Nocturnal Fear – Excessive Cruelty

31/07/2011 § Leave a comment

“It is well that war is so terrible, else we should grow too fond of it,” declared General Robert Lee at the Battle of Fredericksburg. Not a sentiment that’s likely to be shared by Detroit thrash metallers Nocturnal Fear, who revel in showering their visual and lyrical content with all manner of war-related imagery, and they make no secret of their unfailing support for the US military in any situation. Excessive Cruelty, NF’s fifth studio album, does nothing to deviate from the group’s staple ethics, especially judging by the latest batch of promo pictures featuring new band members Witchhammer and Warmonger [you see?] looking very at home in their Rob Halford-inspired daywear, as well as various other references to guns, killing and everything the rest of the world remembers and loves the USA for. Nocturnal Fear may well not be a notorious thrash metal band, but they seem to move in notorious circles.

I’m not a massive fan of the new thrash revolution. Thrash metal, for me, mostly belongs in the 1980s and many of the bands who attempt to pull it out of that homestead do so with little creativity or innovation. NF are no different in this regard, but they do pull off their music technically well, albeit with a large degree of uninspired songwriting. One thing’s for sure, they know how to thrust out an intense and threatening barrage of death/thrash metal with excellent guitar-work, vocals, drumming and some seriously meaty production to match. In the wave of contemporary old school thrash metal, NF carry the torch for the revolution with pride, nous and technical mastry. This is likely to be some of the heaviest thrash you’ll have come across, fusing the genre nicely with death metal but always staying safely on the right side of the line.

So it’s a shame that Excessive Cruelty doesn’t do more for itself than it could. You’ll spend a lot of time marvelling at how good the drumming is, with Witchhammer’s consistent pummelling of the double-kick pedal at Mach speed to give it that extra-heavy edge and Slavehunter’s sweeping guitar riffs, but after a while the formula does tend to get a little tiring. Excessive Cruelty doesn’t like giving its listeners much in the way of variety with the album being one long string of uber-aggressive thrash cavalry-fire, and though it may be cathartic and de-stressing, there’s nothing in the way of detail or differentiation between numbers. While there are moments where the band blend in some quite beautiful melodic guitar sections such as in the surprisingly beautiful solo in World War 3, or towards the end of Human Shield, these moments are too infrequent to raise the album to the level of anything unique or special.

Thrash metal has a long and highly-skilled history and with 2011 already seeing some gems emerge from the likes of Essence and the excellent Havok, Nocturnal Fear are in good hands; Destruction and Artillery have also brought fresh meat to the table, so there’s a lot for thrashers to get their teeth into this year. However, what made the truly excellent thrash metal bands like Realm or Coroner was the ability to bridge the gap between heavy, gritty thrash hardness with an introspective, almost crystalised lucidity of deep emotion. NF have no interest in the latter, so while there’s plenty of standard aggression to satisfy most thrash fans, those looking for something a little extra won’t find it here. Excessive Cruelty is exactly its namesake – an unrelenting, merciless juggernaut of thrash metal savagery – just like so many others.

Rating: 3/5

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