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Swine Plague

Hammerheart (2017)
Rating: 8.5/10

While many of us unkempt teenagers were thrashing our lives away to the likes of Slayer, Metallica, Kreator, Anthrax, Destruction, Sodom, Megadeth and Possessed back in the 80s and early 90s, more obscure acts such as the Netherlands’ Dead Head were plying their trade with their own brand of thrash.

I’m not sure if many of you will remember the glorious assault that was the band’s debut opus The Feast Begins At Dawn (1991) or how the combo marched on through the 90s undeterred by grunge mania, but what is worth noting is that they kept on going and now it’s time for you to give them your attention.

Dead Head formed back in 1989, and although various line-up changes would occur in later years all four original members – Tom van Dijk (vocals and bass), Ronnie van der Wey (guitar), Robbie Woning (guitar) and Hans Spijker (drums) – have reunited for the what is the band’s sixth full-length record. The outing is the follow-up to 2009’s Depression Tank, which featured Ralph de Boer on vocals.

Swine Plague offers up 12 salty thrash smashers straight from the depths of the Teutonic thrash invasion headed by the likes of Sodom and Destruction. Indeed, if this was one of those bands then we’d no doubt be hailing this opus to the heavens, because Dead Head’s latest assault will have you spinning in a frenzy as you question how you missed this band.

For those of you who grew up craving hyperfast solos, raging riffs, rabid bass-lines, tumultuous percussion and frothing vocals then prepare yourself once again to relive such joys, because Swine Plague is undoubtedly one of the most sincere and aggressive thrash workouts I’ve heard for a long time.

“Carnage of the forest, Twelve tracks to be known, Seven ways to the house of hell, A gateway to the throne” spits Tom van Dijk on opener ‘Helhuizen’ (‘Hellhouse’). The frontman clearly has been chomping at the bit – and whatever bone he can find – to get back to the Dead Head headquarters, because his volatile approach suggests that amidst a sea of generic thrash bands here’s a bunch of unruly commandos ready to take the scene by the scruff of the neck and put their stamp on proceedings.

It’s faultless, violent thrash metal that goes for the throat in whatever design it takes, whether in the form of speedy barrages or, as with ‘Dühr’, a slow-paced trudge before the sniping haste is enforced. Tom van Dijk’s vocals are crafty sneers; mocking snarls of utter aggression above the boiling seas of flailing guitar chords which provide a meaty mesh for the drums and bass to batter.

It’s strange to think how so many of our favourite thrash bands surrendered to the corporate in the mid to late 90s, but the sound of this latest battering ram is better than anything else that emerged at that time and also stands strong today amongst the glut of same-sounding individuals whose only aim is to ape.

Dead Head sound as if they’ve been cooped up in some container for a decade or so, and now unleashed upon the public they come craving flesh and blood, maniacally tearing at our hearts and minds with mighty steel talons. Sure, there’s melody in there too along with mid-paced drudgery, tracks such as ‘The Awakening’ benefit from both qualities but also serve up meaty slabs of nasty speed too.

And that’s why we’re here, to soak up the thrashy heartbeat of this salivating monster, and that pace comes in abundance. ‘Fortress Of Greed’ mixes a Slayer-type of angst with Teutonic steeliness, while ‘The Day Of The Devil’ promises a slight shift, but then it’s a case of batten down the hatches again for another audible massacre; savage guitar streams go tooth and nail with those vicious vocal yelps while barbaric leads battle to emerge through the other side of the noise wall.

Hints of sneering Sadus emerge as ‘13 Close’ and ‘The Gates Beyond’ flirt with old Kreator stylings. The melodious segments cleverly suggest a contemporary, almost clean cut design, but the main theme is a snarling, direct thrash menace, one so blunt and unforgiving that by the time you’ve reached the tail end of ‘Eternity Destroyed’, with its incredibly epic intro, or closer ‘The Battle Of Europe’, you’ll wonder as to why your 80s thrash heroes who are still in existence can’t churn out anything to match this, because this is one hell of a beating to take if you’re in this for the long run. Dead Head wasting no time in getting their message across.

Although these guys formed in the halcyon days of thrash metal, their mayhemic brand of fast-paced metal is very much of the now, a beacon of blinding light amidst a plethora of dullards who will no doubt be laid to waste upon hearing this masterclass in how to pay homage to your peers but not worship them.

Swine Plague is not an original album at all, but its bursts of energy and violent permanence can only be admired once the flames have died down and you’re left licking wounds which are not likely to heal.

Neil Arnold

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