By Craig Haze
German blackened thrashers Desaster are genuine old warhorses. For the last two decades they’ve stubbornly remained entrenched behind their intimidating fortifications, batting the whims and shifting tides of metal. With a few defeats and changes of members along the way, along with a fairly lengthy discography, Desaster are still campaigning like true survivors. Having never gained the sort of popularity or visibility of many of their German brethren, the band have remained a cult act, and their new album, The Arts of Destruction, isn’t likely to change that scenario any time soon.
That’s not to suggest the album is weak per se—in many ways Desaster’s adherence to the formative norms of blackened thrash are quite refreshing. With metal’s abundant evolutionary strains forever splitting off into ever more convoluted sub-species, there’s something gratifying about Desaster’s whirlwind delivery of unkempt and buzzing riffs and stomping Euro thrash all encased in a fittingly crusty production.
The band certainly releases their bombardments with plenty of malicious enthusiasm. After a snippet of an intro, “The Art of Destruction” has a fantastically mischievous and iniquitous crackle from vocalist Sataniac to set the scene—with the track’s blazing riffs being suitably aggressive and brazen. And despite Desaster’s obvious insistence that barbarity be the key feature of the album, that doesn’t mean it is completely one-dimensional.
There’s passages of winding rather then slashing riffs on “Possessed and Defiled”, which takes the epic route, throwing in a bit of Primordial’s rousing verve. “Lacerate with Hands of Doom” and “Troops of Heathens, Graves of Saints” wouldn’t seem out of place on an early Slayer LP. “Queens of Sodomy” zips along with a wickedly punked-up bite, and although “Phantom Funeral” and “At Hell’s Horizon” both scrape the barrel of bestial, Venom-like metal, they still brandish a few shiny hooks—and, dare I say it, even a sprinkling of melody.
The Arts of Destruction is smarter than it looks. While the band concentrates on making sure you’re aware of just how cruel they are, they haven’t forgotten that all that would be for naught if there were no actual musicianship to back it all up. Desaster aren’t a sophisticated outfit in any meaningful way, but that’s no criticism—I imagine they’d be horrified to be described as such— however there’s a strong sense of equilibrium to be found between the lo-fi raggedness and the well thought out arrangements.
Which brings us to the drawbacks, and a few reasons why Desaster won’t be moving up the ranks with The Arts of Destruction. Initially, there’s the fact that we’ve heard it all before. Demonic and gory hymns are expected, and the band delivers their malevolent sermons with aplomb. But the album lacks that extra ‘something’ to take it out of the realms of good, into great. Similarly dark and scrappy thrashers like Aura Noir or Destroyer 666 have a certain charisma about them that Desaster lacks. It’s not helped by a wafer-thin guitar sound that haunts some tracks. And that scarcity of punchy follow-throughs leaves you wanting. There’s also the fact that some of the riffs are just too familiar. I wouldn’t insult the band and suggest they’re borrowing ideas—it’s probably the complete opposite, I’m sure they’ve influenced many a band—but there are riffs here that are stock-standard, and that takes a lot away from the album’s better tracks.
Whatever minor issues exist, it doesn’t mean The Arts of Destruction is a write-off. After many years toiling away the band still have plenty to offer. Some of the tracks on the album are absolute killers, and even the blander tunes aren’t too shabby. They’re just ordinary. And it’s that predictability that really underscores The Arts of Destruction. There’s no reason why you wouldn’t enjoy the album, especially if chaotic and retro black metal is your thing. But there’s nothing surprising here, just solid, dependable and steadfast metal. Nothing wrong with that of course, Desaster have made a career out of producing just such tunes.