Agony Of Death
posted on 10/2008 By:
Holy Moses just about define the term ‘journeyman.’ This relatively little-known German thrash act formed in 1980—essentially predating the genre that would end up playing—and have seen more members come and go than most orchestras (I count 33 in total, including Danny Lilker amongst others). Though Holy Moses have shed all original members and then some, their 10-LP career almost universally features the awkward ex-spouse pairing of guitarist Andy Classen and vocalist Sabina Classen. After the band’s hiatus during the 90s, Mr. Classen stopped actively playing with Holy Moses but contributed his songwriting prowess to the band’s early-00s reunion album. Agony of Death’s predecessor, Strength Power Will Passion, marked the end of Classen’s involvement. This disc is the second with new axeman Michael Hankel at the helm, and with a fresh unit including Sabina on the mic and ex-Sodom drummer Guido Richter behind the skins, Holy Moses is once again churning out dependable, incredibly Germanic thrash.
More experienced metalheads will be able to extrapolate this band’s sound from their background without hearing a single note from them: high-velocity, death-leaning thrash metal without mercy…or much variation to speak of. Hankel and fellow axeman Oliver Jaath have no regard for the subtleties and melodies of a Metallica or even an Exodus, instead preferring to rip through track after track at breakneck pace with Sodom/Destruction-like abandon, right down to their backing gang vocals. Likewise, Sabina Classen provides a consistently hostile and gravelly voice to the band’s unyielding instrumentation—she’s actually far more masculine sounding than many a thrash vocalist (Joey Belladonna comes to mind). Even the band’s slower tracks leave little room to breathe. “World of Darkness,” for example, features a slightly more forgiving chorus riff but largely pounds away in the same stuttering, speedpicked manner as the rest of the album. The only real respite comes from Agony of Death’s many guest appearances—solos from Trevor Peres (Obituary) and the great Ralph Santolla (Obituary, Deicide), a number of keyboard breaks from Ferdy Doernberg (Axel Rudi Pelli), and a cleanish chorus from Metalium’s Henning Basse. Despite these digressions, Agony of Death is a barbaric and uncompromising Teutonic thrash record through and through.
Unfortunately, that’s part of the problem here. Agony of Death does most things right; it’s well-produced, it’s at least moderately catchy, and it’s brutal as hell—but it’s just waaaaaay too fucking long. At almost 70 minutes, this disc would be overblown as a prog metal epic, but as a gutpunch thrasher it’s redundant and a half. Nor is it so long because there’s so much memorable material to be had—I’ve given this monster some fifteen or sixteen listens and I still get lost in its endless litany of speedpicking and gang shouts. Holy Moses could chop two minutes from each of Agony of Death’s twelve songs, and afterwards they’d have a much more acceptable 45-minute runtime and only one track under two minutes. Frankly, with this style, you really don’t need much more than two minutes per track to get the point across.
Even without the bloated album length, Holy Moses has a deeper problem—they can't compete with their peers. It’s true that they’re easily one of the longest-running bands in the storied German thrash scene, but next to giants like Kreator and Destruction, these guys seem a mite less appealing. This is coming from a guy who fawns over Monstrosity and Nocturnus when he could be listening to Morbid Angel or Deicide, so perhaps I’m simply not enough of a connoisseur. That said, nine times out of ten I’ll pop in Pleasure to Kill before a decent but troubled effort like this one.
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