Lethal – Programmed

1990, Metal Blade Records

I swear there must be some sort of master switch that gets turned on (or off!) the day you have a baby. Following my own re-wiring, I’ve definitely noticed a few changes – the key ones being that I cannot handle my drink, my hangovers run into two days, and no matter what time I go to bed, my Mummy brain gets me up at 6am to fester in my own exhaustion, thinking about the big shop, laundry, and mentally trying to work out if the dregs in the fridge can be cobbled together into a half-decent meal.

Today’s beer-breathed, bleary eyed 6am thought: why is Lethal’s Programmed not more talked about?!

Much lauded in the underground, there seems to be little praise for this absolute gem in the terrestrial world. Had it been released a mere five years previously, I am confident that we would not be having this conversation (can I call it that, if it’s just me rambling? Monologue, for those that object). But following not-so-very hot on the heels of their juicy ’87 demo, Programmed landed with a flump in 1990; a small vessel, engulfed by the lashing tides of extreme metal, and the grunge scene darkening the horizon, poised to become the defining sound of the ’90s, when even the greats were attempting to make their sound more commercially palatable to survive (a la Fates Warning with Parallels, and Queensryche’s Empire).

I’ve always thought that the cover art is, whilst simple, surprisingly fitting in conveying the album’s theme – humanity intertwined with machinery – and some of the lyrics still feel very relevant today. There is also an undercurrent of tin-foil hattery, stick-it-to-the-man attitude, and a final Jesus-y flourish, but overall I think a pretty solid, sophisticated concept.

Drawing parallels with early ‘Ryche is obvious (see what I did there?), as they definitely seem a huge influence in the songwriting of the brothers Cook. In Tom Mallicoat, they have the perfect progressive-power metal vocalist, with the range of Geoff Tate, the slightly unhinged control of John Arch, and a theatrical elan – purely his own – with which he delivers lines like ‘raise a func-shun-al haaaaaand’ (a line that, as it turns out, I have been singing nonsense to for years).

Fire In Your Skin is an absolute rager of an opener and sets the tone for the album, leading into the blistering title track. The pace then softens with Another Day, which has one of the most impressive demonstrations of vocal skill and nuance, beautiful and naked. Obscure the Sky is surely one of the best songs ever written in the genre. A reflective ending with the reverent Pray for Me meandering into Killing Machine, and I absolutely love the outro riff, technical to the bitter end!

Lethal were invited to perform at Keep it True 2007 (so jealous of anyone that was there), and this led to a string of successful European shows. Tragically, in 2012, guitarist Eric Cook’s untimely death left the underground shocked. Bravely soldiering on, however, they played an absolute masterclass in live music at KIT 2014, available for our viewing pleasure thanks to the festival’s amazing organisers. And for those still lusting after that Lethal sound, may I also recommend Open Burn, featuring members of Lethal and vocalist Eric Johns doing a fine job at the mic. Their album Divine Intermission is top notch, and available from No Remorse Records.

Right, off for a Chinese and hair of the dog. Send gin and sympathy!

2 Comments

  1. One of my favorite albums that I just discovered along with Screamer- Target:Earth Shok Paris, Helstar- Nosferatu, and many other fantastic releases that I just discovered. Hell I just heard Thundersteel a month ago. As an aspiring USPM vocalist myself, I think Tom Mallincoat is one of the best singers to ever do it. His unusual vocal melodies are ear worm city. \m/

    Like

    1. 🤩 what amazing discoveries to be making! He is undoubtedly one of the more underrated USPM singers of the style. I hope you have managed to find the John Arch albums with Fates Warning, master of the bizarre but catchy melodies. Good luck in your singing ventures!

      Like

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