When one thinks of Australian metal or rock, invariably AC/DC and Jet are the stereotype. Airbourne and some others are in there too, but everybody at this point knows exactly what’s being talked about. So when Envenomed was reportedly a melodic thrash act from the continent down under, there was a certain amount of cynicism that was probably to be expected. Why break the stereotype now, it’s been working so well?
Envenomed’s debut “Evil Unseen” represents none of the things that everyone thinks they know about music from Australia. Truly, this is a group of young thrashers who were weaned on the heady days of metal’s reign in the mid-eighties. The structural foundation of their aural assault is clearly Iron Maiden, but once the listener forages on past the first blush, there is a rewarding bouquet of influences that gives Envenomed the acidic taste of something new.
Without a doubt, the triumphant strength of “Evil Unseen” lies in the old school (or is it old-skool?) twin guitars of vocalist Anthony Mavrikis and Brendan Farrugia. Time and again, over and over ad infinitum, the duo concocts memorable and hook-laden harmonies, putting the styles of Hetfield/Hammett, Smith/Murray/Gers and King/Hanneman into the grinder and producing a sort of metal sausage where not one of those flavors overpowers another. Almost as if to carry the point, a song like “Falling” uses minor variations on one basic musical theme throughout the entire composition, but the song itself goes through two or three differing phases and nowhere does the main riff feel out of place. It’s a rare feat to compose such a piece and it shows the study and dedication that Envenomed applied to their art.
Don’t stop the parade there, though. “Evil Unseen” is dotted with moments like this across the expanse of its landscape, from the dirty, galloping chug of “Within Me” to the speedy Anthrax-ian dash of “Spoils of Victory,” to the persistent Annihilator-ish drudgery of “Disobey the Beast.” The color wheel here isn’t exactly groundbreaking in its synthesis of styles, but Envenomed shows a little wiggle room within their chosen niche. (More on this in a minute.) It’s a veritable panoply of thrash standbys, big choruses and giant hooks. In all reality, the listener could throw randomly at the dartboard of “Evil Unseen” and score respectably well.
The gem of the record gets lost almost at the end, which is the magnificent and agile instrumental “Spirit Machine,” which employs just the barest touch of progressive themes to add a dimension that doesn’t exist elsewhere on the record. The song moves from strength to strength with an ambient sense of curiosity and experimentation, though it stays solidly anchored with roots in the thrash epics of old. There’s an artistically deft solo in the middle third, notable not just for its tempo but also for its placement and design. While there are a lot of bright moments on “Evil Unseen,” this is the best five minute clip the record has to offer.
The only complication with this record is that Envenomed struggles to move beyond the shadow of the bands they adore so openly. The record’s effective opener is “Will of Man,” which is a good enough song, but very much could have been a latent b-side on the end of “Master of Puppets.” It’s got the prototype Slayer riff with Metallica’s pacing and Mavrikis adopts his best Hetfield-ian growl through much of the breakdowns. It’s hardly an insult to say something might have fit in on “Puppets,” but it does speak to the fact that critics of Envenomed are going to say they’re heard these songs before, as much as twenty-five years ago.
Moreover, the constant channeling of the heyday of heavy metal, mixed into the very blood of each track means that eventually the songs on “Evil Unseen” really start to blend together, as the lines between songs blur until they become one forty-minute-or-so exhibition of the best tenets of thrash. Most of the cuts can be identified by their markers as descendants of something a generation or more in the past. That’s the farthest thing from a deal breaker, but a little flash of variety along the way would have helped the package transcend from “hey, this is pretty good,” to “hey, this is freaking awesome.”
Sidebar: the cover art for “Evil Unseen” is a little ridiculous. Much in the same vein as the music contained within, the album’s sleeve is decorated with a host of different influences coagulating into one oddly rendered image. It’s an amalgam of old Megadeth records, Anthrax sleeves and the wonderful absurdity of NIN’s “Happiness in Slavery” video. It has no bearing on the music at all, but it does merit a mention.
Coming back around, “Evil Unseen” is an assertive and impressive debut by a band just finding their sound. The band brandishes their musical heart so clearly on their sleeve that it’s hard not to see the kind of metal history that is such an idiomatic part of Envenomed’s motif. The curiosity moving forward lies in whether the band can digest those influences and emerge with a unique timbre of their own conjuring. That’s all for another day, though. In the meantime, “Evil Unseen” is a good time and worth looking into.