I first saw Terror live in a garage with about 30 other people on New Year's Eve in 2002. I remember the day because I was blown away by the band's passion, intensity and musicianship, flowing seamlessly from fast verses to chorus breakdowns, peppered with perfectly-timed two-steps and singalongs. I still distinctly remember drummer Nick Jett's blistering snare fills cutting through the freezing air like they were powered by belt-fed ammunition. I'm not saying this for scene points, I'm simply saying I always want Terror to be amazing. I want every record to knock my head off, so when you read the coming paragraphs, just remember, I turned this on rooting for the band.
Total Retaliation is Terror's seventh full-length record and their debut on Berkeley, California's Pure Noise Records. The record isn't bad in the way that records can be bad, but it's kind of like being handed a pint of O'Douls after ordering a Sierra Nevada. The color is similar, the flavor is sort of on the same planet as beer, but it sure as hell isn't Sierra Nevada, and there's a huge missing piece. For the straight-edge crowd, take the aforementioned example and compare Faygo Diet Cola with Coke Zero or whatever you guys drink.
The record opens with the thundering chug of the opening chords to "The World Never Wanted Me", giving the seasoned listener a taste of the brutality they've grown to expect from the band, but it severely lacks substance, as nearly half of the song is just Scott Vogel's vocals over palm-muted guitar. The track would work for an intro, but it's 2:10 seconds long, which is longer than 1/4 of the songs on the record, so it's just weird.
The second track, "Mental Demolition" rips, comprised of Terror's expertly-refined blend of speed and intensity, but the track had already been released as a streaming single, so we already knew what it was about. As Total Retaliation progresses through the next few tracks, the band seemingly abandons their trademarked, fast-paced, West Coast-style hardcore for a mid-tempo, New York, almost Biohazard feel. I'm not making a case against Biohazard, but that's not what I ordered here. "Break The Lock" is an exception, featuring 1:21 of welcomed tempo changes, breakdowns and singalongs.
"In Spite of These Times", track 6, is actually a true standout song on the record. While the track strays from the typical Terror blueprint stylistically, it brings to bear a groovy vibe not often associated with straight-forward hardcore, which works wonderfully with the group singalongs metered steadily throughout the track. "In Spite of These Times" is original and refreshing, yet stays in the lane enough to not leave anyone behind. I found myself hitting repeat before this one even ended. Unfortunately, the honeymoon ends there, as the rest of the record ranges from unremarkable to just plain confusing.
Title track, "Total Retaliation" features a series of awkward transitions into an even more awkward breakdown. Track 8, "Post Armageddon Interlude", is a completely random hip-hop track by rapper Vinnie Paz that, once they find out the track never evolves into a hardcore song, will be skipped by nearly everyone listening to this record. Terror has featured hip-hop artists in song intros before, but dedicating an entire track to an essentially unknown artist of a completely different genre really can't be considered to be much more than filler.
In fact, filler is how I would describe the rest of the record. If it wasn't their first effort on a new label, I would assume the band threw this record together simply to fulfill a contractual obligation. Aside from the three songs I highlighted above, this record is a collection of prosaic, rudimentary, forgettable tracks. The album is very well-produced and sounds extraordinarily heavy considering Nick Jett abandoned use of double-bass a few records ago, but this might be even more of a letdown because you know how great the record could have been. Total Retaliation is a very over-zealous title for this effort. Perhaps a more fitting title would have been A Little Retaliation or Mostly No Retaliation because that's what I feel like I got with this.
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