Usurper
Lords of the Permafrost

I first heard about Usurper, via Metal Maniacs magazine, roughly about twenty years ago. The band had released their second LP, Skeletal Season, in 1999 and were due to follow it up with their third full-length, Necronemisis, in 2000. As it always does, extreme metal was once again going through stylistic changes and Chicago’s Usurper was catching the attention of fans and critics alike for presenting a breath of fresh air, wrapped in a blanket of familiarity. That familiarity being an awesome dose of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost influence within their deathly and blackened thrashings. While technically, the band wasn’t giving listeners anything they hadn’t already heard, they were bucking what was then currently popular within extreme metal, i.e. Scandinavian black metal, power metal, and even the already emerging NWOAHM/metal-core as well. Though Usurper made a few more dents to the door of exteme metal stardom in the form of Twilight Dominion and Cryptobeast, the band failed to truly blow said door open to what they could have possibly achieved after gaining a good amount of attention and praise for their first few albums, and by 2007 the fire had burned out and Usurper had called it a day.

Fast forward a dozen years, and Usurper is back. Lords of the Permafrost is the band’s first offering in fourteen years, and with 3/4ths of the line-up returning to the fold, the band continues in fine form , making it sound as if their hiatus had never happened. Though happen it did, and the boys of Usurper have only grown older and wiser in knowing what they wanted to achieve with Lords of the Permafrost. Not only has the band trimmed back a lot of the fat from previous releases, but the group strikes in a much more straightforward death-thrash aesthetic akin to something much like (older) Skeletonwitch, though in somewhat comparitive style more than comparitive sound. Not too many actual black metal leanings can be found in modern Usurper, and even the Frost-isms that are present are done, for the most part, in a less overt presentation. Usurper in 2019 is more of a Slayer meets Celtic Frost meest Deceased in a back alley bar fight with a tad bit of the more straightforward/ traditional moments of influence from bands like Anacrusis and Believer.

Lords of the Permafrost is more than just solid, and at a thirty-eight minute run time, it’s almost the perfect length. Unfortunately, the album is clearly back-loaded , with the record’s last half being better than the first half. Not really a huge problem, as all of the songs on LotP are good, but the true winners of the LP reside on the albums latter offerings. While Lords of the Permafrost starts off safely with the Slayer-esque thrashings of “Skull Splitter” and follows suit with the Slayer-y/Frost-y vibes of “Beyond the Walls of Ice”, albeit wrapped in a feeling akin to The Grotesquery, though with a thrash centered aesthetic as opposed to death metal, it’s that aforementioned second half of Lords of the Permafrost that will ultimately bring the listeners back for more.

With the onset of “Warlock Moon” things start getting a bit more interesting and engaging. The track is a chunky, upbeat, in your face, thrasher with some great blasts and fills accommodating some blackened tremolo runs. Throw in some rocking swagger around the halfway mark and a Kenn Nardi (Anacrusis) like scream, and this bad boy is quite the burner. At just about three minutes and twenty-four seconds, the track does its job perfectly, getting in there, kicking your ass, and getting out.

A straight-up rocking feel a`la the NWOBHM starts “Gargoyle” out before slyly shifting into some quality death thrash, reminding me of the mighty Deceased more than a few times. The song takes you on quite the trip, as that NWOBHM swagger rears its head again, but this time mixed with an OverKill punch to it, ultimately, bouncing back, to and fro, to previous riffs. “Black Tide Rising” ends up being a midpaced thrasher for most of its five minutes, but it flows well and is nicely put together. There’s a Frost-y OverKill-ish feel that seems to permeate with that aforementioned vibe of The Grotesquery. The track does shift into speedier terrritory towards the end, even managing to throw in some good old late ’80’s death blasts.

Lords of the Permafrost closes out on what is probably my favorite track off the album, “Mutants of the Iron Age”. It’s a fast, blasty thrasher that really opens up when vocalist, Dan “Tyrantor”, hits that Anacrusis– like scream and that fat groove takes over, at times even  reminding me of Mortification‘s “Scrolls of the Megilloth”, especially in the vocal phrasing of the song’s chorus. The 2:22 mark brings a tasty change-up that leads to Ghoul-ish fields, lending just enough off-kilter-ness to keep the track fresh and exciting. This review ended up taking a few different shapes before becoming what you just read, as my opinion of Lords of the Permafrost ran the gamut from being unimpressed, to being overly impressed, to now being quite firm in my stance that LotP is definitely a solid album that is both commendable and enjoyable. It’s probably going to end up in more honorable mention lists than in top-ten albums at the end of the year, but when it’s all said and done, it’s simply good to have Usurper back in the game.

[Visit the band's website]
Written by Kristofor Allred
June 11th, 2019

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