German blackened-thrash maestros, Desaster, are now on their ninth album and their first record since 2016’s The Oath of an Iron Ritual. Armed with a new drummer, the quartet return at an opportune time to expand their fanbase with the speed/thrash hybrid experiencing a cyclical peak once again in reaction to the cold technicality of modern death metal and the sterility of black metal. Nowadays, the likes of Bewitcher, Hellripper, Vulture and Devastator love to spice their thrash with the Motorhead/Venom sound that predated Metallica and turbocharged the Teutonic titans in Kreator and Sodom. Desaster include a semblance of that here, but Possessed and Celtic Frost are by far their biggest influences. And unlike the contemporary pretenders, they’ve been doing this since their debut album in 1996.
You can’t doubt the band’s credentials or staying power, but Churches without Saints is not the predictable salt-of-the-earth metal heroism you might smirk at with a raised fist. True, it warrants the devil’s horns and arm spikes, but lead single, ‘Learn to Love the Void’, takes the punk of Discharge and the raw metallic onslaught of Celtic Frost and laces the rhythms with a Venom swagger. Vocalist, Sataniac, sounds like he has virgin blood dribbling down his chin as he annunciates his ghoulish voice like Jeff Becerra of Possessed. The band explain that the song explores the idea that in the absence of a heaven or hell, we must think of the finality of death as a good thing that involves no torturous examination of the soul.
The ‘blackened’ prefix in the blackened thrash label is often no more than a tongue-in-cheek rehashing of the ludicrous satanism of early 1980s speed metal. On ‘Sadistic Salvation’ and ‘Primordial Obscurity’, Desaster show that their nod to black metal is genuine. The blast beats on the former ask you to contemplate what Sodom would sound like exploring the famous Norwegian sound of the early 90s, while the two-beat drum and layered tremolo chords on the title track pulsate with menace of Burzum and the added doom of Candlemass. Listen to the gallop of the Medieval tonics on ‘Endless Awakening’ – this is how you drench thrash metal in the noisy distortion of Destruction. Their fellow Germans in Vulture are doing something similar on their latest album.
It goes without saying that Desaster venerate Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All and the glory days of 1983-84, but they also unleash a few surprises. The intro to ‘Exile is Imminent’ explores a Joy Division beat and the closing track, ‘Aus Asche (Outro)’, could be off The Cure’s Seventeen Seconds LP from 1980. The last place you’d expect to find post-punk introspection is on a thrash album, but Desaster do it without disrupting the flow or mood of the album. That alone is a minor achievement.
Churches without Saints is more of an amalgamation of the band’s influences and a treat for those with a great respect for the origins of extreme metal. But it’s also enjoyable. Of course, it won’t set the world alight or change contemporary music, yet the repeat button looks enticing when the last note reverberates into nothingness.
Release Date: 04/06/2021
Record Label: Metal Blade Records
Standout tracks: Learn to Love the Void, Churches without Saints, Endless Awakening
Suggested Further Listening: Destruction – Infernal Overkill (1985), Vulture – Dealin’ Death (2021), Sadus – Swallowed in Black (1990)