Amok - Downhill without brakes 4/5

Reviewed: 4-24-09





Tracklist:

1. Murder city
2. Sectioned
3. False flag
4. Global hangover
5. Downhill without brakes
6. Intervention
7. Thrash island
8. Kill the gestapo


It’s always nice to see bands that you have followed through the early stages of their careers doing well for themselves. 3 or so years ago now, before the words ‘thrash revival’ were contending with ‘credit crunch’ for the most teeth-gratingly overused in all printed media, Amok were among my own personal ‘Big 4’ of unsigned U.K. thrash bands along with Pitiful Reign, Evile and Headless Cross.

Headless Cross are sadly no more, having been reformatted into Savage Messiah, but Evile of course have enjoyed great success with Earache, while Pitiful Reign have had to make do with the more modest but nonetheless heartening climes of Punishment 18 Records.

Glasgow’s own Amok have had a bit less runaway success, recording and initially distributing this debut CD themselves before being picked up by Witches Brew, the label that did wonders for Irish crossover merchants Gama Bomb.

Starting as something of a ho-hum brutal thrash act influenced mostly by Exodus, the band have come some way since their formative years. Plodding arrangements and the pedestrian growled vocals of Stephen Matulewicz hampered their early output, but some time around 2006 things began to change a little. Musically they added a bit of Anthrax colour, and Matulewicz seemed to realise that, hey, he could actually sing a bit and began providing some suitably Belladonna-like soaring vocals to go along with a newly-refined hard-as-nails rasp.

Despite taking most of their cues from 2 such well-established 80s outfits, Amok manage to draw a firm line between influence and imitation (one glaring exception aside) and ‘Downhill without brakes’ is most definitely the work of a serious band and not a glorified cover act.

The mixed style of the songs makes for a strong blend, some providing short blasts of aggression while there are a few moments of increased early 90s-style technicality and intricacy. At just over 40 minutes and only 8 tracks in length, it is just about the optimum length for a thrash CD as well, providing maximum impact in efficient time.

“Global hangover” is the most developed of the lot, quite different from the rest of the CD with multiple contrasting riffs and some excellent harmonizing from guitarists Calum Henderson and Greg Corlett. The environmentally conscious lyrics also fit quite snugly with some almost Sabbat-like vocal tracking at the song’s conclusion. But if that sounds like too much meandering for you, the boot-in-the-balls factor is provided by the more direct “Intervention” and the obligatory ‘thrash metal ist krieg’ song “Thrash island”, a snarling favourite from the live environment.

The closer “Kill the gestapo”, my own pick for best of the bunch, is a towering bit of epic thrash. Opening on a dominant riff under a sample of Hitler’s frankly terrifying Nuremberg rally address (before closing on Churchill’s altogether more sober “we will fight them at the library, we will fight them down the chippie” speech), it is a perfectly executed closing track with Matulewicz at his absolute best on some furious vocal lines and Corlett and Henderson really tearing things up.

For all its strengths, it is also fair comment to say that the CD is not without a few limitations. In terms of songs, only the title track suffers a slight dip in quality – the main riff being just far too close to Anthrax’s “A.I.R.” to get away with, while the song just seems to run away with itself and ends quite abruptly. There are also a few occurrences here and there (notably the verses of “Sectioned”) where the vocals do not sound 100% - certainly not the best Matulewicz is capable of – but some leeway has to be offered considering the whole thing was recorded in just 3 days.

Minor limitations aside, ‘Downhill without brakes’ is yet another excellent thrash CD to come out of the U.K. in recent times. The grumblings of course started long ago that this is just another passing trend, but anyone who has watched these young bands grow, develop and above all work their arses off long before the big labels started snuffling around throwback acts will not grudge them a second of success. Being able to go out to gigs on your local scene and see bands playing music worth a toss is always encouraging, but it’s better yet to see them being given a chance to mix it with the big boys. Hopefully Amok will be the next young thrash band to take the step up – on the basis of this debut they certainly deserve it.



CREAG




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