Album Review: Coldsteel - American Idle
Just how big is the thrash revival we've seen over the last handful of years? These sorts of things are hard to quantify, but here's a good example: Coldsteel, a New York thrash band that put out exactly one album in their career, has enough attention and interest to reunite and put out their first new material in twenty years. You know the movement is serious when it's not just the big names of the past that are being resurrected, but also the ones you never heard about in their own heyday. For a band like Coldsteel, this is more than they could have ever hoped for. Twenty years down the line, not only are they able to make some new music, but their profile has the chance to be as high as it's ever been.
“America Idle” is the first taste of new Coldsteel music since their ill-fated, and only, album, “Freakboy”. Trends have come and gone in the time since, as has the band itself, but here we find ourselves with a handful of new old thrash songs, and a throwback to the past.
I have a philosophical issue with the opening title track, which spends it's first minute running through fake radio static, patriotic anthems, and clips of political speeches. The content isn't the issue, but if you're only aiming to capture my attention for the length of an EP, wasting time on anything but the music seems like a mistake to me. I'm already less inclined to revisit the music again and again because of the smaller dosage, and the appetizer supposedly whetting my appetite can't accomplish much when the whole is an appetizer itself.
Once the music gets going, those concerns are swept away rather quickly. The sharp riffing is immediately inviting, and the songwriting manages to elevate the whole thing above being a hodgepodge of riffs with nothing connecting them. Of course, after running through two cycles of strong material, the middle of the song once again breaks down and uses spoken word sections that are trying to make a point, but only make me antsy for the actual music to return. The bits in-between the mistakes are really good, and with a bit of editing, would make for a great little thrash song.
What separates Coldsteel from most of the other unheralded thrash bands I've heard is a knack for restraining the music just enough to allow some hooks to shine through. Too often, thrash is played so recklessly fast that notes blur by and vocalists get lost trying to keep up with the music. Coldsteel turns back the dial slightly, which lets the riffs become digestible, and gives just enough room for the vocals to pry deeper for hooks. This is some of the catchier thrash I've heard in recent times, even on the groove-oriented and relentlessly heavy “Blink Of An Eye”, and is the way I think all thrash should be.
Kudos go to the production as well, which is a modern update of the classic sound, bright enough to crush, but still gritty enough to remind you what you're listening to. The guitars are allowed to cut through the mix and steamroll everything in their way, and while the vocals are pushed back a touch in places, not much is lost. And given the penchant for political lyrics, it may be a blessing in disguise.
While “America Idle” is just an EP, and that gives it only so much room to impress, it does exactly what a good EP is supposed to do. The five songs show me what Coldsteel is capable of, and make me curious if they can keep it up and impress me over the course of a full length record. This is a good starting point.