Review Summary: Savage, heavy and angry, At War got absolutely everything right on their masterclass debut album
I have always failed to understand how albums such as this one with riffs hotter than Satan's cum and the drumming skills to match get so criminally underrated and remain underground. At War are a little known German thrash band that could never hope to compete in the same leagues as bands such as Sodom, Kreator, Tankard and Destruction in terms of success but possess every bit as much skill that those bands do. They initially released two albums, before breaking up when thrash appeared dead in the mid-1990's, and then made a return alongside the new resurgence of the thrash movement in the late 2000's. Their discography has not got one blemish nor desecration in it, so why does this band remain so unknown despite the quality that is displayed around every turn?
Ordered To Kill is arguably the strongest of this band's trilogy, although their discography is so rich in quality that this title could easily be bestowed upon each of their releases. This is not a particularly long album but every scintillating second delivers a swift and strong kick directly to the scrotum of any unprepared metal head. The riffs are varied and thoroughly enjoyable, with their guitarist showing a masterful control over their instrument by laying down a variety of galloping riffs during the constantly evolving songs that enjoy this album is never pinned down to just one speed. Monotony is not anywhere in sight during Ordered To Kill, and instead this band is one that knows exactly how to take their listeners on a ride. In addition to the varied riffing showed on tracks such as the title track and album highlight Eat Lead, the soloing shows a great degree of talent. Whilst the solos here are primarily the thrash norm of shredding as fast as the guitarist can, Shawn Helsel proudly shows off his ability to nail this style so much better than the majority of bands in the genre.
If the abundance of powerful riffing and insanely quick solos are not enough to persuade a metal fan to listen to this release, then be prepared for the rest of the instruments as they are no slouch either. Dave Stone pounds away at the drum kit to great effect, with some incredibly good and creative mid tempo beats found throughout the mid section of Ordered To Kill, whilst the obligatory Slayer-sounding thrash beats are present and correct where necessary. The bass work is audible throughout due to a nice production job that keeps everything sounding tight; in fact the production is abnormally good for an underground thrash debut. This is still a very raw sounding release, but the drumming and guitar work both have nice tones to them whilst the bass rumbles away throughout without becoming buried. The vocals are rough grunts of savage hatred that are frequently heard and, unlike so many bands, the production here does not place them right at the forefront of the album. Instead, the vocals are treated as yet another instrument and are mixed accordingly.
One thing that this release gets right is its atmosphere. Whether it is the morose, dark sounding opening to Dawn Of Death or the bleak punk-inspired fifth track The Hammer, or perhaps the chilling German sound clips that open up Ilsa, At War never let the listener miss the cruel and powerful sound they are going for. The war messages are delivered with painful accuracy both through the lyrical content and the music itself, and this is arguably one of the best war-themed albums ever recorded. All eight songs recreate the bleak portrait of war and show off all of the dark sides of the subject masterfully and for this, the band truly deserves applause. If one was to strive to find one thing to criticize about this album it would perhaps be that at times the vocals get a little monotonous but they really suit the outlook on war that this release is trying to go for, and for that they should be commended. At War's debut is a spectacular take on thrash metal that never lets up, and for that reason I highly recommend it to any fan of the genre.