Having listened to Penetration's follow up to Victory or Death, the excellent Return to Sodom, I had prepared myself to be either pleasantly surprised or expectedly disappointed at the debut album from these northern New York beasts of thrash. I had figured that in thrash, at least recently, there was little chance of a band putting together all the pieces to twice create something awesome that was fresh as well as defiantly thrashy. Victory or Death then, it would be seen, fell squarely between the two. In essence, Victory or Death is an absolute debut in all respects - it has all the fixings of what would be refined on a subsequent release and it still had amateur flaws. Much like Return to Sodom, Victory of Death is just as much fun, even if it's not quite as decisive and improved. Another leap of the kind between the two would put a third album in high contention for best-of lists in the genre for sure.
With Victory or Death we are given a well done release. Professionally looking artwork, lyrics and pictures of the band are dispersed throughout the layout. Of note are the lyrics here which fall under the same concepts of their follow up. Basically it's all stuff you would find on any Sodom album - War, Violence, Death, Battles... It's all very cliche in a certain respect but I like it far better than those party-thrash bands talking about beer and happy-go-lucky topics. There is anger and resentment here. Jess Bartlett is once again the main man in all aspects with Dave Tedesco providing drums and the studio. Someone named Cuntripper plays bass though his image is nowhere to be seen in the layout. As mentioned earlier fans of Sodom would do well to seek out this album but I would include fans of Kreator, early Slayer as well as practically every South American Metalhead in the list of people that would need a Kleenex after listening to both Penetration's albums.
The album opens with "Bring the Ancient Ones Back," an intro of gunfire samples and other stereotypical war noises. No harm done there. It's short enough to not bother. It runs into opening track "Prepare for War," a sonic, speed pummeller of a track. Drums provide most of the momentum here and while Tedesco is not nearly as creative as on Return to Sodom, the drumming is still excellent. Bartlett once again shines with his lead work as well which is impressive. Bartlett's vocals are a gritty and dirty snarl. At times you can hear / feel the phlegm in his throat as it swishes around in his mouth mid scream. Eaten by wolves also has a sample to begin in the track however I find it worthless to the track. The main riff is fast, typical and still a whole lot better than other thrash out there. The sheer quantity of leads and solos and wild guitar parts separates this wheat from a lot of the chaff.
With "Iraq," Victory or Death takes a turn towards a more appropriately militant vibe. The chosen fast but not light speed tempo conjures images of American forces charging and crushing Saddam's troops in the desert during the first offensives of Desert Storm. M1 Abrams tanks racing across scorched landscapes of outdated Iraq weaponry. Lyrically it can be a condemnation or compliment to war efforts in the region. I'll take no stance on which I prefer. What I can say however is that blasting this while encountering an enemy with no knowledge of Heavy Metal would render fear in the bones of even the most stoic fighter. If stories of American and UN forces frightening the enemy by blasting Godsmack while engaging the enemy are true, who knows what would have resulted from them hearing Penetration's warlike sound. Ironically however, it's not "Iraq" which has the outwardly Middle Eastern flair but the title track which follows. "Victory or Death" resembles the rhythms of opening track "Prepare for War" however is more memorably and varied in the riffs with some faster breakneck moments but also more mid paced verses. Final track "Bishop Slayer" is a slow doomy crushing beast with an awesome solo less than two minutes into the track of nothing but high pitched wailing string bends. A hidden track on the album that sounds like all of the above description covering Dick Dale rounds out the album warmly.
With both albums Penetration have succeeding in epitomizing what Thrash has always been to me: heavy relentless and violent with more interest in aggressive menace than in the alcoholic stupor which is so prevalent in thrash lexicon these days. I like when my Thrash cuts through the skin with the force of a hacksaw welded to a steamroller. While I don't really know how exactly that kind of a machine would cut, perhaps Bartlett and Tedesco can offer some suggestions on their next album which I hope is in the works. The world needs more thrash like this.