Review Summary: A nightmarish thrash metal assault you won’t easily escape from, Terminal Terror shows Holy Moses at their darkest and most mature.
By the time the early 1990’s came the landscape of heavy metal were changing and the golden age of thrash metal was reaching its endpoint. But before the uprising of alternative musical scenes that washed them away, most thrash metal bands actually managed to reach their creative highpoint in these years. Some bands did that by putting their musical complexity to the nth degree like Megadeth, Dark Angel or Sadus. Some went even faster and more visceral, actually stepping on the borderline that separates thrash and death metal like Demolition Hammer or Sodom. And some did a more thoughtful, mature and musically enriched yet accessible approach to their songwriting like Metallica or Kreator with “Coma of Souls”. After releasing their breakout album “Finished with the Dogs” in 1987, Aachen based German thrashers Holy Moses spent the upcoming few years releasing albums that were good in their own right, yet still managed to fall short in the standard that they unintentionally set for themselves, like if something was holding them back from reaching true potential again. That certainly cannot be said here, as “Terminal Terror” shows a band reenergized, more serious and firing on all cylinders.
The interesting thing is that musically “Terminal Terror” shows very close resemblance to Slayer’s 1988 classic “South of Heaven”. Similarly to that record, this one as well maintains the aggression, the intensity and some of the speed that formed the band’s sound but also infused that with slower, doomy riffs, more structured songwriting and a sinister atmosphere that gives the songs an edgier and terrifying sound. It’s not the sheer face-ripping aggression of “Finished with the Dogs”, it’s a more controlled and hellish assault that affects you even long after the last chords.
The album opens with “Nothing for my Mum” and don’t think for a second that you are in for some fun and cheery rocker, as this track is easily one of the most furious and vicious tracks Holy Moses recorded in their entire career. Andy Classen’s guitar rips through the speakers like a chainsaw with an insanely fast main riff while former Living Death and later year Sodom drummer Atomic Steif pounds on the drums in a way that resembles closer to a fully automatic machine gun. This track also shows that “Terminal Terror” is provided with the best production a Holy Moses album possessed so far. The guitars are heavy, thick and sometimes downright chilling, the bass is juicy, the drums are sharp and Sabina Classen’s vocals have never sounded better, hell in my opinion she does some of her best work on this album, combining angry shouting, death metal like grunting and venomous snarls thus becoming the perfect accompany to the cold and vicious music.
The upcoming tracks are also musical highlights on their own as the band shows some of their some of their most inspired songwriting with a well-constructed barrage of slower and faster, catchy and less catchy but more devastating riffs. “Two Sides Terror” and “Theotocy (Terminal Terror)” are perfect examples of this, as both songs start out with slow and sludgy only to dissolve into a fast chaos around midway. This is a technique that regularly returns on the album, but Andy Classen guitar work provides enough variety in the approach that doesn’t becomes boring. And speaking of guitar work, Andy certainly shines here not only on the rhythm section but the leads as well. The solos are more sporadic but much more effective as they hit a perfect balance between chaotic vibrato-infused screeches and melodic sweeps.
“Creation of Violation” opens with eerie sound effects and a young girl calling for her parents before exploding into a violent and absolutely infectious mid-tempo riff that sound like something Jeff Hanneman would have written in his heyday. This song also has some really effective and smart twin guitar parts that adds up to the mood and freshness of the song. But that is twice as true with “The Pool of Blood” that build up with some classical violins before the guitars start to play the exact same melody but transforming into a kick-ass thrash riff that grabs you with its speed and hook. It is one hell of an addictive adrenalin-fueled track and quickly became one of my favorites. “Distress and Death” follows the formula of “Two Sides Terror” by mixing up slower and more maniac stuff, “Adult Machine” is a schizophrenic vortex with some truly unorthodox and frantic instrumentalization not to mention a haunting closing with distorted solos and a female chorus echoing with the marching rhythms. The album closes with “Malicious Race” and “Tradition of Fatality” two old-school, no holds barred thrashers that are closer to the Teutonic roots of Holy Moses but manages to be killer tracks as well.
As if the stark production, the sometimes grueling, sometime crushing guitar work and Sabina’s brutal presence alone wasn’t an indicator, the overall sound of the whole album easily makes it the darkest and most mature record they made so far. And the thematic approach to the lyrics shows that as well: Violence, warfare, terrorism, visions of psychotic mass killings, child abuse…the lyrics might not be very well written (after all we’re talking about a German band) but they are executed with stark and effective simplicity creating an aura of pure nihilism. Also like every other Holy Moses record, this one doesn’t drags down, with 9 songs and 36 minutes it keeps a brisk and focused pace which is perfectly suitable for this band.
Ultimately “Terminal Terror” is one of the finest achievements of Holy Moses, a major step up for their previous records and a perfect continuation of their developed sound. They may be an underrated and often overlooked group the annals of thrash metal, but that doesn’t mean they cannot transform pure cruelty and sheer insanity in musical form just as good as their peers. They may night have an instantly recognizable classic like Kreator, Sodom or Destruction, but this record is proof they are capable of releasing a title that brings delight to any die-hard fan of this genre.