Degradation - Juggernaut 4/5

Reviewed: 12-1-11


1. A necessary evil
2. Juggernaut
3. The reckoning
4. Rise to fall
5. Trail of sin
6. Executioner... slayer of the light
7. Degradation
8. Thrill of the kill

Admit it: When you saw the cover image, you immediately wondered why your friends at Metal CD Ratings would review something like this. The band logo and cover art scream brutal death metal, no? Anyway, such was my reaction when my friend (and Warriors of Metal Festival organizer) Datis Alaee handed me this CD a few months ago and suggested that I check it out. Now, Datis has a good ear for the traditional/power/thrash styles and he’s never steered me wrong before. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but wonder from looking at the cover if he’d whiffed bigtime on this one. Be that as it may, I promptly forgot all about this Degradation CD, until he reminded me about it a few weeks ago. Oops. Shame on me for judging a book by its cover.

So I finally popped it into the player, and... woah, this isn’t what I was expecting at all. There’s no death metal here, folks. (I suppose you could conclude otherwise if you count the very limited backing growls, as well as the blast beats on “Executioner... slayer of the Light”, a cover of a song originally recorded by The Crown.) Instead, what this Illinois quartet deliver on ‘Juggernaut’ is 30 minutes of intense, speedy, but always catchy, thrash metal. Now, upstart young thrash bands may be a dime a dozen these days, but Degradation have what it takes to stand out from the crowded field in several respects. For starters, while no one would accuse them of sounding completely original, Degradation go well beyond the usual aping of Slayer, Testament and Exodus that has glutted the thrash marketplace in recent years. Exact band comparisons are elusive, but to my ears, Degradation sound like a more intense, pummeling Vindicator crossed with classic strains of Boston’s thrash masters Wargasm.

More importantly, Degradation (much like similarly skilled newcomers Havok) have mastered the skill of combining thrash speed and energy with melody and songwriting chops. The guitars of Alex Manske and Mike Hartman slice and dice through the wall-to-wall riffage like Ginsu knives yet still manage to dish out torrents of infectious melody lines that flow organically within the songs, without letting off the accelerator. The end result is that the songs are hugely memorable, which is all too rare with younger thrash bands. As a vocalist, Manske won’t win any awards, but his gruff semi-spoken yet still tuneful bark fits the music well enough, and he enunciates clearly enough that most of the lyrics can be easily understood. (Good thing, because there is no lyric sheet enclosed with the barebones digi packaging.)

This band has everything I love in my thrash: Monster riffs, fast tempos, memorable compositions, and enough melody to hold the package together without diluting the blitzkrieg air attack. In a just world, Degradation would attract label interest, get some financial backing, and ascend the metal ranks rapidly. Obviously, given their independent, self-financed status, that hasn’t happened yet. But it still could. Thrash mavens with a hankering for quality should head over to Degradation’s website and give them a listen. They’re selling this CD for cheap, and I promise you it’s a worthwhile investment. Me, I’ll keep spinning ‘Juggernaut’ and counting down until June 2012, when with a little luck I’ll have the opportunity to witness Degradation’s aural assault in person in the woods of Ohio at the 5th annual Warriors of Metal Festival. Thanks for the tip, Datis.




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