Mortal Strike are ready for war. Remember that climactic sequence in Saving Private Ryan, when Tom Hanks and his American battalion anxiously await the arrival of German Tiger and Panzer tanks for merciless urban warfare? That’s Mortal Strike. Or how about July 1, 1916, when tens of thousands of British tommies emerged from their trenches and marched slowly across no-man’s land, only to lose their lives at the hands of withering German machine gun and artillery fire. That’s also Mortal Strike. The epic armored clashes between Montgomery and Rommel in the North African desert? Yup, Mortal Strike.
You see, Austria’s Mortal Strike play thrash metal and sing about war. On For The Loud And The Aggressive, their full-length debut album, the lyrical and musical elements are so tautly intertwined that it would be impossible for one to misunderstand them. Mortal Strike’s music is loud, it’s relentlessly aggressive, and it’s also undeniably fun. This Vienna quintet may not be doing anything too original, or subtle (at all), but that’s clearly not their intention. These guys love the old-school, no-frills thrash, and their enthusiasm is downright infectious; as are the crunchy riffs, the chanted, “Get ready to deliver the MORTAL STRIKE!” sort of choruses, and the straight-forward aggression of the proceedings. Mortal Strike’s music is not high-brow, complex, or progressive; it’s just damned enjoyable sing-a-long, headbang-along, classic thrash.
Formed in 2009 in Vienna, Mortal Strike’s lineup currently consists of vocalist Matthias Gerstl, guitarists Christian “Chrir” Nielsen and Christoph “Etzi” Etzmannsdorfer, bassist Dominque Heine, and drummer Max Scheiber. The band released two eps and earned their share of success on the live circuit, beginning with their victory at the 2011 Wacken Open Air Metal Battle Austria. That achievement earned the band an appearance at the W.O.A. festival in Germany; they also have opened for more famous thrashers such as Warbringer, Tankard, and Destruction. Mortal Strike are quickly gaining their international thrash credentials, further cemented by a thoroughly professional release in For The Loud And The Aggressive.
As one may now imagine, Mortal Strike play a simple, meat-and potatoes sort of thrash. The arrangement are nothing fancy, mostly consisting of a main riff-verse-chorus-repeat song structure. Guitar-wise, Nielsen and Etzmannsdorfer employ a lot of galloping triplet rhythms and palm-muted, lighting-picked sixteenth notes to convey the sense of a merciless metallic barrage. Their riffs are consistently catchy and effective; guitar solos and leads, meanwhile, are kept to a bare minimum. That matters little, as the catchiness of the riffs, as well as the repetitive yet infectious vocal lines, holds the listener’s interest well. The rhythm section of Heine and Scheiber is appropriately tight and pummeling, poignantly personifying modern warfare in metal form. Some of Mortal Strike’s primary influences shine through in the straight-ahead, hook-laden riffs of a Kreator and the relentless speed of a Sodom. Reign in Blood-era Slayer also shows up plenty here, as does the partying aura of Tankard; the fact that the album concludes with a “Zombie Attack” cover is no coincidence.
“This is for the loud, (the loud), the loud and the AGGRESSIVE!” shouts Gerstl as the album opens with its punishing title track. A ripping galloping riff morphs into a Pantera-esque stomping groove before exploding into seriously frenetic Slayer territory. Retrieving this obstinate ear worm from one’s head is no easy task. The awesomely-titled, “Here Comes The Tank” punishes ears and necks from the friendly confines of a more mid-paced groove and bellicose lyrics: “Prepare to shoot on sight/ get ready to deliver the MORTAL STRIKE!” Most of these songs follow a similar blueprint of being short, aggressive, and direct with almost chanted, militaristic vocal lines. One notable exception to this rule is “Tides of War,” which opens with a slow, deliberate groove and a simple-yet-haunting guitar melody. The song naturally builds into an all-out thrashy bludgeoning-fest, but that little bit of musical variance is welcome.
That leads me to my main point of constructive criticism for Mortal Strike: their music is so relentless and focused that it borders on being one-dimensional. I realize that an all-out assault is what they are going for, and they can obviously do whatever they choose and plenty of die-hard thrash fans still will eat it up. But incorporating more dynamics in the arrangements – a melodic lead here, a tasty harmony there, or a mellow arpeggiated section before the next blast of glorious thrashing – might make the aggressive sections that much more effective. As it stands, this album comes across as more of an entertaining but somewhat homogenized unit, rather than as a collection of 11 distinct songs.
All criticism aside, Mortal Strike undeniably achieve what they set out to accomplish on their debut. If you’re way into war (as am I), and you love your thrash (ditto), this album is for you: the loud, and the aggressive.
--Review by Jonathan Kollnot