(Metal on Metal 2016)
Let’s cut right to the chase on this one: Wildhunt ‘Descending’ just might be the most exciting thrash metal debut I’ve heard in recent memory. The Austrians burst onto the international scene in 2012 with their ‘Scenting the Prey’ EP, which Stormspell Records introduced to a larger audience by releasing it as part of the label’s multivolume CD-wallet series ‘Jewels of Gwahlur.’ Now the thrashing power trio have returned with a 10-song, 59-minute full-length album (reprising all four proper songs from the EP) via Metal on Metal Records. What first caught my eye about Wildhunt were their influences. Whereas most young thrash acts seem hellbent on rehashing the obvious genre guideposts like early Slayer, Exodus or Kreator, Wildhunt have a more technical, obscure edge, while remaining defiantly traditional and not kowtowing to any modern trends. The names that keep coming to mind upon listening to ‘Descending’ are German acts Paradox (circa ‘Heresy’) and Deathrow, both musically and vocally, but there’s also a healthy dose of bands like Heathen and Coroner represented here. To me, that’s refreshing because, aside from the fine Majorcan thrashers Breathless, I’m unaware of many younger thrash bands mining this interesting and fertile territory today, much less doing so with the skill and acumen of Wildhunt.
Incidentally, do not let those comparisons deter you: This isn’t math metal or anything, so you can leave your calculator and slide rule at home, but it is challenging for the players and the listener alike. The compositions have plenty of twists and turns, and do not rely on milking obvious hooks or repetitive choruses to get the job done. What’s more, most of Wildhunt’s songs are lengthy, with six of nine cuts (excluding outro) on ‘Descending’ eclipsing the six-minute mark, and two of those breaking the eight-minute barrier. You have to pay attention, and this album is probably not suitable background music for your kegger’n’pizza party with your skate-punk friends. For those willing to give it a focused listen, however, ‘Descending’ is simply a treasure trove of superb thrash metal riffs courtesy of guitarist Wolfgang “Wulfgar” Elwitschger, who also wrote most of the music and lyrics. The melodic content and creativity of Wulfgar’s playing are high by comparison to most of today’s thrash metal newcomers, which is what makes me think of Heathen or Paradox’s ‘Heresy.’ Remarkably, in addition to being Wildhunt’s lone guitarist, Wulfgar handles lead vocals. He does a nice job. In contrast to the tuneless bark that seems to have found favor with most newer thrash bands today, Wulfgar’s vocals are mostly clean (punctuated only rarely by a growl), semi-tuneful, and reminiscent of a young Charly Steinhauer (Paradox) or Millo (Deathrow). I would be remiss not to praise the rhythm section comprised of drummer Lukas Roth and bassist Benjyi Breeg, who also perform at a high level and complement Wulfgar’s pyrotechnics well. This is a solid, tight unit, indeed.
If ‘Descending’ has a flaw, it’s that the listener really has to invest time and effort into it in order for the material to come to life. There’s not a great deal of immediacy to these songs. I think I’m on my fifth spin of the CD now, and finally tracks like “Thrill to Kill,” “Death Spares (N)one” and “History Deletes Itself” are snapping into place in my mind. Others still feel more like collections of cool riffs than cohesive songs. To be clear, I’m not knocking the songwriting: It’s good, but with the guitars careening from one killer part to another and not a great deal of musical or lyrical repetition spread across lengthy songs and a lengthy album, the memorability factor is not high. The way to flip this into a positive, however, is to recognize that Wildhunt will reward your time and your focus. With each additional listen, the songs open up a little more. I just hope today’s instant-gratification, fast-food consumers will exert the patience that ‘Descending’ deserves. For me, I see this album being a mainstay in my music rotation in the coming months. I love me some excellent traditional thrash, and Wildhunt are onto something special here.
~ Review by Kit Ekman ~