Since Watchtower’s 1985 landmark debut Energetic Disassembly, plenty of thrash metal bands have spiced up their music with more technically influenced composition and playing styles and progressive song structures. A few of these more technically inclined thrash metal bands–often given the sub-sub-genre label “technical thrash metal”–went on to be somewhat well known within the underground thrash metal circuit, or at least among progressive metal aficionados, like the aforementioned Watchtower, Coroner, Voivod, and Mekong Delta. But then there are tech thrash bands that are even today barely noticed by fans of obscure thrash metal from close to 30 years ago. Target is one such tragically overlooked band that managed to put out some great material. While their repetitive and unremarkable debut didn’t show much promise, their sophomore release Master Project Genesis proves to be an impressive outing.
Master Project Genesis is a great listen for metal fans that could stand a little more accessibility in their tech thrash. Each track is chock full of very memorable guitar work. Axemen Lex Vogelaar and Franky Van Aerde (Yeah, I know…they’re Belgian.) chug their way through riffs that are sometimes catchy (The grooving part in Absolution by Termination) and sometimes heavy (The beginning of opening track The Coming of Chaos, which let me know I was in for something awesome). This album doesn’t necessarily go for a riff-o-rama approach ala Deathrow’s Deception Ignored, but the riffs are definitely an enjoyable component of the listening experience. Other aspects of this album’s guitar playing are just as good if not better, with striking guitar harmonies and solos that shred but still make plenty of sense thrown in pretty much every track.
Bassist Johan Susant turns in a great performance as well, often complimenting the guitar riffs very well and even getting a few distinct cool moments of his own, and thankfully, this album avoids a common problem with the production of thrash metal albums of that era by allowing him to be not only audible, but often fairly discernible. While I’m at it, the mixing and overall sound to this album serves it well, with a good amount of clarity to all the performances, a nice guitar tone, a mostly non-neutered drum sound, and just the right amount of reverb to give it a somewhat mechanical atmosphere to match the technically proficient performances and sci-fi inspired lyrics, which convey bleak tales of world-conquering technology blended in with the occasional social commentary on technology’s effects on society and the environment. The themes to these lyrics are so unified that one could almost refer to this as a concept album. The one musician that lags behind everyone else in performances is the one belting out these lyrics, Yves Lettanie, and even then, his vocal melodies can be quite catchy and involving, like in Ultimate Unity (which also features some of the album’s best riffs and tempo changes) and Dehumanization. He even has quite a bit of range, from some lower register verses in Dehumanization to some high-pitched squeals in Absolution by Termination, but when he’s not singing catchy vocal melodies, and especially when he’s trying to shout, he just doesn’t have enough grittiness to carry this album’s general level of heaviness. He leaves a particularly bad impression on The Coming of Chaos, which is a real shame considering it’s the opener and is pretty awesome in every other way. Thankfully, he sometimes has shouted backing vocals to help him out, and they’re used so effectively that you’ll be shouting (or at least whispering) along with them by your third listen.
Good riffs and solos sloppily strung together doesn’t instantly make a great metal album, even with great performances. Sure, you’d be able to make a nice little highlight reel, and be able to skip through the album to go back to your favorite moments, but songwriting is key. These guys had a decent grasp of it, and I think that’s kind of where some of the technical and even progressive labels I’ve seen thrown at this album come from. While these songs have identifiable verses and choruses, I would still say they overall tend to veer from a traditional verse/chorus/verse/chorus/solo/verse/chorus type structure. March of the Machines is a great example of the way Target were able to change time signatures and weave in distinct riffs without sounding awkward and incohesive, and it’s only three minutes and five seconds long. It’s also a pretty cool song in general, with a focus on slower, heavier riffage, memorable gang vocals, and a very stellar guitar solo utilizing some cool harmonies. Digital Regency, one of the fastest (and best) songs on here, features addictive thrash riffing, a catchy vocal melody, and a very nice solo towards the end.
Target’s Master Project Genesis is definitely worthy listening for fans of thrash metal with a technical bent and the occasional dash of catchiness. I couldn’t really call it a masterpiece; the slower tracks tend to plod just a little compared to the more intense and engaging uptempo numbers, wimpy vocals sometimes drag it down just a little, and I suppose it can feel a bit lacking in depth compared to more expressive masterpieces like Coroner’s Mental Vortex. But for anyone looking to check out some old school technical thrash metal that can be catchy and melodic while containing enough intensity and heaviness to keep one’s head banging, Target’s Master Project Genesis is worth the shelf and/or hard drive space. 4.5/5. (Sputnikmusic)