Review by Daniel for Wehrmacht - Shark Attack (1987) Review by Daniel for Wehrmacht - Shark Attack (1987)

Daniel Daniel / December 18, 2019 / 1

1987 was a very active year for minor league Californian extreme metal label New Renaissance Records. The business was owned & run by Hellion front woman Ann Boleyn who had created the brand a couple of years earlier but commercial success would initially prove to be challenge with New Renaissance’s early releases generally passing the metal public by with little to no fanfare. 1987 would see things starting to take shape though with the label now having noteworthy releases from At War, Indestroy, Dream Death, Kublai Khan, Necrophagia & Blood Feast on their books. None of these were overnight sensations or made their artists into household names mind you but the more obsessive thrash & death metal fans out there were now starting to become aware of these names & the sounds they were pushing & amongst them would be a young Portland-based crossover thrashcore outfit by the name of Wehrmacht.

Wehrmacht were only 17 or 18 years old when their debut album “Shark Attack” hit the shelves & with a moniker like theirs you would think that there would have been a little bit of implied pressure on them to bring the violence & aggression. After all, “wehrmacht” (pronounced “vair-mahkt”) is German for “armed forces” so one would naturally expect to hear something suitably attacking. The cover artwork certainly fit the mould with “Shark Attack” sporting a cartoonish image of a zombified warrior waterskiing on the backs of two huge sharks. It’s not a high budget effort by any stretch of the imagination however it does have that authentic 80’s underground metal vibe going on & I think it kinda suits this sort of release & the market it was targeting. Interestingly, the wall behind this scene has the words “Spazztic Blur” written across it in red paint in reference to vocalist Tito Matos & guitarist Marco Zorich’s other band of that name.

“Shark Attack” would be a self-produced affair which would seem like a very strange way to go for a debut album. Especially when you consider the age & recording experience of the various band memebrs. One would have to think that there must simply have been no budget for a producer & it’s actually a bit of a shame because I think the album possesses a fair bit of untapped potential. New Renaissance releases weren’t known for their flashy big budget production jobs & this one would have to sit amongst the furthest away from that concept. What you can expect is one of the rawest & noisiest sounding records you’ve heard in quite a while but in its defense, do we really want ultra-aggressive thrashcore to be presented in a polished & clean package? I don’t think so. We just want to be able to make out all of the riffs but that’s not always the case here with all of the instrumentalists making an almighty racket & fighting over who could make the most noise. Tito’s vocals often find themselves struggling to stay afloat above the raucous cacophony that’s surrounding them & I can’t help but think that “Shark Attack” could have made a significantly bigger impact under the guidance of a decent producer.

Wehrmacht may only have been young but they certainly knew what they what they wanted to achieve & that was to be the fastest band that’s ever existed. And fuck me if they haven’t achieved that goal here because I can’t think of a single release to rival it for sheer, unbridled velocity. These chaps go absolutely flat-chat with their pedals to the metal pretty much 100% of the time so I wouldn’t go into “Shark Attack” expecting too much nuance or variation. In truth, they do lose a bit of the musicality in their song-writing in the process but every subgenre of metal has its time & place & the crossover thrash & thrashcore subgenres were never created for in-depth analysis & drawn-out emotional exploration. They’re about getting drunk, having a few laughs & thrashing out like a bastard & Wehrmacht certainly achieve that.

Musically, there are a couple of different sides to Wehrmacht's sound with thrash metal & hardcore punk continually playing off against each other. The thrashier side of the band sounds a great deal like “Darkness Descends”-era Dark Angel with front man Tito coming across a lot like Dark Angel singer Don Doty. I quite like his style but he can tail off a little bit during those times when he starts to get drowned out by the instrumentalists. The rest of the band concentrate all of their energy on playing as fast as is humanly possible & this comes at the expense of precision. The performances here are pretty sloppy for the most part & it sounds a lot like a live-in-the-studio affair. This is another area where a good producer could have made a major difference in my opinion. I mean the guitars aren’t even completely in tune with each other during some of the key melodic moments.

Wehrmacht’s riffs are played with an unbelievable amount of urgency & ferocity with inspiration being drawn from bands like Cryptic Slaughter & DRI as far as pure speed goes. The twin guitar attack even trade high intensity Slayer-style solos which are some of the highlights of the album in my opinion. Drummer Brian Lehfeldt (who later went on to play with Cryptic Slaughter & commercially successful alternative rockers Everclear) must have been one tired dude after these sessions because he absolutely fucking destroys his kit. He was very fast for the time & his consistent use of blast beats makes for a particularly brutal listening experience. It is worth noting that if you listen closely you can hear the guitarists struggling to keep in time with him on more than the odd occasion though. In fact, there are various stages where things start to go to mush but somehow the raw energy in Wehrmacht’s delivery seems to make this significantly less important than it might be with a more sophisticated thrash outfit.

The opening title track is an absolute belter in the vein of Dark Angel & is the clear album highlight. It’s sheer attitude & outrageous speed manage to overcome a humorous attempt at emulating the theme from Jaws in guitar form which ends up creating a build-up that reminds me of the beginning of the Bathory classic “Equimanthorn”. Weeelll…. a poor man’s version to be fair. Unfortunately this is not the only attempt at humour on the album though. Wehrmacht never take themselves too seriously & there are a few intrusive melodic concepts explored that see the band heading in strange directions with unusual circus-style melodies sometimes appearing, presumably for pure comic value. I can’t say that I’m too keen on this sort of humour in my metal & I’m especially not a fan of hearing a recording of dude throwing up in front of his overly enthusiastic mates which is what we’re subjected to at the end of “United Shoe Brothers” (which also seems to rip off the chorus phrasing from Overkill’s “Rotten To The Core” just quietly).  

Overall though, it’s hard not to like “Shark Attack”. Sure there are four or five duds included & the production isn’t wonderful but the youthful enthusiasm & incredibly high velocities that drive this music offer quite a bit of appeal for an audience that’s not looking for a long-term fix & are much more inclined towards a quick-fire solution to their drunken party needs. And besides…. If you can find me a faster metal record than this one I’ll be very damn impressed.

For fans of: Cryptic Slaughter, DRI, “Darkness Descends”-era Dark Angel.

Comments (1)

Ernesto Catalan Ernesto Catalan / August 12, 2021

“Shark Attack”’was a landmark album in the same way “Dealing With It” by DRI and “Convicted” by Cryptic Slaughter. Being on the New Reinassance label didn’t help the band to reach a wider audience, yet they made a sizable impact. Yes, the execution is a bit sloppy here and there but not as sloppy as “Convicted”. The guitar trade offs by Marco Zorich and John Duffy were raw yet melodic, as evidenced in their Thrashcore instrumental masterpiece, “Fretboard Gymnastics”. Despite the obvious limited budget, the drums sound HUGE and give the impression of a more decent production. 

The drumming of Brian Lehfeldt was ahead for its time, pushing the boundaries of thrash into the realm of grindcore, and Shan Mortimer’s vicious bass attack made the mayhem even more appealing.

And speaking of sloppiness, you mentioned “Equimanthorn” by Bathory, a band I also love yet they were never known for playing “properly”, specially the drumming, which sometimes starts at odd times. Quorthon was bit older than the Wehrmacht guys, so he should’ve known a bit more about producing. 

Years ago I met the Wehrmacht guys, whom I corresponded with back in the day. They are awesome guys and, being the same age, share some of the same musical tastes. It’s a shame the weren’t bigger because they had all the chops to be a huge underground gods. 

United Shoe Brothers forever 🤘😎🤘🍻!!!