With some albums, my response is immediate. I push ‘play’, and I don’t even have to try. A band does something so right within the first seconds of the first song that I can’t help but approve. I know that I’m in for a treat because the band says, “Yesss, fuck all that bullshit, time to mainline some metal. Enjoy.” It’s effortless: I don’t have to think about context, artistic intention, or trying to make sense of something so goddam impenetrable that it’s exhausting. It’s not background music, nor is it meant to be consumed in a twenty-second burst from computer speakers. No, I want to stick around, grab a drink, and sink in.
Slavestate, a five-piece out of Thunder Bay, grabbed my attention immediately within the first seconds of their debut, Illicit Mandate. First thing you hear on “Scare Tactics”: fuckin drums. Loud, double-barreled, full-scale artillery drums with force for the long haul. Second? A thrash riff mutated from a death metal spore, or maybe it’s a chugging death riff ravaged by speed. Whatever. The two elements twin up. Then another guitar arrives to echo the first, the bass thickens up, and finally, some of the sickest, raspiest vocals I’ve heard in a while. I keep listening ‘cause there’s more than enough of this good stuff to keep me happy to the album’s close.
As you’ll quickly notice, Slavestate’s method of attack is agile and varied but not scattershot. They push hard, they commit to their riffs, and they’re nimble in execution, adaptive in their aggression. Reject what doesn’t work, keep what does. It’s a hyped-up death riff that’s a little cleaner, a little more melodic. It’s thrash propulsion with a scud-trudging bottom end and bass work verging on technical. It’s vomited vocals spewing tales of Harper-derived despair more damning than any crust punk’s favorite chorus but also backed by cavernous bellowing. There’s the thrill of low-brow riffing with the heart-stopping precision of grind, but also inventive, pedal-destroying solos. Ever-present drums pound, crush, crash, and pound again. There are multiple points in each song where you want to pause and congratulate the band. “Blowback” wretchedly explodes like the suicide-bombers it describes, before it speeds into a grinding breakdown. Slavestate uses this technique elsewhere, but it’s just one trick they know. “Mouthpiece” slows things down to a doomy crawl, but even here there are enough guitar heroics that the song breezes by. Vocal melodies are anchors throughout the album, and “Bleak Moral Landscape” wouldn’t be as compelling without the perfectly-baited rasping hook. I feel like I need a page to describe each song.
You could use the word ‘interplay’ to describe how the band feeds from one another, but it’s really just the consequence of being locked into solid routines of practice and performance. They’ve run through the songs umpteen times fueled by beer and passion. These are group constructions beginning with a single, pristine riff that you know has been worked over so many times that the song becomes effortless. The illusion of ease is your reward. Each of these nine tracks shows that Slavestate knows not just how to draw immediate attention but sustain it over repeated listenings. They know this because they’ve gone through the process themselves in crafting Illicit Mandate.