(Pure Steel 2018)
Thrust needs little introduction. After all, the band made an indelible mark in the heavy metal underground back in 1984 with their Metal Blade debut album, Fist Held High, which is rightfully regarded as a minor classic of raw, uncompromising, fist-to-the-face Chicago heavy metal. Songs like the title track, “Metallic Attack,” and “Posers Will Die” are revered in the hearts of many as evergreen, essential ‘80s metal anthems. Only guitarist Ron Cooke remains from that era of the band; however, he moved to Los Angeles, where he has been playing for many years under the Thrust banner with a stable lineup consisting of Joe Rezendes (drums), Ray Gervais (bass), and Angel Rodriguez (guitars). A couple of years ago, vocalist Eric Claro joined the fold, and the fellowship was complete. This iteration of Thrust has become a mainstay on the underground festival circuit, thrilling old fans, converting new ones, and striking fear in the hearts of posers everywhere from Keep It True to Up the Hammers to Frost and Fire and Spring Bash. It was only natural that the topic of new material would bubble to the surface eventually, and now Thrust proudly unveil Harvest of Souls, due for worldwide release on Germany’s Pure Steel Records on April 27, 2018.
In terms of style, Harvest of Souls remains very much true to the original Fist Held High aesthetic. What does that mean? Thrust’s calling card, their claim to fame, was that their music represented traditional metal at its absolute heaviest. Not thrash metal, not death metal, but old-school midpaced metal delivered heavier, heavier than hell (to quote a song from Fist Held High). Back in the day, we used to compare Thrust to a slowed-down, more precise Exciter. Thankfully, all of this still holds true on Harvest of Souls. The first thing that stands out from the time you push play and “Deceiver” kicks in are those monolithic, skull-crushing Cooke/Rodriguez riffs, with a deliciously raw and suitably vicious guitar tone calculated to tear your head clean off. Those riffs meld brilliantly with Gervais’ leaden bass lines (featured prominently in the mix for maximum impact and maximum heaviness) and Rezendes’ pounding hooves to create this lumbering, juddering, lurching beast of metal laying waste to everything in its path. The album’s production is appropriately clear and powerful, allowing each instrument to shine and pummeling the listener in a way that many tin-eared old-school albums these days do not. No punches are pulled, folks. Harvest of Souls is like a bruising heavyweight boxer in a prize fight. It’s here to do damage, and it comes out swinging from the opening bell until the inevitable TKO. Over the top of it all, vocalist Claro’s gritty delivery suits the music well, but exudes just enough melody and personality to set the hooks, reel the listener in and prevent the songs from devolving into a faceless slugfest.
Pre-release singles “Sorceress” (for which a video has also been released) and “Feel the Pain” will be familiar to many Thrust fans because they’ve been featured in the live set for some time. Not coincidentally, they are also two of the more immediately catchy and melodic songs on the album, without sacrificing an ounce of Thrust’s signature heaviness. “Sorceress,” in particular, is one of Thrust’s best tracks ever, just an absolute hammer of a song. Other highlights include opener “Deceiver” and closer “One Step from the Grave,” both of which feature bludgeoning riffs and gang-shouted choruses tailor-made for the live arena. I’ve also grown quite fond of “Kill or Be Killed,” which starts with a rumbling Gervais bass intro then rides a Rezendes stomping drum pattern, an impressive soaring vocal from Claro, and a fist-pounding refrain to the heavy metal promised land. Overall, the material is quite consistent throughout. Thrust are seasoned veterans. They know where their strengths lie, and they stick to what they do best, without any surprises or experiments, unless you count the haunting atmospheric intro to “Shadow of the Cross” (reminiscent of something Grave Digger might do) before yet another scorching riff in the Exciter mold pegs the heaviness factor back to the redline.
If there’s a quibble to be had with Harvest of Souls, it’s that Thrust maybe are a bit too one-dimensional in their mode of attack, with little variation in tempos and song structures throughout the 10-song, 44-minute playing time. At the same time, however, that weakness can also be viewed as a strength because it reveals a purity of heart, a singlemindedness of purpose, and a clarity of focus. Thrust know exactly what they’re doing on Harvest of Souls. Old-school metalheads take note: Thrust are back. With their fists held high, they can take command. And the forecast isn’t looking too rosy for the posers.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~