“Face of the Unknown” by Prayers of Sanity

Band: Prayers of Sanity
Album: Face of the Unknown (2017)
Country: Portugal
Genre: thrash metal
Where to buy: Bandcamp

There is something tremendously fresh about Face of the Unknown, Prayers of Sanity’s third album and their first in nearly five years. The music is solid thrash, aggressive and brutal, screaming and pounding, and even though it’s not pushing any boundaries, it’s an extremely tight effort. In just over a half hour there is not one wasted note, not one musical phrase acting as filler. Everything has a purpose on Face of the Unknown, and we get to enjoy nine songs of pure, undiluted contemporary thrash, “delivering hell and metal for you and me,” as track “Unturned” proclaims. This is one of those albums where we can hear the band enjoying themselves, and we can’t help but join in.

The album opens with the band welcoming you into their particular musical dimension, as they scream the album title in chorus. Instantly, the drums and bass roar into action and the guitar lays down the first of many excellent riffs. The phrasings are quick and even strained at times, but not in a bad way, just in that way that thrash can be when it’s moving fast and powerfully. Artur (drums) does a fantastic job of switching between common and cut time to highlight different textures in the fronted instruments. Listen to his restraint and periodic release on “Past, Present, None” and notice how he gives the guitars a chance to paint with different brush strokes. Carlos’s bass sounds like an alien entity, rumbling metallically over and under the guitar and drums. Tião’s vocals scream at just the right timbre, and he’s often joined by his bandmates to round out the vocal color. They play with call-and-response, with overlaid vocal tracks, and with stark differences in tone, and all of it works. It’s exactly what you’d expect to hear at a basement show with a surging and flailing audience stomping their hearts out.

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That audience would get a hell of a boost from the riffs. There are so many great riffs on Face of the Unknown, and they all sound like a blast to play. The technical repertoire doesn’t move much past standard chops – you’ve got your galloping palm-mutes, your two-note power chord voicings, your sixteenth- and thirty-second-note trills, your hammer-ons and pull-offs, all relatively textbook in the library of guitar skills. But technique doesn’t need to be cutting-edge to be great, a lesson Face of the Unknown demonstrates artfully. Instead of virtuosity, we are treated to well-written and determined song structures, filtered through the blast of classic thrash. Anything more would be wankery, but there’s none of that here.

I appreciate very much that Prayers of Sanity wastes no time. One of my favorite examples is the intro to “Dead Alive,” when the drums go largely tacit and the rhythm guitar builds its main riff over sixteen bars – but instead of dragging it out, by bar twelve the rest of the band has joined in. This was not mandatory, and it would have been very easy to let the guitar fill those remaining four bars alone and have the drums and bass join afterwards. But there would be no reason to do this, and Prayers of Sanity knows it. Their musical economy is not impatient but purposeful and confident (track “Someday” asks us, “Are you confident enough?” and the band certainly is). It shows us that they have real, concrete goals. The sense is of a mature and focused band doing exactly what it aims to do: thrash as hard as possible.

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