Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Cyclone - Inferior To None [1990]

Unable to come into commercial fruition due to the financial constraints of Justice Records, Cyclone ''Inferior To None'' is perhaps one of Belgium's best-kept secrets of the 80's and early 90's, not solely for the fact that I've almost never seen a genuine metalhead give a nod towards its direction, but because it retain some of the 'classical' approach of thrash that largely dissolved by 1990. In fact, so much of this album's musical constituents are built on the foundation of ''Master of Puppets'' and a handful of other pivotal Bay Area thrash records that it's hard not to admire the Belgians' commitment to the transition from the rougher, frolicking Germanic aggression of their debut ''Brutal Destruction'' to the grandiose scale of this record, even if took them 4 years. I imagine ''Inferior To None'' was still sucked in by the painstakingly devoted heavy metal subculture existing in and around Belgium in the 90's, but even today you could count yourselves lucky if you caught a glimpse of it scanning lists or obscure forums, which is shame because this is easily one of the best  Belgian thrash outings, ever: I'm not going to shake my head and moan in despair for the sheer underestimation that has entailed this record for over 25 years, but this would be a good place to start on telling you why you should start adding it to your collection.

Surprisingly, ''Inferior To None'' is less glazed and technical than, say, a band like Forbidden or Atrophy, sporting a dense, dark production quality that I can't exactly equate with any other thrash recording of the 80's or 90's. You have to give the Belgians some props because despite emerging on the dawn of groove and grunge the songs here are don't sound anything like Pantera of mid 90's Sepultura, with the groove and swagger of the rhythm is not unlike the transformation of Chastain on their 1990 ''For Those Who Dare'' which also bolstered 'groovy', even modern-ish production levels in contrast to the grainier texture of their USPM/heavy metal output in the 80's. But that aside, ''Inferior To None'' is such a dark and classy adventure full of riffs and fantastic, bulky drumming that it easily overrides the primal aesthetics of the debut, with pummeling verse riffs and lengthy songs not unlike the ones on ''Master of Puppets''. Of course the album doesn't contain one 'Leper Messiah' or 'Damage Inc.', but you can bet that the approach is similar, coated denser guitar tones and a far more ominous atmosphere than bands which were performing thrash in the early 90's; I also wouldn't say any of the songs are infectiously catchy, but honed with care and precision enough to make this one tantalizing bulk of a riff-fest.

Guido Gevels's vocals, admittedly, don't quite hit the sweet spot when it comes to operatic skill. I would compare the man to Sean Killan, but more controlled, yet despite this his fanciful singing falls perpendicular to the crushing parade of riffs and proves to transcend what might have been a painful attendance to thrash vocals 101, and instead we get a surprisingly effective performance. He'll occasionally go for a resonating shriek or bark, not unlike those of the legendary engineers of the Teutonic howl, like Millie, Tom Angelripper, or even Ron Royce of Coroner, as on ''So Be It'', and indeed even though I've dubbed ''Inferior To None'' a 'controlled' album, it only acquires that tag as an improvement over its predecessor, because there's such a wall of well balanced flesh and chaos to be enjoyed here that Gevels's raspier moments still hold credibility. To be sure, the leads here are spurious but not to the point that they're on par with the gigantic rhythm department which looms over the record like the daunting, titular door on the cover. The chugs and palm mutes are so scabrous and majestically heavy that ''Inferior To None'' doesn't always feel a far cry from a doom record, with something like ''The Other Side'' serving as a middle-paced crusher, delivering thrash justice. ''I Am The Plague'' is one the shortest pieces on the record and in my opinion, rushing and vivacious while still retaining the album's signature heft and eeriness. The band also manages to elude typical thrash/heavy/power pitfalls by supplanting a generic ballad for the beautiful instrumental ''Crown Of Thorns'', a sweeping humdinger with percussive, even anthemic drums and moody transitions.

All told, I wouldn't be able to cite so many 'golden' moments on this record since everything isn't exactly so different from one another (a few moments truly stand out) and I wouldn't have minded a greater sense of melody for a record of such depth; but in the end it all comes down to the sheer effort put into this powerhouse, which leaves me wanting for more. How many bands were performing thrash like this in '90? Devastation and Demolition Hammer would put out their respective anvils in the following few years, but those would be roving far too flirtatiously with death metal to be called 'pure' thrash. Even Sepultura would abandon the uncircumcised brutality of ''Beneath The Remains'' for something slightly more technical with ''Arise''. All the tech-thrash bands - Coroner, Toxik, Watchtower, Mekong Delta, you name it - were configuring intricate guitar palettes with machine-like precision (I actually do love their releases at that time, but that's another story) and there was little room for what Cyclone were harboring. It's far from perfect, but just settle on the ''Crown Of Thorns'' and give this disc a chance - you owe it yourself, thrasher.

Crown of Thorns
I Am The Plague

Final Rating
Awesome [8.5/10]