Tormentress’s ‘Operation Torment’ Lays Waste to Mankind
Five women, one mosh pit apocalypse
When I listen to thrash metal, I often get the feeling it carries the essence of metal, as if Slayer’s Reign in Blood was the fulfillment of the genre’s being against which everything else will be a notch off. That isn’t to say, however, that metal has been devoid of good acts since 1986. This is a point that Tormentress makes as loudly and as fast as possible on Operation Torment.
Tormentress is a five-piece thrash metal band from Singapore. Gwen, Tuty, Aniz, Neez and Mas play thrash the way it was before Metallica gave it (delusions of?) grandeur. It’s fast, gritty and frill-free. The group released its demo in 2008 and followed with an EP the next year, uploaded videos to YouTube for a while, and released a split with punk/metal band The End A.D. in 2018 called Sermon of Violence. Tormentress isn’t the most well-known or, recording-wise, most prolific group. In 2014, however, it did release one full-length album. That’s Operation Torment and it’s the band’s most significant statement.
It’s a statement that hits hard. Tormentress mostly sticks to old-school thrash formulas, but “Thrash & Torment” and “No Remorse” surprise for guitarwork more reminiscent of Satan’s furious, almost banjo-like picking than Metallica’s crunchy rhythm. The band does, however, resemble the latter’s “Damage Inc.” (1986) when changing up the tempo partway through “Why??” Vocalist Neez has a blunt, throaty style suited to clobbering, as opposed to the knife strikes of vocalists like Fernanda Lira (ex-Nervosa, currently Crypta), and thereby gives her lyrics impact. Judging from all those bandoliers around hips and over shoulders in band photos, the women of Tormentress don’t just mean business, they are mean business.
Tormentress’s lyrical themes are varied. They impress most when departing from vague tough talk to focus on specific topics like the 27 Club, the metal life and feminism. This last is clearest in “The Great Oppression” and “Why??” They call out male supremacy and admit that in a man’s world, they’ve turned to “music filled with hate and animosity.” If feminist means wanting, at the very least, the same rights and opportunities for women as for men, then you should be ready to enlist in Tormentress’s agenda, but if you’re inclined to argue over specific feminists, statements, ideologies, narratives and policies, you might try setting aside all cavils for the duration of the album. Just enjoy the music and the attitude.
The cover art is equally as militant. It shows five gun-toting zombie-Robocop figures grinning wickedly as they march across an urban nightmarescape. They wear “boob armor” that might do Madonna proud but meet with stern disapproval from “good” feminists like Anita Sarkeesian (as opposed to “bad” feminists like Roxane Gay). Artist Lord Sickness 666 has done an excellent job conveying that the band itself is the source of all the destruction around them. Somewhere out there, Yorick Brown or Lionel Verney or some other last man is running for his life.
Nonetheless, the band’s influences include a lot of men. The band members proudly display their heroes musically as well as visually. In band photos, their T-shirts, battle jackets and even pants are covered in band logos. Many are blurry, but I spot Razor, Dark Angel, Rigor Mortis, Metal Church, Obituary and Necronomicon. Then there’s Kreator, which would seem to be the inspiration for the band’s name and album title. The final track is a cover of that band’s “Tormentor” off Endless Pain (1985). Tormentress goes heavy enough that it does this gruesome pantheon proud.
With Kreator loosing a new one this year, I hope Tormentress feels inspired to do what they need to do to throw down some more of the back-to-basics but engaging thrash on Operation Torment. If you’re anything like me and occasionally get the feeling thrash is situated near the beating heart of heavy music, then that old sound is all you need.