Amnesty is not for those who like complexity in their music. Though thrash had yet to tinker with proggy nuances when Amnesty was released in 1985, there’s still not much depth to Zoetrope. The music is fast, the solos are messy, and the message is of violence and degradation. It just so happens that the band does these things with a snarky attitude and seething reverb, paving the way for a half-hour block of pit-swirling noise.
“Indecent Obsessions” and “Trip Wires” purposefully have a slower tempo beginning each of them, building up a hefty expectation for something ambitious that is quickly tossed aside for sneering adrenaline. Both of these tracks surround the rest of the album, which is gung-ho in its hardcore/thrash styling. Little variations are abound, but songs like “Kill the Enemy” and “Member in a Gang” make their intentions known in the first few seconds. It’s slightly predictable, which is not much of a problem with the crafty songwriting employed.
Musically, there are really only two things that stand out: drummer/vocalist Barry Stern and the devil-may-care guitar work. Stern doesn’t have a great voice, but his melodic barking fits what the music is dishing out. The guitars aren’t very cohesive or precise, especially with the wild soloing that is present on most of the tracks. “Mercenary” has a strong harmonic presence, and “Trip Wires” uses its five minutes (which is like 10 minutes to a regular band) as a chance for extensive shredding aerobatics.
Though Zoetrope broke up after 1987’s A Life of Crime, they attempted a reunion in the ‘90s to lackluster results. Amnesty was the best representation of the “street metal” sound Zoetrope was attempting. It’s a rough album with no positivity, a period piece of the less-than-tranquil side of city living. For giving hardcore music a thrash-generated punch to the gut, Amnesty gets the nod for this week’s Retro Recommendation.