm guitars are raw, in-your-face, and aggressive. Lead breaks punch in and out perfectly in the mix and never lack for energy, blistering speed, or fury.
Oddly enough, the near-cloning also seems to have led to more variety in the songwriting, as this is probably Maze Of Torment's most diverse album so far in terms of tempo. Alongside the full-bore speed assaults of tracks like the aforementioned opener and the blazing "Terminate-Obliterate" are midtempo thrashers like the driving "The Vision" as well as slower, much more brutal cuts like the bruisingly heavy "A Few More Bullets" (for the Slayer comparison, think "Skeleton Christ") and the "South Of Heaven"-inspired personal favorite "The Chasms Flame." Furthermore, with its relatively short length and all-killer no-filler attitude towards the songs, HIDDEN CRUELTY doesn't overstay its welcome. Sure, it's nothing you haven't heard before...but it's pretty damn good nonetheless.
Slayer cloning is certainly nothing new. Hobbs' Angel Of Death, Fatal Embrace, Demiricous, and scores of similar bands have followed the trail blazed by the fearsome foursome, often times blatantly so. What's surprising to me is that Maze Of Torment would choose to jump onto the Slatanic Wehrmacht's bandwagon now after their previous album had begun to show more of a sense of individual identity. Still, HIDDEN CRUELTY, while not an instant classic, is a well-executed and enjoyable...if extremely unoriginal...slab of old-school thrash that should interest fans of the style and may leave fans of the group's prior albums scratching their heads in confusion for a moment, then hopefully banging those heads afterwards anyway.