Teutonic thrash veterans Protector emerge from the underground with a seventh full-length. We’ve got ‘80s death/thrash vibes, concrete songwriting, and relatable lyrical content. Let’s dig in to Summon the Hordes.
While formed all the way back in 1986, Protector have managed to – for the most part – stay within the depths of the underground for the entirety of their career. Be it untimely breakups, living in the shadows of the earlier Teutonic “Big Four”, or perhaps just luck, the band has unfortunately never attained the massive statuses of contemporary German thrashers to the likes of Kreator and Sodom. However, it is crucial that you do not let popularity hinder your opinions of this hidden act.
The group is mostly well-known for their debut, as many of these stories tend to go. With the release of Golem in 1988, Protector jumped aboard the popular train of extreme bands who were all trying to one-up their predecessors (Metallica, Megadeth, Slayer) who were starting to see major fame with stadium tours and mountains of album sales.
With what these retro “death/thrash” groups – Protector, Demolition Hammer, Solstice – lacked in popularity, they made up for in unparalleled heaviness. Sure, Protector may remain within the shadows of greater contemporary acts, but they were very much kings of this smaller late ‘80s movement – of which they remain at the top to this day, a statement solidified by Summon the Hordes.
The only remaining original member is Martin Missy, the group’s frontman. While the other three members joined back in 2011 as part of Protector’s revival and subsequent rejuvenation from a 2003 breakup, the quartet very much kept the aforementioned retro death/thrash vibe.
Summon the Hordes is cleaner than a lot of other death/thrash records. This is a subgenre known for its gritty atmosphere and often indecipherable portions when the drums and guitars are flying at a million miles an hour, so the cleaner (I say that in relative terms – this is still a death/thrash-sounding record) production here offers a different take on the subgenre. I normally wouldn’t be all too thrilled about the cleaner production (my mind goes back to the delightful juxtaposition between the massive bass tone and the buzzsaw guitar tone on the group’s debut), but the songwriting here really leans favourably towards the production choices.
The group’s choice to further continue embodying that retro sound we’ve been discussing works well with the cleaner tones. The guitars are certainly more than audible here, especially during the higher-pitched notes of various riffs to be found. The beautiful thing about Summon the Hordes is that everything is audible, even when all of the record’s intricacies are going at full force. From the fun, jam-oriented riffs on opening track “Stillwell Avenue,” to the varied but successfully contained sound of “Steel Caravan,” the record is produced masterfully. There aren’t as many bass breaks as I’d like, and that particular instrument isn’t too audible, but I feel like the album settles in a sound that doesn’t necessarily need these two aforementioned qualities.
The lyrical inclusions and various influences to be found are also worthy of note. This is very much so a record made by people who are confident at their craft, have honed in on a specific sound, and are still having fun with it. There’s not much effort made to diversify themselves from other acts – a claim can be made regarding a stagnant style here, as this record really isn’t anything sonically new, but such a proposition would be a stretch and ultimately a big middle finger to what Protector is standing for with Summon the Hordes.
“Stillwell Avenue” is influenced by the 1979 cult film classic The Warriors. “The Celtic Hammer” flows within the vein of the great Celtic Frost – it’s not necessarily a worship track per se, but the influence is unignorable. We have a great anthem song with the expected title track. Finally, “Glove of Love,” two-minute long thrasher, concludes the album in comical yet strong fashion. Now, these vastly different songs might seem out of place, or perhaps too eclectic to all be included within the same sonic work, but listening to the Summon the Hordes in full alleviates any related worries you may have. Back to the production and songwriting, both of these qualities are intensely strong on this record, and manage to tie all of the aforementioned tracks together. Furthermore, the songs I didn’t mention all fall within the vein of that classic Protector sound we have all come to love.
I really dislike the album cover. When you’ve come to understand the story behind this album and its lyrical themes it does make sense – the crossed Flying V guitars, skulls, and background lightning all scream “we are here, this is us, and we’re ready to thrash”, but regardless I just really don’t like the artwork. At the end of the day it’s skulls, lightning, and guitars on a metal album cover. I really feel like the album artwork is almost as important as the music it holds, as it really is the face to your music. It’s also a display piece for shirts and especially vinyl record sleeves; this album would have benefitted from something within the vein of Protector’s past artworks – especially the comeback albums. Deviating from the “golem coming out of the ground” theme they had going on is fine, but Summon the Hordes won’t be winning any album art awards any time soon.
The album also suffers from being stuck at mostly one speed for its entirety, but it’s a death/thrash record, so that’s of course to be expected. Regardless, the slower “The Celtic Hammer” and crawling introduction and following segments of “Three Legions” relieve the listener from potential monotony in terms of the album’s tempo. I feel like Summon the Hordes would have benefitted from another medium-paced track, but this gripe is minor.
Ultimately, this was a surprise record for me. I was looking for something to review and remembered that this release came out a few weeks ago. Summon the Hordes is delightfully entertaining and honestly, a top 10 album of the year contender for me, at least before this summer. I have a feeling that this record will be wiped out by whatever crazy subgenre fusion stuff comes out in the next couple of months during the upcomign peak music season, but regardless, Summon the Hordes might be one of Protector’s best albums, if not their best work.