It goes without saying that all thrash metal bands are technical. We don’t have a genre called tech-thrash. If you can’t play your instruments to a virtuoso level, you’re in the wrong music scene. Yet despite this, Philadelphia’s Haxon might be operating on another planet with their sophomore effort. Having met at Fort Washington’s School of Rock, these four youths are the precocious band modern thrash has been waiting for to take the genre forward.
The remarkable thing about Haxon is how difficult it is to attribute their sound to at least one of the Big Four. Sure, a few traces of …And Justice For All and Rust in Peace rear their head at sporadic moments, but the band sound more like Cynic playing progressive thrash metal. After three songs, you’ll be scratching your head and asking how this can be thrash when the influences are so hard to pin down. Yet we have all the components – the fast triplets on the bottom strings, the shred guitars, the technical bass, the snarling roar of the vocals, the pounding drums. And still, they pay homage to nobody.
Perhaps the defining feature is the raw production. Chris Bollinger’s engineering gives the band a live feel where you can appreciate the intricacies of the guitar parts and the roll of the snare as if spying on a group of virtuosos perfecting their craft in the rehearsal room. ‘The Periphery’ is a paean to the marginalised people in society who live by the vicissitudes of economic insecurity. At a push we might compare it to Sacred Reich, but follow-up, ‘Man, the State and War’ is a tour de force through a dual guitar attack that thrives off finger-twisting basslines and a loose drum approach that owes as much to jazz as metal. Play this album through headphones and marvel at the fluidity of the two guitars panned in each ear. ‘Misplaced Optimism’ starts with a three-minute intro of exquisite lead passages and jumps into a progressive minefield of Dream Theater tempo changes and shred patterns with a nod to Megadeth’s ‘Tornado of Souls’ along the way. It’s clear they also studied the way Tool use dynamics on Lateralus, most notably on ‘By Virtue’.
Yet the two biggest thrash influences on the Haxon sound are Death Angel and Havok. ‘Sands of Doom’ is a stunning display of musicianship without showing off, while ‘Mask of the Other’ mixes technical bass popping with a cacophony of plectrum-snapping riffs. The rhythm section of this band is stupendous for musicians so young. You want some fast alternate-palm muting like Trey Spruance of Mr Bungle or Tommy Victor of Prong? Guitarist, Tyler Cantrell, has a dish of riff soup waiting for you on the chef’s menu. On end track, ‘Etched in Stone Part II’, he goes into John Petrucci mode while the rest of the band embrace an Ennio Morricone/Jethro Tull chorus replete with chiming bell percussion and a keyboard lament that begs for the intercession of the Gods. Nothing sounds like this in modern thrash.
Things might have been different if the band had a bigger budget and decided to beef up their sound with Pro Tools. A lot of extreme metal these days is a product of studio wizardry. The type-writer drums and quadruple-tracked vocals add power but make it impossible to replicate on stage. Haxon have no such worries. This is how they would sound in a live setting, including the kick drums, which are often as flat as the landscape of the English West Midlands. For musicians so talented, they understand that the music must have a loose feeling – spontaneous even – to avoid self-indulgence and pointless technical prowess. Other bands could learn from this approach. The message is don’t be afraid to leave the more jagged parts in the final mix.
Those of you who fear modern thrash is an endless tribute to the original greats will marvel at this record.
Release Date: 30/10/2020
Record Label: Machine Man Records
Standout tracks: Man, The State and War; Mask of the Other; Etched in Stone Part II
Suggested Further Listening: Death Angel – Act III (1990), Havok – V (2020), Cynic – Focus (1993)