Released: 2006, Nuclear Blast Records
Reviewer: Lord of the Wasteland
It has been quite a storied two years for Hamilton, Ontario’s Threat Signal. After posting an early version of “Rational Eyes” on garageband.com (not to mention my review of their demo and follow-up interview…he he), the immediate success of the song propelled the band to the forefront of label scouts’ consciousness that eventually led them to sign with international powerhouse, Nuclear Blast Records. Soon after, Fear Factory’s Christian Olde Wolbers agreed to produce their debut, UNDER REPRISAL, and the floodgates opened. European tours, major press and incredible buzz have kept Threat Signal busy through the first half of 2006 and with the album hitting North American shores on August 22nd, metalheads can prepare to get their faces ripped off by Threat Signal.
The band itself refers to their music as “low-end, syncopated melodic thrash metal” and Threat Signal’s sound owes much to the syncopated riffing of Meshuggah. Vocalist Jon Howard is able to shift between skin-shredding shrieks and atonal growls to soaring clean vocals in a heartbeat (think Scar Symmetry’s Christian Alvestam or a less-emo Howard Jones of Killswitch Engage), adding a warm, melodic element to the mix. The chugging bass and hammering drums of new rhythm section Marco Bressette and George Parfitt add a solid back end to the music but what really shines is the guitar tandem of Kyle McKnight and Rich Howard. Drawing inspiration from old school thrash to the razor-sharp industrial tones of Fear Factory and Meshuggah, the riffs and solos on UNDER REPRISAL are the perfect combination of melody, aggression and technicality. Chock full of hooks, each of the eleven tracks on UNDER REPRISAL are immediately filed to memory but also dish out unrelenting blows to the senses and are ripe for a headbanging, body-flailing spin through the mosh pit.
“Rational Eyes” fires on all cylinders with down-tuned, chugging Meshuggah-like riffs and Jon Howard’s gruff barks and piercing shrieks. The cleanly-sung chorus is layer upon layer of richly-textured vocals that soar over each other with dynamic precision. The wall of sound created is not unlike that of a carefully-constructed and finely-tuned Strapping Young Lad/Devin Townsend product. With “As I Destruct,” McKnight and Rich Howard deliver a clean guitar solo that juxtaposes the down-tuning throughout the track. “One Last Breath” is an adrenaline-fuelled jaunt through industrialized thrash and once again, the guitar team simply sizzles. Their haunting intro to “A New Beginning” sets the pace for a mid-paced trek through ambient guitar synths and an infectious chorus. “Counter Balance” features some dizzying axework which leans at times towards some progressive noodling to a full-on shredding solo. The acoustic passage that closes the track shows the guitarists have some obvious skill behind their flailing fretwork. “Inane” sees further experimentation with nearly three minutes of ambient guitar synth tacked on to the end. As they do throughout the album, Jon Howard’s banshee-like howls pepper “Faceless,” a sure sign the vocalist punctuates his morning routine of gargling glass after doing bleach shooters the evening prior. The six-string wizardry duly ends with a blazing assault of lightning-fast shredding and dive-bomb soloing on “When All Is Said and Done.”
UNDER REPRISAL is nothing short of spectacular. Remember…as a band, Threat Signal has been around less than three years, yet found themselves in the middle of a bidding war based on a self-produced four-song demo, managed to get signed to one of the largest metal indies and have a big-time metal musician handle the knob-twiddling for their debut! Not bad for a bunch of young ‘uns from a Canadian steel town. Still, that is all gloss and PR rhetoric and the important thing is the music which has to deliver and, thankfully, it does in spades. Under the tutelage of Christian Olde Wolbers to help get their sound just right, UNDER REPRISAL is supremely heavy, yet gracefully melodic; thoroughly modern, yet forcefully organic; intensely vicious, yet surprisingly tuneful and accessible. I knew Threat Signal had that “something” when I first heard their demo back in late 2004 (thanks Omer). The great thing about a band like Threat Signal is their ability to appeal to so many different metal fans on so many different levels. Melody, aggression, versatility, incredible musicianship—UNDER REPRISAL has it all. Threat Signal is already locked in for my vote for Best New Band and, quite possibly, Best CD of 2006.
KILLER KUTS: “Rational Eyes,” “One Last Breath,” “A New Beginning,” “Counter Balance,” “Inane,” “Faceless,” “When All Is Said and Done”