Silent Night Fever (Regain) / Soundtrack to the Personal Revolution (Relapse)

Dimension Zero / Burnt by the Sun 

Silent Night Fever (Regain) / Soundtrack to the Personal Revolution (Relapse)

If ever there were a need to use the universal quotation-marks hand gesture, it's when differentiating between '80s "metal" (the realm of Winger, Dokken and other vapid aerosol banks) and '80s metal (stomping grounds for Slayer, Anthrax and pre-makeover Metallica). In 1990, Poison bopped unskinny fans with Flesh and Blood, but that title would have fit Slayer's menacingly melodic Seasons in the Abyss, released the same year, much more comfortably. Dimension Zero transports listeners to that era, a time when lightning-quick thrash shocked life into Monsters of Rock who reigned at arenas despite scant radio play.

This Swedish quartet's sound -- quick-progressing start-and-stop guitar leads, stampeding double-bass-pedal percussion, vocals just on the blurry side of decipherable, sheepish melodies in rabid wolves' clothing -- has been done before, but it's seldom been done this well in the past decade. Keeping that period's best elements (classically informed cool-downs, a prog-rock-opera's worth of time-signature changes violently stuffed into a three-minute frame) and eliminating its frills (screeching show-off solos that added nothing to the compositions), Dimension Zero blasts through nine chilling examples of precision brutality in thirty minutes. Its unintentionally whimsical title might conjure images of disco-dancing wise men, but Silent Night Fever is dead serious. It's also powerful enough to downgrade nearly the entire Ozzfest roster to lowly "metal" status.

While Dimension Zero revives a moribund art, Burnt by the Sun excels at a pursuit of recent vintage: injecting extreme metal with winking indie-rock pop-culture literacy ("Dow Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Shooter McGavin" are among the song titles) and free-jazz abstraction. At times, Burnt by the Sun seems to plod along in measured slow-motion stomps, an illusion assisted by its occasional shifts into mind-blowing hyperspeed. In reality, the group moves at a moderately brisk pace, stopping only for chugging breakdowns and voice-and-guitar isolation exercises during which riffs dangle like severely tested bungee cords. But for music fans who appreciate technical proficiency regardless of genre, as well as for head-bangers trying to grasp the shape of metal to come, Burnt by the Sun's ambitious effort could become the Soundtrack of the summer.

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