Well goddamn. While 2016 doesn’t yet trump (ha) 2015’s metal releases, it’s making a really valiant effort to catch up.
I’ve always said that absolutely nothing in metal can replace the visceral satisfaction of a good, well-placed riff. And if I haven’t said it, I’m damn sure saying it now. You can have all the keyboards and clean vocals and weird prog progressions that you think you can stuff in a song, but if there isn’t a great riff to latch on to, it does nothing for me. It’s especially important to have a good riff to open your record. You need something to catch the listener, and more often than not it’s better to get their head banging than to weird them out with some odd or disturbing sound effect or sample.
While German black/thrash quartet Desaster don’t quite follow that rule to the letter when they begin Oath of an Iron Ritual, their 8th full-length album and 11th official release overall, they make up for it with riffs aplenty. After a brief intro that can only be interpreted as Jesus getting nailed on the cross, “Proclamation in Shadows” hits you square in the face with an excellent tremolo/blastbeat doozy. This opening track has all the essentials of a good fist-pumping metal anthem; well-intoned vocals from out of hell, a great sense of pace, and riffs out of the wazoo. Plus it has some nice leads to trail it off. Consider me hooked. Following track “End of Tyranny” sees the band return from the more pure black metal structure of “Proclamation” to their rampaging black/thrash bread and butter, guided by frontman Sataniac’s agonized roar and a monstrous main riff. The groove that ends the song is a clarion call to stomp out any wieners near you and spill as much un-consumed beer as possible.
Those first two songs set the precedent for the rest of the album, and really the rest of Desaster’s exalted discography, quite nicely. “Experimentation” is not a word that resides in this band’s palate; what you see is what you mosh to. And that’s just fine with this maniac. For sure there are little odd touches here and there, like the spoken word section on album highlight “Haunting Siren,” or how “The Denial” begins and ends with a Peaceville Records worthy doom riff and a very measured drum pattern. But for the most part this, like all of their albums, is circle pit fodder in praise of the Dark Lord.
There is a raging fire in the band’s coffers that hasn’t been present in some time. I liked their previous full-length The Arts of Destruction just fine, but here there is a renewed sense of energy that sounds like the band saying “Fuck the Pitchfork praise. Let’s party and rock out until the void claims us all.” And while Desaster have yet to make an objectively bad offering, many fans would say they haven’t sounded this pissed off since Tyrants of the Netherworld. I would tell those fans they need to listen to 2005’s Angelwhore again and get back to me, but I digress.
Everyone is bringing their A-game to this record. Sataniac sounds absolutely beastly, coupling off his unique (for the genre) screaming with the aforementioned bits of scattered spoken word to add a bit of blashpemic gravitas to the proceedings. Guitarist Inferno comes up with some of the best riff-work of the band’s career. 24 years of playing to crazed fans have done well to help him hone his axe into a poser killing automation. The Saxon-to-speed metal stomp of the title track or the almost Merciless style death/thrash leaning “Conquer and Contaminate” for example could only have come from a cranium like his, weaned on endless bottles of billiges bier and a worn out copy of a traded Bestial Invasion of Hell tape. But extra mention should go to skinsman and other band mainstay Tormentor. His hard but restrained drumming is very much a large part of why the album forces itself into your head and stays there. It helps that the mix is just clear enough that they (and the guitars) smack you that much harder, though it might be a little too pristine, especially with the very pronounced snare drum, for those heshers who want it more back alley raw. I’m no audiophile, though, so it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. There will be no tech death/deathcore production ear fatigue here, I assure you.
Indeed 2016 has been quite kind to black/thrash thus far, and Oath of an Iron Ritual is in my simple opinion leading the bloodthirsty pack. Simon says strap on your finest bullet belt and make sure your patches are tightly sewn, as this 48 minute ritual is very much worth committing to.