ASSESOR – Invaze (Globus International, 1990)

Donning their debut album with a medieval-styled, black-and-white cover that looks more like a qualified sketch than a finished statement, Assesor went into music history as the first underground metal band in Czechoslovakia to score a record deal. Spearhead-status notwithstanding, Invaze stays firmly rooted in 1980 death/thrash extremity rather than tapping into the burgeoning death- and black metal movements. What ultimately makes Invaze a rewarding listen is not so much a question of stylistic preferences, but how the band expand upon an established form in order to transform it qualitatively from within.

Invaze follows in the vein of intense death/speed metal hybrids such as Kreator’s Pleasure to Kill; with songs bursting through rhythmically dense “verse”-sections until reaching some form of ultimate revelation in the concentrated, but less convoluted chorus. Rather than settling into this basic formula, Assesor approach it as a point of departure. The production as well as the actual performance are chapters in themselves, that when taken together serve to lend the album a distinctive and instantly recognizable character. Previous commentators have expressed negative sentiments towards the production values, which is kind of strange. Sure, the garage-like, reverberated – especially the drums – production convey a primacy of atmosphere over precision, but each instrument remain clearly audible even in busier passages. Consequently, the album sounds obscure without actually obscuring the content.

Like the majority of Iron Curtain-metal, the musicianship is proficient. Formed by seasoned musicians with a history of playing together in previous bands, Assesor forms a tight ensemble-unit. Vocalist Michal Rohácek employs a high-pitched rasp similar to Mille Petroza, with whom he also shares an affinity for off-kilter vocal rhythms that works as an interesting counterpoint to the instrumental components. That he sings in his native tongue only strengthens this aspect. The bass is unusually audible for this type of music. Even though it mostly serves as a bottom-end to the guitars it certainly gives the songs a more acute punch. Drums are attentive, constantly shifting patterns while maintaining a jazz-like laxness without coming off as either soft nor obstinate.

The guitarist employs wide variety of techniques, patterns. Standard palm-muted pedal-point riffs are interspersed with ringing power chords, longer tremolo-picked note-sequences, heavy metal-styled power chord bombasm, dissonant chordings and angular figures channeled into odd time-signatures in ways reminiscent of contemporary Voivod. Traces of melody is scattered throughout the tracks in the form of long, spidery leads and the type of quasi-folk sonorities common to Czech metal. Thankfully, none of it is not exploited in the name of virtuosity, but put to use in the service of creativity. Moving beyond the essentially binary mode of expression associated with their choice of style, Assesor allow riffs to clash against each other in cycles of varied repetition, forming a larger structure of constantly transmuting, inter-connected phrases that captures a sense of internal conflict without clear resolution or respite.

Not that any of this would matter much though – Invaze was soon overshadowed by more stylistically original and/or refined propositions on the domestic market. Today everyone swears by the names of Master’s Hammer, Root and Törr, while hardly even the most avid Eastern Euro-fetishist gives a damn about Assesor. It’s a shame, because there’s highly qualified, unique and even visionary music to be found on this overlooked album.

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