posted on 2/2010 By:
After the last couple years, I suspect that “more throwback thrash metal albums” isn’t very high on most metalheads’ wish lists for 2010. But here we have Infidel, a straight-outta-’88 effort from Virginia Beach’s At War. Unlike most retro-thrashers, At War aren’t sporting carefully constructed ‘vintage’ outfits or studiously mimicking riffs and lyrics from old Vio-Lence and Death Angel albums. No, this band is actually—get this—from the eighties. Formed in 1983, At War was inactive for 21 years after their sophomore effort (aside from a stray split 7” in 2002), and returned in 2009 to grace our ears with another helping of workmanlike thrash metal.
Virginia Beach isn’t exactly known for its distinctive homegrown thrash scene, so At War accordingly borrow bits and pieces from various regional schools. The band’s attack is rooted in the manic, speedpick-happy aggression found in most German thrash (if not as fast), with touches of Overkill’s bluesy riffing and Slayer’s punk-rock abandon. Bassist Paul Arnold belts out gruff semi-melodies devoid of zany wails or spoken bits, while axeman Shawn Helsel’s soloing is in a more flashy, technically-adept vein a la Megadeth or the like. Infidel’s songs are universally straightforward, and its pacing is comparatively relentless; it pounds through nine songs in under 35 minutes, with nary a slow or even mid-paced moment to be found.
Like any self-respecting thrash band, At War engage in charmingly inept political commentary. But as the album’s…um…provocative cover suggests, these guys don’t go in for the usual lefty bemoaning of the state of the world. Instead, they take an unusual pro-military stance (check out the hilarious recitation of the Full Metal Jacket Marine’s prayer in “Semper Fi”) and direct their ire towards Islamic extremists. It’s an interesting lyrical tack, if not an especially well-executed one.
Generally speaking, I’ve been something of a refusenik when it comes to the thrash revival—with a few exceptions, the throwbacks bore the poop outta me. But just as I prepare to deliver the critical coup de grâce to Infidel, I find myself actually enjoying this little nugget of pseudo-history. Maybe it’s the band’s refreshingly unfashionable politics, or thrash engineer extraordinaire Alex Perialas’s period-piece recording job, or the band’s total lack of kitsch sensibility. Whatever the reason, At War don’t rub me the wrong way, which is more than I can say for virtually all younger bands playing the same style, and a lot of older ones, too. Infidel is miles away from required listening, but you could do a hell of a lot worse for your thrash fix.
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