Rigor Mortis
Slaves to the Grave

Despite the integrality of palm mutes in thrash metal, Rigor Mortis‘ lauded, 1988, self-titled debut was at its core, little more than a blitz of rapid tremolo riffs, performed with an unfailing precision and feverish velocity that could only come from Mike Scaccia. It’s almost as if he never considered palm muting worth his time; all the better for him, because even over 25 years later, Rigor Mortis remains a shining example of youthful vigour, and one of the high points of thrash.

After the band’s dissolution in 1991, I would have never expected another album from them, let alone with founding vocalist Bruce Corbitt (who was dropped for their second album in favour of the unquestionably inferior Doyle Bright). With everything going well for them – a bunch of reunion tours with the original lineup, eventually leading to the recording of a new album entitled Slaves to the Grave – it only made the sudden passing of Scaccia all the more tragic. To add salt to the wound, most record labels were unwilling to release the finished album since the remaining members of the band had made a decision not to tour or produce another album without Scaccia.

Yet, against all odds, the band managed to release Slaves to the Grave themselves, by way of a successful Indiegogo campaign. It comes as no surprise that Scaccia still thrashed harder and faster than anyone else, even after all these years. From the wicked note choices on “Flesh for Flies”, or the infectious lyrics of “Rain of Ruin” (“We kill for power we kill for greed / We kill sometimes just to watch ’em bleed”), it all comes together as a tremolo-filled package that’s distinctly Rigor Mortis. Some of the more ambitious efforts include “Bloodbath”, with some downright excellent snare hit placing (it tends to reminds me of Morbid Saint‘s similarly accented “Crying for Death”), or the acrobatic acoustics of “Sacramentum Gladitorum”.

It’s a sad inevitability that the biggest thing holding this album back is its mediocre production. The modern, compressed sound attempts to reconcile the album’s existence with the year 2014 but this just doesn’t sit well with their style; gone are the razor sharp, treble-loaded guitars and trashy drums of 1988, what we have now is a guitar tone that’s fat and heavy but not really imposing, as well as a drum sound that’s completely flat. Corbitt’s venomous sneer has also been significantly subdued, in both volume and belligerence.

It also pains me to say that whenever Rigor Mortis aren’t operating at full speed, they tend to fumble. That’s not to say they’ve never slowed down before – one need only turn to classics like “Bodily Dismemberment”, “Die in Pain”, or even the joke song “Spivey”, to feel the unbridled energy and punky attitude the band once possessed. The ‘slow’ songs here endeavour to recapture that youth, but most of the time it’s a lost cause. The closer “Ludus Magnus” deserves special mention, as it sees the band attempting a nine-minute progressive epic, complete with spoken word sections about joining a gladiatorial training school. Now, Rigor Mortis have never really been serious when it comes to their lyrical themes, but there comes a point where you have to draw a line between the tongue-in-cheek and the deadpan serious; with this song (which is pretty much the complete opposite of “Spivey” in terms of seriousness), Rigor Mortis have gone so far past that line I can only hope this is some kind of ironic joke with which to wrap up their career.

If there’s one thing Slaves to the Grave is not, however, it’s a cash-in. It’s embarrassing how much trouble the band had to go through to get this album out for Scaccia’s sake. Now that all is said and done, Rigor Mortis are still the undisputed kings of tremolo thrash, though this doesn’t necessarily hold true for all tempos. Long live Scaccia, long live Rigor Mortis… but maybe not this album.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Joseph Y
November 26th, 2014

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