When any subgenre rides a wave of resurgence, there will be expected jumpers on the bandwagon–or “Thrash Wagon” as dubbed by Tear It Up in 2001. That same year, Municipal Waste emerged. Obviously we know their path to metal royalty. But for every Waste, there were a bunch of false-hearted dudes in flip brims, white high tops, and denim vests.
As the skate-core bands of early 2000s (Crucial Unit, WxHxNx?, Holier Than Thou?, etc) undoubtedly told masses it was acceptable to acknowledge and celebrate the thrash forefathers, others went full throttle into the metal realm, nodding to known bands and under-appreciated ones like D.R.I., Exodus, Death Angel, Forbidden, Destruction, and Kreator. Some of these bands achieved grand success while not being afraid to infuse other elements of metal (Ramming Speed, Vektor, and Toxic Holocaust). But even after the retro-wave had hit shore and ebbed, new-school bands like Havok, Bonded By Blood, Fueled By Fire, Bio-Cancer, Suppressive Fire, and Italy’s Ultra-Violence remained.
Ultra-Violence dropped their debut in 2012, only six years ago. That EP, Wildcrash, depicted the predictable beastly humanoid mutation over an apocalyptic deathscape. But for their two following full lengths, Privilege to Overcome (2013) and Deflect the Flow (2016), the band extracted imagery from Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange, Alex and Dim and the droogs racing in the durango95 and menacing the night. Operation Misdirection’s cover maintains the theme with a vibrant illustration of Alex’s pried open eye and a doctor with a needle reflected in his iris, provided by Ed Repka Artwork. This is used as a bold metaphor for the current global political atmosphere.
Ultra-Violence have always offered a crisp, sharp production sound to the quartet’s take on modern thrash. The enormous change on Operation Misdirection is the replacement of the rhythm section. Changing both the drummer and the bassist is a stark change for a thrash (or any) band. Founders Loris Castiglia (vocals, guitars) and Andrea Vacchiotti (lead guitars) welcome Andrea Lorenti (bass) and Francesco La Rosa (drums). The band tapped Simone Mularoni (The Modern Age Slavery, Labyrinth, Ancient Bards, Trick Or Treat) for recording, mixing, and mastering.
As the new dynamic looks to find itself, super tight riffs open the album on “Cadaver Decomposition Island” with a chunky, bouncy bassline intermittently jumping. The seven-minute opener is replete with time changes, showcasing smart songwriting. This is especially seen at the halfway point, where the song takes on a new life, slow and grandiose achieved with an ethereal keyboard, mid-paced drums and squealing lead guitar. A piano outro takes over a minute. The yearning to display their intention is understandable. But it is an odd choice as the opener, especially considering the next track is titled “Welcome to the Freakshow” and is a straight thrash rager, no frills, and lands at under three minutes. “Cadaver Decomposition Island” would be great as mid-album track while “Welcome to the Freakshow” is clearly an album opener.
Some more melodic approaches surface in Operation Misdirection. Track three, “My Fragmented Self,” puts the band back in the six-minute area. At this point Ultra-Violence’s sound is clearly established. They are never too technical but still exhibit talent with the Vacchiotti’s ripping leads and divebombs. La Rosa’s drums like to play and dictate time-changes to keep it interesting.
Despite that one can argue shaving a minute off of the longer tracks, Ultra-Violence can hold your attention. The brightest aspect is Lorenti’s bass work paying homage to the slap sound of Suicidal Tendencies. This flourishes in distinct clean production; riffs are taut strings useless against Vacchiotti’s quickly moving fingers, but the riffs never get grimy and thick (like Testament or Sodom).
The middle of the album gets a touch weird. “The Acrobat” is a shorter, punky/rocking, upbeat track. There is certainly skilled guitar work and if it weren’t for tuning/production it would sound much like recent UK Oi! The song makes for a good drinking tune for sure. Then we get a slap bass breakdown before jumping to double bass drums and gang chants.
“Nomophobia” follows and is a bad ass scorcher. While it is a six-minute track, the song is packed with fury and tight manic riffing. But the bridge reels back with a short, slow part before charging again. This is maybe my favorite track. The barrage of blast beats and dive bombs at 3:45 renders an explosive feel. The final third of the song is a bunch of haymakers, ending with a sick breakdown. This tracks crushes and holds its weight for the duration as an aggressive offering.
And then comes another odd choice, a cover of Dire Straits’ “Money for Nothing.” They emulate the intro perfectly, the synth and the echoing drums into the ultra-recognizable riff. They make the riff rock, then speed up the verse. If done in the same tone as the original (sardonic tongue firmly in cheek), the punch lands squarely. If done just as some cheesy retro ‘aren’t we ironically cool?’ cover… not so much. Admittedly, I love this song (the original). But I was 8 when it was released, and it was a rare treat for my father and I to like the same song (Anthrax was not allowed). We will still blast it in a car 33 years later. Playing this LP about the fifth time through, it has certainly grown on me and is a cool choice. It shows how gritty the Dire Straits classic was when it was written. Also, I want my music to reflect life and working class ethics. Thrash and crossover was always the working man’s metal. Maybe it had fantastical imagery or lyrics, but it was about hanging out and not being arena rock Gods. This lands.
A two-minute transition pieces leads us to the martini shot, “Shining Perpetuity.” This six-and-a-half minute closer is frantic and tight. The frenzied music pushes and pushes. An excellent track here. Castiglia’s growls are commanding as they have been all album, never registering high notes, just what I like. After the first verse (1:39), the song launches again into that slow ascension they are doing now (at 2:00). The thrash returns.
There are times when Ultra-Violence strip down and absolutely tear through the speakers, like a flaming freight train. Operation Misdirection exhibits an experimentation and pushing of boundaries which can be risky for bands. But the new spots of musical stretches and melodies work for the band. They’ve done acoustic slow parts before, but the grand atmospheric melodic plateaus are different.
Ultra-Violence accomplish much as they grow to define their own sound in such a defined genre. This band do proper thrash with fresh energy and anger. The A Clockwork Orange imagery is always sentimental tug, securing an affection for the band. So, they don’t have to be the most technical or grow each album. But Ultra-Violence do it anyway.
RIYL: Dust Bolt, Crisix, Septik Onslaught
OWES: Destruction, Whiplash, Exodus, Nuclear Assault, Overkill, Forbidden