Review Summary: Not the classic it is made out to be
When I think of thrash metal that gets excessively fawned over to the point of derangement, I think of Vio-lence and their notorious debut Eternal Nightmare. When I think of classic thrash metal I think of three records. Ride The Lightning, Peace Sells, and Kill 'Em All. That isn't to say that Eternal Nightmare is a bad album. That would involve ignoring or brushing aside a lot of the things that it excels at. And it does have a lot to offer on terms of blistering rushes of energy and mad-moshing riffage. But hearing this thing heralded as an unassailable masterpiece whose flaws are either nonexistent or hardly there strikes me as both annoying and dishonest. From Sean Killian’s “singing”, to the production, to some of the riffs getting lost in the maelstrom, there are plenty of things that hold this back from being an excellent album. Though, I guess this album is a testament to how far you can get with a load of great riffs and some blistering pacing, even if other things are going wrong.
The most obvious flaw for Eternal Nightmare is Sean Killian’s vocals. There’s no getting around that since he’s the lead singer and his voice is prominently featured in every song. He sounds like a kid who just hit puberty and ends up sucking the intensity out of whatever he’s singing over as a result. He also doesn’t vary his pitch much, pack a punch, or have a decent rhythm. Thrash metal isn’t exactly known for having great vocalists, but even Dave Mustaine is able to wrench an aggressive snarl from his voice, and John Connelly has some intensity and panic to his singing. Sean Killian can’t pull off the “bad guy” act no matter how mad he gets since he just doesn’t have the voice for it, and he doesn’t have the rhythm or range to be soaring or silly in a less obnoxious way. His voice just comes off as an obstacle to what is otherwise some fantastic instrumentation. Sure, I can listen past him to a degree, but hearing the sections where it’s just Phil Demmel and Robb Flynn ripping things up just makes me wish someone with more force or more rhythm was shouting in Killian’s place. His middle school-sounding voice also clashes a lot with the tone of the music which is way gnarlier and more aggressive than he could ever hope to be.
After that little rant, you’d expect me to be thoroughly annoyed and repulsed by this album, fixated on the vocalist, but there’s more to both this album and my opinion of said album than that. Aside from the bleeding guitar flurries of Flynn and Demmel, one of the biggest assets that Vio-lence have at their disposal is drummer Perry Strickland. This guy can put out consistently overdriven tempos and make his kit crack so well that it makes any of the build-up passages or mosh-oriented sections into something that makes you want to get up and run like a maniac. This is especially true on “Calling in the Coroner” where the riffs are already worthy of a massive body-slamming circle pit and makes them pound their feet into your stomach all the harder. And that song embodies all the best of this album, the riffs are punchy, defined, and infectious, and the dynamics keep everything at a fever-thrashing pitch, going from blistering solos into mighty gang shouts going “CORONER! CORONER!”, before finishing off with yet another solo. The gang shouts punctuate a lot of these songs and deliver good spiking bits of fierce emphasis, serving as a show of might and a great rallying call. All that considered, I can (somewhat) look past Killian’s infantile sugar rush singing to see some really cutting thrash that gets bodies moving and crashing into each other.
Speed is key to Eternal Nightmare. It’s the one element of this album that powers everything. From powering Perry Strickland’s cymbal-smacking, to driving Flynn and Demmel’s shredding, to being the ONE thing Sean Killian’s vocals are good for, speed is central to all that happens on Vio-lence’s debut. How well that speed gets utilized is also what sets many of the songs on this album apart from each other on terms of quality. “Eternal Nightmare” and “Calling in the Coroner” which handle their speed solidly, adjust the riffage to stay clear and distinct, and end up strong and punishing as a result. Other songs like “Serial Killer” and “TDS” get carried away with their speed and much of these songs end up feeling like a blur of guitar rumbling and drum smashing that has force and gusto while it’s going, but you’ll soon forget about afterwards. There are times it’s like listening to a buzzsaw with how fast these guitars rip. Memorability is a mixed bag on here where speed is king, and the riffs are as densely packed as they are. Though where the riff shines through, it does so with the force of the thundering tempo propelling it, rather than impeding or obscuring it. Vio-lence handles this speed with mostly favorable results even if it does lose a bit of its form in the process.
I am not trying to fool you. I’m not saying this is average, bland, or even of ho-hum moderate quality. Eternal Nightmare is a case of strong mixed feelings for me. Where this album excels, it does so with the strength of a car crusher. Where it fails, it fails as badly as that hyperactive kid in the back of class during a hard test, First and foremost, this is a riff-oriented album and that’s where it’s true strengths lie and where you should be looking to enjoy this album. Sure, some of these riffs get lost in the chaotic cyclone of guitars and drums, but that’s the price you pay for pushing the envelope on speed this hard. There’s also the obvious and unfortunate matter of Sean Killian’s vocals which clash hard with the intense and rampaging demeanor of this album. He can be ignored or listened past to a degree, but his presence is so “in the foreground” of Eternal Nightmare that it’s hard not to feel put-off when he starts jabbering. Due to the fact his voice is so prominent, it hurts this album a lot and that’s a shame since everything else is performed at an expert standard with enough speed and vigor to knock over the San Francisco skyline in a brilliant rain of fire and ash. Eternal Nightmare is a pummeling thrash album that easily loses itself to the madness of speed and could be classic if only the very fastest riffs were a bit better defined and the vocalist had more force, depth, range, or rhythm. The praise it gets is somewhat deserved, but it does have issues.