Skip to content

cover-nervosa.jpg

 

One of the more exciting additions of the retro-thrash metal pantheon must be Brazilian all-female power trio Nervosa. Coming to the world at large via Austrian label Napalm Records (a label that mostly specializes in gothic – and symfo metal) the trio combines several schools of American - and European thrash metal with the rabid intensity of traditional death metal. “Victim Of Yourself”, the band’s 2014 debut, is the culmination of a trend that started at least little of a decade prior with the release of Municipal Waste’s second album “Hazardous Mutation” in 2005. It is a clear sounding wake up call to both age-old veterans, and their many youthful imitators and copycats worldwide. “Victim Of Yourself” is sure of itself, in what it is and what it intents to do, and it is a reminder that musical merit and an understanding of the genre gets one farther than gimmickry and goofing off.  Is the record good? You bet. Is it faultless? Hardly.

The explosive popularity of retro-thrash itself can be explained by what was en vogue just a couple of years prior. In 2002-2003 technical death metal and the more abrasive forms of sludge – and math metal were everywhere. Technicality and complexity were the name of the game, and something had to give. It was time for something simpler, something with a more working class, blue-collar appeal that metalheads of various stripe could all agree on. Municipal Waste wrote the record that opened the proverbial floodgates, and British label imprint Earache Records functioned as the mecca for much of the resultant movement, and the genre’s revival in the subsequent boom. In fact Earache Records invested so heavily in the trend they themselves set that they did away with much of their artist roster to welcome the hungry young bands that flew the thrash metal flag, most prominently among these Evile – that other priority retro thrash band.

nervosa2Nervosa is centered around the duo of founder/chief-songwriter Prika Amaral (lead guitar, backing vocals) and lively frontwoman Fernanda Lira (vocals, bass guitar). Before arriving at its current constellation Nervosa went through a number of members (two drummers, and a second guitarist) and independently released a three-track demo/EP. The promotional video for ‘Masked Betrayer’ became a runaway YouTube hit (20 thousand views in a week), which was instrumental in the trio being offered a recording contract with the Napalm Records label imprint for the full-length debut. The 2012 demo was recently re-issued with new artwork by the band’s current contractor under the name “Time Of Death” to capitalize on the rising interest in this Brazilian phenomenon. The band name itself is Portugese for ‘angry women’, and that seems fitting enough for the band, and the genre. Debuting, at least on a theoretical level, on this album is drummer Pitchu Ferraz (replacing Fernanda Terra who played on the demo/promo), who cut her teeth in a few regionally mostly-female forces before joining.

The music itself taps from the well of Teutonic thrash (mostly in its choice of riffs) with the typical breakneck South American intensity and the head-on straightforwardness one often associates with Bay Area thrash metal. Notable is that Lira’s bass guitar lies prominently in the mix, and this combined with the overall level of energy often borders on early death metal circa Death’s seminal two records “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Leprosy”. The screams and rasps of Lira herself are very redolent of Destruction’s Schmier and Death’s own Chuck Schuldiner. Largely all these songs share a similar architecture and construction with each focusing on a different aspect of what makes the genre work. Nervosa also doesn’t shy away from slowing down the tempo, using melody or exciting leads and solos. Admittedly, Prika Amaral’s solos don’t nearly feature as prominently as they should/could, and a lot of the songs would stand out more with two (or more) lead breaks instead of the current single one they have. The rhythm sections tend to blend in as the record progresses, although the sheer level of intensity and enthusiasm the three girls muster does indeed put many of the band’s international competitors to shame. While admirable in its consistency it wears thin quick, and its abundant enthusiasm and energy aren’t enough to mask its more glaring blunders.

‘Death!’, the lead single for this record, is of course instantly recognizable with its playful bounciness during the verses, and ripping early death metal chugging during the chorus where both Lira and Amaral shriek the song title over and over again. As with the other tracks of the album the biting vocals, constant percussive propulsion and Amaral’s spirited solo’ing are the highlights. Much like their once-relevant country mates in Sepultura the girls deal with the socio-political and economic situation of their home country Brazil. Another headscratcher is ‘Uranio Em Nys’, which only truly thrashes during the gang shouted chorus, but otherwise is a two-minute late 90s death metal track that proves conclusively that these girls can take on the likes of Krisiun or Rebaelliun should they so desire. Right now the band doesn’t seem very interested in flexing its compositional muscle, as they are too busy thrashing out and having a good time. It will be interesting to see how Amaral’s writing grows in the years to come. Just like how it will be interesting to see what impact Ferraz will have on future material.

“Victim Of Yourself” was recorded at MR. Som Studios with Marcello Pompeu (of legendary early Brazilian metal band Korzus) at the helm.  While it is Pitchu Ferraz that currently sits behind the kit, it was in fact former drummer Fernanda Terra who sat in and wrote drums for the sessions. As of this writing it is hard to actually pinpoint how Pitchu Ferraz figures into it all. Much of the material was probably written when Fernanda Terra was still in the band, and Ferraz probably added her own touch to the patterns written by Terra. Ferraz seems capable enough on her own, yet on the next album will she truly show her merit. The artwork was rendered by the much in-demand Andrei Bouzikov, who has become somewhat of a modern day Ed Repka for the still incredibly popular retro-thrash movement. On the whole the album is a satisfactory, but samey sounding affair that would have benefitted tremendously from some trimming.

