At the tail end of 2015, Norway’s Critical Solution put out their second studio album, “Sleepwalker”. To the surprise of nobody, this album has been released by Punishment 18 Records, the most thrash-populous label in existence. If your generic signs are going off already, the good news is that Critical Solution isn’t quite as predicable as you might have expected. Sure, there is the ominous, voice-over intro to kick things off, but once the thrashing starts, the band differentiates themselves a little bit. In general, Critical Solution is more in line with Metallica and Testament than they are Exodus, Slayer, or Kreator. This means their songs feature more extensive use of melody, and this is extremely evident in the chorus of the title track. “Sleepwalker” slows down for a monstrously huge chorus, showing off Christer Slettebø’s vocal range. As you may have guessed, he can actually sing, and aligns more with Hetfield than Baloff.
The significant use of melody extends beyond the vocals. In between classic rhythm-heavy guitar riffs, there are plenty of leads, furious solos, and even riffs that incorporate some higher notes on the fretboard. This is particularly evident on the extremely ambitious “Dear Mother”, an 11-minute monster of a song that takes the listener through a variety of moods and sounds, including utilizing the always-popular Maiden-esque harmonies. Another track that is similarly melodic is “Blood Stained Hands”. Again, the Metallica influence is undeniable, and even though the singer's tone is slightly different, one can’t help but draw comparisons to Hetfield’s delivery on more vocally demanding tracks like “The Day That Never Comes” or “One”. This particular track shows Critical Solution doing an excellent job of switching between clean guitar/vocal sections and much heavier, more standard mid-paced thrash. Another song, “Lt. Elliot”, tries something similar – except it’s just vocals and drums – and it is admittedly not as effective.
Of course, Critical Solution also isn’t afraid to go the other direction either. Incorporating blast beats, crazy heavy chugging, and just a ton of brutality is “Welcome To Your Nightmare”. Unfortunately this song shows the band at their most derivative: the main riff is a rip-off of Testament’s “Into The Pit”, while the verse riff/vocal line matches up quite well to a song from Exumer’s “Fire and Damnation” (it might even be the title track, though it’s been a while since I’ve listened to that record). While one can’t deny this song as being quite killer, it would be easier to appreciate if the similarities weren’t so blatant.
Though “Sleepwalker” does fairly draw a lot of comparisons to giants like Metallica and Testament, the band does have enough of their own personal identity to make this record worth hearing. In an age where thrash bands tend to copy Exodus more than any other group, it is refreshing to hear a younger band add some melody and flavour to their approach. Occasionally it gets a little too close for comfort to the classics, but those moments are few and far between.
Be sure to check out and like Critical Solution on Facebook!
3.75/5 or 75%.
Written by Scott