If you face the facts, Belgium has a great history in all the outbursts of metal. From Killer and Ostrogoth to Channel Zero and Diablo Blvd and from Enthroned over Aborted to Agathocles. We clearly made our mark on the extreme genres. Bliksem, hailing from my hometown (Antwerp) could and should, easily be added to that list. 'Gruesome Masterpiece' is their second full-length and it's a massive piece of modern day thrash metal, which is best to be enjoyed loud by the way. (Judging from the banging on the walls, the neighbours disagree with me).
The album opens with 'Crawling In The Dirt' which functions as intro (for a minute or so) and then turns into a fierce thrash metal song. The raw, powerful vocals of Peggy are perfect for this kind of music and give the whole an in-your-face attitude that is quite irresistible. She is a tremendous front-woman who breathes metal and she can easily stand her ground in a male-dominated genre. Just listen to 'Kywas', where the tempo goes up and Peggy effortlessly follows the brutality, or to the heavy rocking 'Twist The Knife'. Placing her between Angela Gossow, Anouk and Janis Joplin might be a decent way to describe her style.
But of course we shouldn't forget about the four guys working their asses off to create the music for Peggy to shine on. These are experienced musicians and won't settle for anything less than stunning. On 'Room Without A View' they take things a little slower (for a while) and suddenly excel in songwriting. Though it still is a strong piece of heavy metal, it shows a element of melody which are once again easily enhanced by the vocals. With obvious backgrounds in thrash, heavy and old school doom metal, these guys come up with some brilliant riffs and rhythms.
'Mistress Of The Damned' repeats that and actually does it even better than the previous one. Here Bliksem seems to show an alternative metal approach in the vein of several female fronted present day metal bands. This might become a radio-friendly hit single if they want to, and same goes for 'The Hunt' which is a bit faster but still has enough rock 'n' roll feel to be played in the early nights of a wedding party (you know, when the DJ decides to please the heavy metal uncles by playing Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Metallica so those uncles can make fools out of themselves with a session of drunken headbanging in front of their children and shamefaced wives).
So yes, there's much more going on than furious thrash metal. 'Morphine Dreams', for instance, blows every female fronted (and many male fronted) doom metal band right of their pedestal. Here the songwriting abilities are massive. Yes, it is one of my favorites and perhaps the song that lifts this album to my top-of-2015-list. And if that doesn't do the trick, then maybe closer 'Out Of The Darkness' will. It's in these pieces that the Janis Joplin reference actually came to mind and they add a lot to this album.
In all, 'Gruesome Masterpiece' is an excellent album with plenty of variation to remain interesting for the entire duration. Fierce thrash songs alternate with well-written pieces of power rock, perfectly suited for the stage and the radio. I'm not going to say that this is a masterpiece but some of the songs definitely are. Besides, it's far for gruesome. Bliksem is something Belgium should be proud of (Antwerp already is) and this album comes highly recommended, if you have the balls...