opular music is cyclical, and thus it's inevitable that '80s thrash metal would rear its mulleted head once more. What's surprising is the accuracy of this reenactment. Time often tints revivals; the "The ___" garage rock bands of the early '00s had modern production and brick-wall compression, while recent acid house comes from software, not Roland analog machines. In other words, the date of creation is usually obvious.
However, today's thrash records could pass as long-lost classics. The degree of mimicry is astounding. From stampeding polka beats to serrated machine-gun riffs to frenzied, out-of-tune solos, thrash now sounds exactly as it did back then. Not only are bands resurrecting the primitive fonts and photo collage layouts of old-school thrashers, they're dressing like them. Suddenly, like mini-gangs, bands are sporting tight jeans, white hi-tops, and back patch-infested denim jackets again. Even the frizzy hair of Megadeth's Marty Friedman is enjoying a (very) minor vogue. Such accoutrements are neither fashionable nor readily available, so this resurgence is probably due to a critical mass of stylistic torchbearers, along with some opportunistic packaging.
Speed Kills...Again is one such example. In 1985, Music for Nations released Speed Kills, a thrash metal collection that included heavy hitters like Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer, and Exodus. Capitalizing on the current revival, Heavy Artillery has issued a compilation that resuscitates the defiantly ugly artwork of the original. This collection of bands, though, is decidedly different. Whereas almost every band on Speed Kills is now legendary, the bands on Speed Kills...Again most likely will remain quite underground. Ironically, "first-tier" thrash bands like Metallica and Megadeth achieved such status through crossover appeal; second-tier bands mined the genre's conventions. Speed Kills...Again has no innovators, only second-tier imitators.
But it's no less enjoyable for that. Part of the joy of being a metalhead is seeking variations on a theme; what sounds the same to outsiders can be a rich spectrum of regional and sonic differences. Speed Kills...Again captures such minutiae with 12 tracks by six bands from various countries, each reflecting thrash's roots in the Bay Area, Germany, New York, and Los Angeles. Las Vegas' Avenger of Blood recreate the raw, rugged thrash of early Kreator; the German band itself now doesn't sound half as authentic. Italy's Hatred also dials up some blisteringly lo-fi European thrash. The falsetto screams of Sweden's Enforcer echo the power/thrash metal stylings of Anthrax and Exciter, while the scathing black/thrash metal of Tampa's Toxic Holocaust suggest Venom after some woodshedding.
Among such manic cohorts, Merciless Death stand out, and not just because they have more hair. The Los Angeles band runs early Exodus through brutal German treatment, and projectile vomits the results with drunken abandon. Evil in the Night, the band's full-length debut released earlier this year, did everything right, down to the artwork by Ed Repka (the seminal artist for '80s thrash, with covers for Megadeth, Nuclear Assault, Vio-lence, and many others). Merciless Death's tracks here continue the winning streak, with the obligatory eponymous song and charming AABC rhyme structures. From the pummeling drums to the squiggly solos to the snarling vocals, Merciless Death are nothing less than a complete time warp. If you missed out on thrash the first time around, this disc will do you just fine.