When I first saw DESECRATOR I could count the number of metal shows I’d been to on my fingers. It was at Sonic Forge Festival at the Espy in 2012, and I was suffering badly from the effects of not pacing my drinking early on. I just wanted to slump on the bench at the back of the basement stage, but I learnt that night something that would eventually become a lyric on their debut album: No one sits down at a DESECRATOR show. Despite all their energy and speed on stage though, DESECRATOR took nine years to put out a full-length studio album, so expectations going into “To The Gallows” were pretty high, especially after 2013’s amazing EP “Down To Hell”.
After making fans wait nine years, the album doesn’t waste a single second on an intro before tearing straight into the title track. Immediately on the first track I fell in love with guitar tone, it has an amazing old school sound that doesn’t come off as something fake they were aiming for, instead it’s just what they are. Add in a blistering solo and a few pinch harmonics for flair and you are set from the get-go for a great album. Backing up the guitars are the thundering bass-heavy drums, and a bassist that easily keeps up with the guitars and injects the heaviness into it all. Song structures can’t be forgotten either, and there’s a feast of hooks, heavy sections to mosh to, lyrics you can shout along to; all the stuff that makes a good thrash album. If you’re reading an album review for one, I doubt I need to explain it to you.
Despite all that, one thing about this album bugs me. Having seen DESECRATOR about a dozen times over the last 5 years, I can’t help but feel frontman Riley Strong is holding back on vocals. Maybe he toned it down on the album so the live show seems better, maybe he just couldn’t get the same results without a live atmosphere, whatever it is only “Down To Hell” really shows his range and ability to hold notes. There is one other exception on the album, but I’ll touch on that in a bit. On to the more pleasant surprises in the album, anyone who’s seen me in a tank top knows I’m a big Mad Max fan, so I got pumped up the moment I hear the Road Warrior quote at the start of “Desert For Days”. Among songs about beer, moshing and the greatest Australian movies of all time it’s hard to pick just one favourite, but the top pick from the album happened to also be the biggest surprise.
After 3 tracks of relentless thrash, I figured this was the DESECRATOR I knew and loved, nothing more and nothing less, but then the acoustic intro to “As I Die” came in and showed me I knew nothing. This track completely shatters the mold, with the first half being slow, bluesy and melancholic, and the second half being effectively the same but with a lot more distortion. I wouldn’t have in a million years picked this departure of style for the band, but it’s pulled off perfectly. As I mentioned before, Riley’s vocals could be better on the album, but if his live vocals are 100% I’d say the album vocals are about 90%, with the exception of “As I Die” which is about 120%. It’s above and beyond what I thought he could do, and the same could be said about every other aspect of the song.
DESECRATOR have always had a special place in my heart. They’ve never been my favourite Melbourne thrash band, nor have they been the fastest, the loudest or the heaviest. No, what they are is one of the very few 21st century thrash bands that I can think of that capture the Big 4’s 80’s sound. Try as I might, I can’t really put it into words, there’s an X factor element they have that makes me think Master of Puppet, Among the Living, Reign in Blood, and Rust in Peace. I’m not saying it sounds like those albums, but as sure as hell feels like it’d fit in their clique. I don’t know how they do it, I don’t know why thousands of other thrash bands can’t do it, but I do know “To The Gallows” is full of it. It’s a throwback to thrash at its peak, so put on your old denim jacket and march your arse to the record store to grab a copy.