Saturday, July 26, 2014

Toxic Holocaust - Chemistry of Consciousness

There have been a lot of bands lately that are bringing back the thrash black sound (some call it “first wave black metal” it was pretty much the movement that branched away from thrash metal into darker and more aggressive territories) that bands like Hellhammer, old Venom, old Bathory, Von,  and Root. Although, unlike those bands, that were basically thrash bands playing new (at the time) and more aggressive “black metal” sounds, this new “revival” is more of the combination of modern-sounding thrash metal with traditional black metal. Still in a similar sound, but somewhat different. Bands like Goatwhore, Skeletonwitch, Melechesh, and Varg are seeing a lot of success. Toxic Holocaust is always a name that gets thrown around during topics of overly-aggressive thrash metal or even just thrash black. Here’s what sets this band apart from most of these other newer bands: they’re doing the exact same thing as the bands from the 80s were doing, except instead of branching away from the CLASSIC thrash sound, Toxic Holocaust is simply playing a more aggressive (you could even say “blackened”) form of the MODERN thrash sound. So Toxic Holocaust is almost like a modernized Venom.

Hard, catchy thrash metal grooves and epic shredding solos are coated with black metal vocals and grim atmospheres. With this formula, Toxic Holocaust have managed to develop an unusually diverse fanbase. I’m an avid concertgoer and have developed a (what I would like to think) fairly good understanding of the metal scene here in Washington State. The reason I say that is because when I saw these guys live (with Mammoth Grinder, Exhumed, and Ramming Speed), everyone seemed to be there to see Toxic. And there was a very diverse crowd there; hardcore kids, thrashers, black metallers, grindcore fans; they were all there to see one of the opening acts and Toxic. And although on record, Toxic Holocaust sounds much more thrashy, seeing them live really exposed the underlying grimness and the black metal type aggression. For years, Toxic have been thriving in the underground thrash, black, and death metal communities, and it seemed that, while touring in support of Conjure and Command, something happened and they broke out of the underground; acclaiming far more success by the time this new album, Chemistry of Consciousness rolled around last year.

I never really took much of an interest in Toxic Holocaust until this album, and I feel really bad for missing out on this band for so long! This band has managed to achieve great success without losing their respect from the underground. The production of this album is far better than any of the previous records, but unlike a lot of the modern extreme metal albums being released today, there’s very little compression. Everything still feels very gritty and rough. It’s extremely bothersome when bands think it sounds good to water down and soften the entire production of their album and compress the guitars so much that it cuts out literally all high end. Those are the albums I rarely buy physical copies of, because they feel so digital and fake! The production on Chemistry of Consciousness, on the other hand, maintains the raw qualities while still having a refined, crisp sound. A problem that I do have with this album (and every other Toxic Holocaust album) is that I can’t hear the bass guitar. Obviously there’s plenty of bass in the mix, but I can’t hear the notes that the bass guitar is playing or the metallic rattle of the thick strings that I would prefer to hear in thrashier music. But, like most albums of this style, the guitars drown out the bass.

The drumming is a bit monotonous. I completely understand the whole classic hardcore punk thing that the drummer is going for, but the majority of every single song uses that exact same drum pattern that’s already overused in punk AND thrash metal. Would it hurt do throw in some blast beats here and there? Maybe even get a cowbell and pick a song or two where you use that instead of the snare; or even a different drum to make more room for variation! Whatever works; because it only sounds like you’re using half of the kit I saw you using on stage. And there’s nothing wrong with working with a small drum kit, it just means that you have to be very good at coming up with tons of different patterns and ways to use that small kit. The drumming on this album is very tight and everything fits the mood perfectly, but if I were to have my moment as a nitpicker, I would say that there should be more going on with the drums, that there’s not enough. So now that he’s proven to us that he’s truly mastered this, I would like to see him do some experimenting and exploring with different patterns before it gets old.

Other than that, this is enough to make just about any Toxic fan happy. There isn’t too much variation in song types; the band maintains the same general sound/vibe for the duration of the record without letting things get too monotonous. Honestly, after taking the time to listen to the band’s entire discography, this is by far my favorite release they’ve done so far. Although they don’t seem like it at first, this is a band that pleases a wide-variety of heavy metal fans, and I would recommend it to just about anyone. I would give this a 17/20.