72b18995d8772ded5b27c45bb160c952

For starters a couple of the two minutes songs could have been excised. The breakneck tempo and lack of compositional range also become burdensome as the album progresses. It’s clear Amaral has a knack for writing strong riffs yet her songcraft isn’t on the same level of her inspirations, especially not pre-“Chaos AD” Sepultura, or the early Metallica catalogue. The biggest strike against “Victim Of Yourself” is that it’s a victim of its singular objective: to whip the listener into submission by sheer force. That isn’t much of a problem for a show, or a live recording – but for a studio outing (where everything is analyzed and scrutinized more closely), it is a definite shortcoming. On the whole however it is a well-realized lovenote to the legends of yesteryear, and it comes highly recommended as such. Just wait until these girls truly get down to business…

cover-metallica03.jpg

 

The third Metallica record “Master Of Puppets” is revered and held up to an almost god-like status. It is named as a pinnacle of thrash metal almost as much as Slayer’s venerable “Reign In Blood” record (although I personally prefer the album before and after, “Hell Awaits” and “South Of Heaven”). There are superficial similarities between the two. It is true that both share the same sense of intensity, urgency and songwriting cohesion – but both records set out to fulfill diametrically opposite objectives. “Master Of Puppets” was the second of two albums that the band recorded at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark with famed producer Flemming Rasmussen. With an identical structure in terms of pacing it is a solid refinement of the album that preceded it. Sadly, it was the last Metallica album to feature legendary bass guitarist Cliff Burton.

One of the first things you’ll notice is that “Master Of Puppets” is heavier, crunchier and faster than the previous album – although it shares the same construction. The “Ride the Lightning” sound is further perfected and honed into a number of punchy cuts that retain the same storytelling qualities but feel more confrontational and direct. “Master Of Puppets” expands upon the socio-political themes of questioning authority, the abuse of power and breaking free of herd-like behaviours and groupthink, while cutting down the literary influenced songs to a sole number with ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’. The musicianship has improved, notably Ulrich’s drumming is at its most violent, Burton’s rumbling bass lines feature more prominently than ever before and Hammett’s wailing solos are among this era’s best. Hetfield delivers his most spirited vocal performance.

Metallica-Younger-Days-Early-Photo-920x422There are a couple of memorable passages on this album, many near and dear to any self-respecting metalhead’s heart. The albums opens with the acoustic intro from ‘Battery’, there’s the emotional lead break on the title track and its subsequent ‘Master! Master!’ chorus than any metal fan can recite by heart. ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’ includes more acoustics and ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ opens with a fragile clean guitar piece that is highly atmospheric and touching. ‘Disposable Heroes’ has its ‘Die! Die! Die!’ finale, and that seems to be a callback to the preceding album’s ‘Creeping Death’ song. ‘Leper Messiah’ is based around one crunchy riff and closer ‘Damage Inc.’ has its catchy chorus and is propelled forward by its immensely rugged central riff.

An absolute highpoint is ‘Orion’, Metallica’s third foray into instrumental pieces after ‘Call Of Ktulu’ and ‘(Anesthesia) - Pulling Teeth’. As with the preceding record this gargantuan sonic construction is built around material the band wrote but couldn’t use in its traditional song material. It is an atmospheric piece that forms the ideal segue between ‘Leper Messiah’ and the band’s ideological vessel ‘Damage Inc.’. Metallica never sounded more charged than they did here as riffs fly by at a record pace and some of the tempo changes are the absolute best the band have ever penned. “Master Of Puppets” shows a band in control of its instruments, knowledgeable of its skills and with their bodies working as one towards a clearly defined goal: to be the best band at all costs.

The songs cover a wide variety of topics. ‘Battery’ is a track about self-empowerment and overcoming adversity through strife. ‘Master Of Puppets’, the much loved title track for this album, deals with throes of cocaine addiction and the damping effect it has on the mind, ‘The Thing That Should Not Be’ concerns the H.P. Lovecraft story “Shadow Over Innsmouth” and ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ is based on Ken Kesey's novel “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest”. ‘Disposable Heroes’ is about the abuse of power in times of war and about able-bodied young men sent into trenches to die as gnarly old men use them as peons to forward their own shady motives. ‘Leper Messiah’ questions the ethical motives of organized religion and televangelism (much in the same way as Genesis’ hit number ‘Jesus He Knows Me’ did) and concludingly ‘Damage Inc.’ is a self-glorifying hymn about Metallica’s stature as reigning practitioners of their genre. These lyrics recall the days of “Kill Em All”, although they are written in a more mature fashion.

Although Metallica were already something of an established brand through rigorous international touring by the time this album hit the shelves, it is sobering to know that the initial songwriting sessions were completed in a garage in El Cerrito, California by James Hetfield and Lars Ulrich. Only after these initial writing sessions were completed were Cliff Burton and Kirk Hammett invited to add their own ideas to the basic tracks. Despite the glamorous life of excess and debauchery these multimillionaire rockstars live now, they once were one of the many starving young musicians trying to carve their way in the busy Bay Area metal scene. Once again the album was recorded at Sweet Silence Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark with famed producer Flemming Rasmussen, the record marks a period of creative and personal stability for the band. The cover artwork by Don Brautigam appears to be inspired by the Henri-Chappelle American Cemetery and Memorial in Liege, the French-speaking region of Belgium. Interesting to note is that Hammett produced Death Angel’s 1985 demo tape “Kill As One” in the downtime between “Ride the Lightning” and this highly revered album.

Given the similarity in construction and pacing it would probably have served as a template for all Metallica records if it weren’t for the untimely passing of bass guitarist Cliff Burton during the touring campaign for this album. In fact, this album and the one before it are the only Metallica albums in the classic canon to be structurally identical. The follow-up “…And Justice For All” pretty much follows the template as well, although cracks start to appear in the formula due to a lack of Burton’s guidance. “Master Of Puppets” marks the end of Metallica’s classic stint, although the follow-up still is worthy of the praise it gets for pushing the band into a more technical realm. This album is rightly considered a classic in its genre given its history and enduring legacy.