Combat (United States Of America) – Ruination

Gorguts goes thrash? Apparently so, because I’m not bullshitting you with this description. The music here seriously sounds like latter-era Gorguts covering Exhorder or Vio-Lence. It is in no way a comfortable listen. It’s easily one of the strangest thrash albums I’ve ever heard. But on that same note, it’s easily one of the most unique and memorable as well, because Combat have created something that I didn’t think was possible: abstract thrash metal that makes most ‘progressive’ music look like Raffi in comparision.

Riffs, ‘Ruination’ is one hundred percent about the riffs, and what bizarre fucking riffs they are. You’re taking basic thrash rhythms and patterns and filtering them through the weird melodic sense of late era Gorguts with a bit of oldschool punk thrown in for good measure. It might be just the guitar tone, but it sounds like there’s a lot of weird, jazzy chord shapes used: much weirder stuff than the normal barre/inverted fifth stuff we all know. And individual riffs will come out of nowhere that sound completely different from the rest of the album: what’s with that weird, almost country-inspired riff just under halfway through the title track? What about those weird high chords at the beginning of ‘Corrupt Destruct’ that sound like they belong in an Isis album much more than Exodus? Even the most ‘normal’ riffs are altered through weird time signatures or strange accidentals that don’t make any ‘normal’ sense in the context of the melodies. Hell, it’s really atonal in general, even for thrash: about the most melodic it gets is in the shredding solos that pop up periodically and flit out just as quickly.

Aside from the riffs, there’s other weird stuff as well. Vocals are Arayaesque shouts that get up to a pretty ridiculous speed at times, like on ‘Corrupt Destruct’, which gets up to ‘Dittohead’ levels of word-spitting ridiculousness. The Anthrax-style gang vocals are also strange, a quick burst of punk primitivism in a soundscape of abstract riffing and song structures. Bass is unusually present, with a creaky tone which funks along with the guitars and occasionally branches off on its own in punk style before the guitars come crashing back in, like on ‘The Reign Is Over’. Drums are also interesting: most of what they play is standard thrash fare, but occasionally things will get hyperkinetic and Rex Rossbach will let loose with a full-fledged blast beat completely out of fucking nowhere. It’s violent and completely abnormal, and I’ve never heard anything quite like it. Yet despite all these forays into weirdness, it’s still very pure thrash metal. This is really one of those albums you simply have to hear for yourself to really understand.

This isn’t oldschool thrash, and it’s most certainly not retro thrash ala Municipal Waste. This is modern thrash metal, but not like Nevermore or anything. Combat is the sound of a band from the era of oldschool thrash (this was, after all, Napalm’s original name, which came full circle again after the band’s breakup under that incarnation) having arrived in 2007. Combat didn’t slip into nu-metal like Slayer, nor attempt to stay completely in the past like Metal Church; no, Combat is still doing something different. It’s traditional thrash amped up and distorted way beyond its original form. You can clearly see that Combat stretches back into the 80s simply by virtue of their influences. But it’s most certainly unlike anything you heard then, or, hell, even now. Had thrash never quite died in the 90s, and all those bands kept making music into the new millennium, this is what it might have sounded like as a whole: still pissed off, still full of energy, but more willfully deranged and atypical. Hell, this is the closest to thrash’s original goal that I’ve heard in a long while.

Now, I can’t sit here and say that this is a very fun listen. A lot of these riffs are awkward and off-kilter. Many of the structures of rhythm and songs as a whole are stilted and very strange. When I listen to this album, I don’t headbang: I listen with an incredulous look on my face, trying to figure precisely what the hell Combat are doing with these strange, atonal riffs and linear drum lines and sudden tempo changes. If you’re looking for something ‘traditional’ and easy to listen to, this is most certainly not what you want. But if you want to hear what thrash is like when it gets manipulated and twisted into something completely different yet true to its origins, this is the first that should be on your list. I’m not sure if I can say this is a really enjoyable album to listen to, but damned if I don’t respect what it appears to be trying to do and the methods it goes about it. So I suppose that, as a whole, I like it: it’s very different and seemingly not trying to be, and despite how atypical it is, it feels honest all the way through. Very cool and very, very weird.

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~ by noktorn on September 20, 2007.

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