Holy Terror - Mind Wars (3.5/5)
I'd first hear about this band and their second album when I was looking for bands to add to my now-quite-large download list, and had forgotten about them for a while until Collin Ulferts put up a link to "Mind Wars". The fact that Kurt Kilfelt (Kurt Colfelt), who appeared on Agent Steel's debut album, "Skeptic's Apocalypse" played guitar on this one also interested me. Listening to this album, you can definitely hear the influence from Kurt's previous band, but it's safe to say that Holy Terror are not mimicking Agent Steel here. The sound of this album is best described as a mix of early Agent Steel, Slayer, and Heathen. The straightforward speed/thrash aspects of the first two are there combined with Heathen's tendency towards writing long songs with plenty of variety, all done with a healthy smattering of thrash aggression. The overall product is not perfect, but is very good, above average speed/thrash metal platter.
This is a very intense listen. That is the first thing you'll notice when you listen to practically any track on this album. You do not get any slower tracks, no power ballads, and not even any mid-paced sections. Sure, there are tempo changes, and while, for example, "Damned by Judges", lowers the pace to a sudden crawl for a few moments, this is just so you'll suddenly be caught off surprise by the sudden kick back into high-speed-mode. A bit more variety in tempo would have been welcome, but on this positive side, you get a very intense listen at least, one of those albums you listen to when you feel like you need a lot of adrenaline pumped into your brain very fast. The production has a raw gritty definitely 80's feel to it. The guitars have a nice thick warm sound while the drums have yet again, a case of the "sharp yet flats" syndrome (not really a good or a bad thing). The bass is pushed up to a bit below the bass while the vocalist is nearly behind the guitars. This is a bit of an odd mix, but Holy Terror manages to make it work somehow, with no instruments overwhelming each other and the overall sound being orderly, raw, and clear.
You might think that what you're getting is a lot of Slayer/Kreator style tremolo picked insanity, but the type of thrash these guys are playing is more similar to the various melodic thrash bands of the 80's, abeit with lots of Agent Steel influence and some minor Slayer bits cropping up now and then. The guitar work is fast, savage and vicious. Some people might think it is a weak Agent Steel clone, but on closer inspection, it feels more "evolved" and refined than the raw and simple speed metal AG were playing on their debut. There are more riffs and leads, and they range from simple speed/thrash straightforwardness to complex sections that almost feel like Helstar. The riffs tend to change more progressively as well, with the longer longs showing off the band's impressive arsenal of riffs, along with some pretty good solos. The gang knows how to shred it up, but manage to still express their inner guitar gods without coming off as generic high-speed wank-shred. When the band really speeds it up, like on the high-speed "Do Unto Others", you can start to hear the influence of more aggressive and almost death-metal like thrash influence snake their way into the rhythm section. It doesn't sound totally death metal though. Virtuosic thrash lead playing manages to balance out the more aggressive bits, with just as much Iron Maiden/Judas Priest influence slightly smothering out the Dark Angel/Slayer bits. Another big plus for this album is the bass work. It might be hard to hear at first (mostly because the riffs, vocals, and furious drumming are making the most noise here) but it's not very hard to clear. In fact, the bass sometimes seems to be out-muscling the guitars, with nice thick bass-lines emerging here and there to join their guitar-counterparts in making a very thick sound. You will occasionally even spot a nice bass-solo or two, and pretty damn good ones at that. Sometimes, the bass seems to be almost on top of the guitars, but this never a problem, as they never really cancel each other out. Vocals hold up well, mostly being a throaty bellow, reminiscent of would happen if David Wayne of Metal Church; gritty, mid-range and occasionally going into wild, uncontrolled screaming. The only major weakness would be the drumming. The man on the skin gets his occasional moments of glory, but for the most part, he's only a few steps up from Agent Steel's debut, playing mostly straightforward thrash rhythms with predictable rolls and fills. This is a shame, as he sometimes shows moments of pure brilliance, but they're few and far inbetween.
"Damned by Judges" and "Do Unto Others" would have to be the two songs one should definitely check out on this one. The latter, aside from being incredibly straightforward and to-the-point (even more so than the rest of the album) is one of the few tracks where the drumming really stands out. It might start off midpaced, but near the one-minute mark, it explodes into a tight little fireball of sharp speed riffs and really fast singing. Yes, singing. It's amazing how fast the vocalist was able to belt out lyrics on this one. It almost sounds like one of those "speed rappers" and I'm amazed he didn't screw this one up. It actually sounds slightly comical sometimes due to him blazing past all the other instruments with his quick tongue. The band was smart enough to change the pace now and then, but the song's menacing attitude only ends up sounding more malevolent than normal. "Damned by Judges" is probably the most well-written son on the album. Starting with an intro that sounds like it was taken from some drama movie, it turns into an up-tempo thrasher, exploding into a loud, anthemic chorus. A mid-paced section comes next, with catchy palm-muted riffing and tasty solos being the highlights of the show. Actually, this song might as well be prog. Thrash. It has more changes than I can be assed to bother describing, and every time it switches from one musical theme to another, it's like getting a different slice of a fruit called "awesome".
"Mind Wars" probably won't make it to a top ten thrash list, but it soars above contemporaries like Metallica and Testament. It will please fans of post epic-tinged thrash, those looking for raw energetic aggression, and those looking for both. Some problems when it comes to songwriting and drumming hold it back, but the band's obvious high level of talent and their raw thrash spirit give this album the status of "forgotten classic". Fans of Slayer, Metallica, Agent Steel, Helstar, and Cyclone Temple should give this one a listen.
Reviewed by J. Chan