STRIKE MASTER – Tangram Apocalypse

On their earliest albums, Mexican thrashers Strike Master conveyed a great energy, but their material was often hampered by a thin production sound. In some ways, this made them no different to many of their musical heroes; after all, a lot of the second division thrash albums released in the late 80s sounded pretty cheap, and it was often the bands’ energies in the live field that secured them a fan base. By the time Strike Master released their self titled album in 2017, there was obviously an increased budget, as well as a bigger bass sound driving their material, but there was still a nagging feeling that this talented trio were capable of producing something even better.

Their 2023 release finally makes good on those many years of low budget promise. Its eight tracks still convey the kinds of speed driven thrills that old school thrash fans deserve, but the arrangements are bigger, the song writing better, and – most importantly – the band now has a massive musical confidence that allows them to temper the relentless speed and thrash metal core with a few more interesting traits without losing any intensity.

Released as a single ahead of the album, the lead track ‘Crystallized’ is a perfect example of the new and improved Strike Master musical assault, since they take the heart of the classic Bay Area thrash sound and shake it vigorously. To begin with, the number busies itself with the expected jagged riffs delivered at full pelt, but their tones are much dirtier than before; they’ve gone from sounding like a band recreating old Overkill records with the enthusiasm of the young Sepultura to sounding like a band that could take on peak Testament. The guitar sound is massively hefty from the outset, and coupled with some flawless drumming, it really grabs the listener’s attention, before the straight up thrashing is offset by a couple of prog metal twists and a slower metalcore breakdown that really reinforces any idea that these guys have really tightened up. The vocals are still a little iffy, but even those have grown in stature, with frontman KMU’s delivery having more volume to suit. Overall, with its combo of taut, complex riffs and a great blend of classic thrash and even the odd melodic death metal backing vocal, it sets the sound for the album firmly in place. If you like this, you’ll certainly enjoy the rest of the material Strike Master have in store.

Even faster, ‘We Die Tonight’ applies thrashing guitars to grinding basses for an absolutely brutal intro, before dropping back to reveal a hard edged groove that mixes hardcore and thrash for an unrelenting riff attack. KMU’s delivery is heavily accented and affected, but beneath that, there are hints of the more hardcore influenced vocals from Anthrax’s ‘Stomp 442’, and although that should be enough to sell the track, as before, its the little flourishes that make it genuinely exciting. Between the full on thrashing, you’ll find busy circular riffs, ringing notes absolutely cutting through a wall of noise, and eventually a slow, stomping groove used effectively to underscore a huge hardcore section. If it weren’t clear enough during ‘Crystallized’, what KMU lacks in vocal finesse, he makes up for with absolutely amazing guitar chops. Between his full shred and drummer Konspirator’s relentless assault, Strike Master are a genuine musical force. ‘Lost Within Force’ continues on a similarly brilliant speed oriented, destructive musical path, showcasing some brilliant hardcore tinged thrash, often dominated by a semi-sludgy deep grinding sound that borrows from the early thrash/death crossover of early Sepultura. As before, though, there’s some brilliant moments cutting through, and a couple of nods to math metal keep the riffs sharp edged and interesting. On the negative side, a really forced vocal makes the track even harder on the ears than need be, but this is balanced out by another well constructed lead break and a very brief interlude where descending notes add an unexpected old school metal melody. In addition, a faint influence from groove metal during the climax further shows a fantastically tight trio of musicians able to turn their collective hand to even more great riffs. In short, this is great.

Stretching out a little, the lengthier ‘Black To The Future’ finds time to share a dirty guitar sound during a far more melodic intro, where traces of early Machine Head lead into something sounding like a Metallica stomp with better drumming, and bassist Walter offsets the melodic guitar work with a very pleasing grinding noise. Any concession to melody and mid tempo grooves never last, of course, and by the two minute mark, the lads are going hell for leather through an onslaught of thrash riffs. In time, though, these actually get offset by another unexpected twist when the metalcore of early Trivium puts in a brief appearance. The way each of these different metallic aspects are blended feels very natural and it’s all hugely entertaining, but things improve even more when a stomping groove underscores some great lead work. Overall, it creates a five and a half minute epic that manages to throw most of Strike Master’s best features into one mahoosive musical blender, with great results.

Unfortunately, ‘Heavy Metal’ doesn’t really fit the album. It’s the one time the band slows down to a mid tempo for more than a minute, and although a selection of really massive riffs on loan from Testament are enjoyable, they are let down by being coupled with some truly appalling lyrics. It’s certainly meant to be taken with tongue in cheek, but lyrics concerning “sex with Satan”, watching “your soul burst into fire” and “the stench of human flesh” are terrible, and by the time KMU starts to sing about masturbating, it all gets a bit too Bad News for words. It just sounds like bad clichéd metal that non-fans of the genre wouldn’t even spot as a bit of a laugh – and who would blame them? This really isn’t funny, and stuck in the middle of an otherwise excellent disc, it won’t do Strike Master any favours. Luckily, there’s ‘Prototype God’ close at hand to pick up the slack, and this number’s mix of traditional thrash, hardcore breakdowns and slightly off-kilter rhythms is peak Strike, even before the extended instrumental breaks put in an appearance. Those who like the harder end of the thrash scale will almost certainly marvel at the precision drumming here, and KMU’s chosen lead guitar work offers a really tasteful mix of trad metal shredding and atonal hardcore tinged notes. There are a lot of musical traits recycled from other tracks, obviously, but the execution is absolutely spot on.

This album is only eight songs and approximately thirty four minutes long, but that’s all that’s needed to score a direct musical hit before fatigue sets in. Strike Master have rarely done anything by halves, and finally armed with a huge production sound to bring great material to life, they’re certainly not taking any prisoners this time around. In terms of absolutely blistering thrash metal, ‘Tangram Apocalypse’ could stake a claim for being one of 2023’s best discs.

August 2023