By Erik Fong

A New Darkness Upon Us
(Century Media)

It didn't take long for second rate hacks to destroy the integrity of thrash with their bombardment of sub-par riffs and mediocre imaginations - but don't count that against U.K. metal act Stampin' Ground. These fat bastards have three solid albums under their belt, and their fourth - A New Darkness Upon Us - continues the group's jaunt towards the highest realms of razor-sharp, hi-fi hardcore.

Within the first two minutes of A New Darkness Upon Us, elements of Slayer and New Order-era Testament show themselves - soon ruffled by the influence of hardcore acts like Hatebreed. But it's producer Andy Sneap - best known for his work with Testament and Arch Enemy - who pulls Stampin' Ground out from the heap of generic hardcore bands and molds the group into a thrash force with the power, spirit and groove of Pantera. The double-guitar riffery of Antony Mobray and Scott Atkins stands at the forefront, super-compressed and proud, leading the charge with Dimebag-ish precision. Singer Adam Frakes-Sime reeks of Anselmo-esque inflections, particularly in tracks like "Killer of Society," "Betrayal Has a Face" and "Unmarked Grave." While much of the album tends to rumble through at one unaltered tempo, Stampin' Ground's A New Darkness Upon Us contains no shortage of memorable axe chuggings, providing more than enough potential to get the guitar hero-less through the entire disc with smiles on their faces.

Left in Kowloon

"Subtle" isn't exactly the first word that comes to mind when it comes to Left in Kowloon. But when you're from a town with a population of two like the album's creator, the Toledo-based Premonitions of War, you can be a little loud without having to worry about waking up your nearest cross-town neighbors. And with the group's relentless use of down-tuned guitars and tom-heavy drumbeats, you could turn the volume on your stereo all the way down and your ears would still be bleeding.

Dissonant chords and low-string bends soak well in the pool of sludge where Left in Kowloon wades. Most of the riffs come and go so fast that you can't even gather yourself in time to realize what it was that just sucker-punched you in the eardrum, and you won't find much form in each of these tracks either, other than all the riffs just happen to sound good together. Aside from Down-influenced Southern-blues stoner riffs in "The Octopus" and "Dim Light District," the whole album is one giant wall with legs that's comin' right for you. But not in a bad way. Give it a try.

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