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It's Once Again Time To Split The Atom

Posted by THE DUKE on May 31, 2012 at 7:05 PM

Deathmask-Split The Atom

1986 Killerwatt Records

It’s been awhile since I’ve last made an entry in the metal journal. Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in life’s daily routines, and not realize that so much time has passed. But nevertheless, I’m back with another entry in the journal. This time, the topic is a classic, speed metal band from New Jersey called Deathmask.

The band started out in the 70s under the moniker, Savage Choir. They had a few demo recordings, but it wasn’t until the band found a singer named Steve Michaels in the 80s, that things really started to take off for the band. The band was signed to a UK label called Killerwatt Records to release their debut album entitled, “Split The Atom.” The label then decided to alter the album’s artwork and change the band’s name to Deathmask. This is an abridged version of the band history. For a more complete version, check out the band’s bio via their Official Webpage (http://www.deathmaskonline.com/bio/).

Now let’s get down to business on a review of the album itself. The album is speedy, the riffs are mean, and the vocals, savage. Deathmask has been compared to Exciter in many metal circles, but I don’t see this comparison as something that the band itself was aiming for when recording the album. There is a natural tendency to group all bands that play fast and straight-ahead, and whose singers produce aggressive vocals into the Exciter camp. In the end, I think that the aforementioned are the only similarities. Deathmask have honed their craft playing music that at times reaches blistering speed without attaining a thrash tag. The guitar solos are tasty and more intricate than someone would normally find in this type of genre. This is basically what speed metal sounds like when the technicians use Priest and Sabbath as blueprints to forge their steel. Vocalist Steve Michaels has a voice that can hit the high notes, but it is when he settles into a more raspy approach to his singing that something special is added to the delivery.

I’m just going to touch on a few tracks from the album that seem to highlight the quality that this album possesses. When the listener spins this piece of plastic (vinyl or CD), he or she is immediately hit in the face with the blistering attack of the opener, “Split The Atom.” It’s like walking out of an air-conditioned house and being hit in the face by 98 degree heat. The song is straight-ahead and aggressive with raspy, high-pitched screams. This song then gives way to “I’m Dangerous,” a track that was included on a classic B horror film in the 80s called “Zombie Nightmare.” This song may actually be one of the catchiest and most memorable tracks on the whole album. It is on this track that the piercing, raspy vocals are used to the fullest extent and to the greatest effect. The song centers on a reckless individual who is hell bent on killing someone. The predator is looking to randomly choose someone to pay the ultimate price for being unlucky enough to cross his path. The songs “Hellrider” and “Death Has No Boundaries” are other highlights on the record. Both are highly aggressive tracks that the band seems to rip through with conviction and purpose. My personal favorite on the disc is the song “Walk Alone.” The song has a slow build up into an absolutely killer, mid-paced riff. I really love it when this band slowed things down to a mid-tempo. It is at this point that the power and the crunch just seem to come to the forefront.

I can honestly say that the only down side to this release was that the album had to end. I really wish that I had been afforded the pleasure to hear this album when it was initially released in 1986. The production is pretty nice for an 80s release, and has a nice bass-driven punch to it. It is quite a shame that Killerwatt Records did not adequately support this release. This album was only available as a high-priced import and in limited quantities. Who knows how well this would have done if it had been given wings. Instead, the label seemed to have clipped what wings it had. Well anyway, what’s done is done, but through a revisionist approach, this album can now be appreciated for what it is, which is a classic, speed and power metal gem. The album was remastered and released on CD by Retrospect Records including bonus demo tracks. For a very reasonable price, you can own this CD in all its 80s metal glory. Just check it out at this link: http://www.retrospectrecords.com/products/deathmask.html. So what are you waiting for, click on the link and order it now. Oh…by the way, the band has reformed, and are back in search of plunder in 2011/2012. Keep your eyes peeled for the upcoming journal entry on the band’s self-released 2011 comeback album, “Sitting In The Dark.”

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