Review by Daniel for Destruction - Cracked Brain (1990)
Teutonic thrash heavyweights Destruction & I have always maintained an unusual relationship when compared to that of most extreme metal fans. You see, despite my having quite enjoyed the their early “Bestial Invasion of Hell” demo, I have to admit that I’ve never really gotten on with Destruction’s first couple of proper releases in 1984’s “Sentence of Death” E.P. & 1985's “Infernal Overkill” debut album. It’s not until they became a little more adventurous & added a bit of sophistication to their sound with their 1986 sophomore album “Eternal Devastation” that I saw my interest being held with any sort of regularity & from that point I saw Destruction adding a little more appeal with each release they put out during the back end of the 1980’s. But the reality is that I discovered all of these releases in quick succession & not necessarily in chronological order after first having Destruction brought to my attention through some material from “Sentence of Death” that was playing on a late-night underground metal radio program I used to obsessively follow as an early teenager.
The first & only Destruction release that I’d purchase an original copy of at the time of its release would be 1990’s “Cracked Brain” fourth full-length which came off the back of my favourite Destruction records in 1987’s “Release From Agony” & 1989 live album “Live Without Sense”. Ben & I picked “Cracked Brain” up on cassette & I played it fairly religiously for some time afterwards. It wouldn’t be for a couple of decades that I’d discover that I really shouldn’t enjoy “Cracked Brain” as much as I had been. It’s apparently forbidden for one reason or another, mainly due to the sacking of legendary front man Schmier just prior to the recording of the album from what I can make out. But my memories of “Cracked Brain” are in direct contrast to the consistent criticism I’ve read about it online lately so I decided to see how much of my positivity is caused by nostalgia & how much is genuine quality.
As with all of Destruction’s previous records, “Cracked Brain” was released through legendary German metal label Steamhammer Records, this time with experienced English producer Guy Bidmead sharing the production duties with the band. Guy had certainly paid his dues over the years but his most noteworthy contributions as a metal producer were through Motorhead’s “No Remorse” & “Rock ‘n’ Roll”, Exciter’s “Long Live The Loud” & “Unveiling The Wicked”, Cloven Hoof’s “Dominator” & Coroner’s “Punishment For Decadence”. Unfortunately though, the result of his work on “Cracked Brain” amounted to a wishy washy & slightly muted sounding record that’s a little lacking in brightness. Thankfully though, the quality of the majority of the material is strong enough to overcome the deficiencies in the mix.
That’s right ladies & gentlemen. I said it. “Cracked Brain” is a high-quality thrash metal record that features Destruction’s most complex & sophisticated song structures to date. The angular, technical nature of many of the riffs gives the album a fresh & exciting feel while, contrary to popular opinion, I’ve always felt that the inclusion of a new vocalist in André Grieder of Swiss thrashers Poltergeist breathed new life into the band. Original singer & bassist Schmier had been unceremoniously sacked just prior to the recording of the album, a decision that most (eventually including the rest of the band members too it has to be said) felt was a very poor decision. André’s raspy delivery sounds a little more screamy & psychotic in a Paul Baloff kinda way as opposed to the snarlier Schmier but I think both have their merits & the two guitarists do a great job at picking up Schmier’s bass duties. Where “Release From Agony” bordered on technical thrash metal, “Cracked Brain” takes the full plunge for a good half the album, often sounding as much like Coroner as it does Kreator or Sodom. The way they manage to incorporate melody into their riffs without sacrificing on the darkness is something that really appeals to me personally. Don’t get me wrong though, this is still an aggressive & thrashy as fuck Destruction record with a whole lot of energy & I don’t think any member of The Pit will have too many problems with the musical direction.
This brings us to the obvious exception however & one that I feel is primarily responsible for “Cracked Brain” being treated unfairly by many diehard fans. I’m not sure whose decision it was to include a cover version of The Knack’s “My Sherona” right in the middle of the tracklisting but it was undeniably a very poor one. Again contrary to popular opinion though, I don’t think it’s a bad version of the track if you listen to it in isolation & don’t focus on the fact that it’s been produced by a thrash band. In fact, if you heard it playing in a pub at high volume after downing a few beers with your mates then I can almost guarantee that you’d all be singing along to it merrily. It’s just that it sounds so out of whack with the material around it that’s the big problem here & I simply can’t justify the decision to include it. Thankfully though, the rest of the tracklisting is completely blemish-free & is actually very strong. The opening title track is the clear highlight & is one of Destruction's best tracks overall in my opinion but the rest of the tracklisting rarely dips below a very solid & consistent level of quality with the less ambitious thrasher “Die A Day Before You’re Born” probably being the weaker of the bunch if you exclude the poorly placed cover version.
The musicianship on “Cracked Brain” is nothing short of stunning to be honest & is a real highlight with Destruction once again proving themselves to be miles ahead of the other three Teutonic Big Four members when it comes to technical proficiency. The two lead guitarists Mike Sifringer & Harry Wilkens really go to town on the sweep picking during some highly creative guitar solos that lean pretty heavily on progressive concepts to differentiate themselves from standard thrash metal fodder. Odd time signatures are pulled off with ease while drummer Oliver Kaiser (who joined the band for their last album “Release From Agony”) once again puts in a solid performance that works more to accentuate the music around him than trying for anything too showy.
While I do think that “Release From Agony” just manages to top “Cracked Brain”, I simply can’t understand or condone the consistently lacklustre opinions on what I consider to be a very engaging European thrash metal record & one that I’d take over any of Destruction’s pre-1987 releases. People need to look past their anger at Schmier’s sacking & the silly cover version so that they can reach the gooey centre that clearly seems to have been eluding them up until this point.