Phantom Witch’s mission statement boldly states, “We were sent to this time from 1986 to bring thrash to the future.” The band’s new release Death As We Know It dropped on the 16th of June. Does this album live up to the thrash metal released in 1986?
A quick refresher on the state of metal in 1986 as it is easily one of the greatest album release years in metal history: Slayer’s Reign in Blood, Megadeth’s Peace Sells… But Who’s Buying? and Metallica’s Master of Puppets. You’ve heard of those, right? These albums created a new gold standard for the thrash subgenre and heavy metal at large.
Needless to say, Phantom Witch had a great deal to live up to before I’d heard a single note. A caveat I would add is that every modern thrash band that releases an album is judged against the aforementioned classics. I am not trying to be unnecessarily harsh. Megadeth, Slayer and Metallica essentially murdered thrash for nearly two decades because the albums they released in the ’80s and early ’90s were so fucking good that no one could hope to top them, not even themselves. Of course, this resulted in the all three bands changing their artistic direction in new and controversial ways in the ’90s and early ’00s.
But I digress, one could write a thesis on the topic. My point is that life is tough as a modern thrash band as they are critiqued harshly against standards that are impossible to achieve. However, as metalcore slowly met its demise (it’s really dead people), I noticed something. Thrash metal was starting to make a quiet resurgence. With the help of the nationally recognized Power Trip, thrash was becoming “cool” again.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “Thrash never died Ty, you piece of shit.” You’re right, it never did but it has never been as close to matching the raw energy of 1986 as it has in the past couple of years. Yes, I know Machine Head’s The Blackening and Unto the Locust exist as well as a plethora of Mastodon albums. Those albums take inspiration from early thrash metal but there’s so many other influences thrown in that the potency gets a bit diluted.
Phantom Witch pulls off the modern version of 1986 thrash with Death As We Know It. It’s a focused, pummeling trip down memory lane from start to finish with modern production, professional riffage and catchy lead work. After one listen, you’ll be dying to play it again. The complexity of the songs reward repeat listens as well. It would fit right alongside albums released during the late ’80s with nothing to hang its head about. Is this album as good as Master of Puppets? No. I’m not saying that. I view this album on par with Flotsam and Jetsam’s Doomsday for the Deceiver in terms of quality. It isn’t flawless, but represents a hopeful start for the band. If I were to critique anything it would be the album length. When it comes to thrash albums, I stand firm on the 8-10 song rule. This helps cut filler and comes across more palatable for the listener. That being said, all the songs on this album are strong in their own way so I can see how making a cut would be an unenviable task.
Small critique aside, this album receives a strong recommendation from this reviewer, especially if you’re a fan of thrash metal. It teleports you right back into the late ’80s, denim and all, while adding a few surprises along the way. This isn’t just a victory lap or rehash of the ’80s thrash metal scene either. There’s some true originality here. I look forward to where the band goes next as they are not bereft of talent. It is one of the best albums I’ve listened to in 2019.
Stand Out Tracks: “Death As We Know It”, “Eternal Damnation”, “Demon in Black”
Ty is the co-creator of Super Metal World and co-host of Super Metal World Podcast. His favorite metal subgenre is thrash. You can find him playing RPGs on the Switch or Ps4 in his spare time.