Texan thrashers Aggravator’s name leaves little to the imagination. They play fast, heavy and aggressive. Their debut, 2014’s Populace Destructor, was a solid, if unspectacular slab of molten hot thrash that packed a punch without truly leaving a mark. Seeking to build on their budding popularity, the four-piece have bestowed another offering of furious thrash upon us, in the form of Sterile Existence.
On the surface, Sterile Existence offers up more of the same. Derek Jones’ raspy vocal delivery effectively pierces the veil of rapid fire riffs and pummelling rhythm section. I’d say the songs are more tightly constructed than on Populace Destructor, but it’s not a drastic progression. The mix is clear and heavy, Tristan Hernandez’s thick basslines complimenting the razor sharp guitar tones of Jones and comrade Jesse Lopez. The only minor drawback is the drum sound. The bass drums are a little clunky, whilst the snare is too weighty and lacks pop, sometimes making the playing sound more laboured than it actually is. Generally speaking though, the production suits the relentless nature of the music; it’s loud, in your face and gets the adrenaline pumping. It does a particularly good job of highlighting Hernandez’s four string fret work. Not content to just sit and follow the guitars lines, he plays some fantastic bass patterns when the opportunity allows (“Transhuman Corporeal” and “High Impact Homicides” spring to mind as good exhibitions of his skill).
The songs, and the album itself, can be split into two camps: fast and mid paced. The front end of the album tends to hold a lot speedier numbers, with the back end housing most of the (comparatively) slower songs. This presents a bit of a problem, as the mid tempo songs tend to be the stronger ones (in turn making the second half of the record the stronger half). Much of the first half drifts by, and less patient listeners may not reach the latter half of the album. Songs such as “Subconscious Blind” and “Decapitator’s Temple” aren’t bad, they’re just safe, by the numbers thrash. This genre lives and dies by the quality of the riffs, and too often the ones carrying the quicker songs are forgettable. There are changes in tempos and dynamics to keep the songs interesting, but ultimately it’s not enough. The tide turns with fifth track “Abhorrent Point of View”, which possesses a steady groove and more measured structure. The riffs and vocal lines are more distinctive and it’s the closest thing you’ll get to catchy here. The title track and “Future Rephased” are in a similar vein, with a strong collection of riffs and some great lead work. Closer “Target Obliteration” is the only truly notable speedster; its frenetic riff possessing a satisfying crunch as it slithers swiftly by.
It’s difficult to see where Aggravator go from here. Sterile Existence highlights their strength in mid paced compositions, but they clearly enjoy doing faster material too. That is one of the hallmarks of thrash after all. The disparity in quality between the two is a bit Jekyll and Hyde at present, but if they choose to continue in the same direction there’s every chance their faster songs will improve. As is, I’d say they’re better set exploring the boundaries of more disciplined thrash. One can only hope Sterile Existence will be the catalyst for such a move.
Rating: 6/10 – a decent, but flawed, effort that does little to further the band’s sound.
Highlights: “Abhorrent Point of View”, “Target Obliteration”