UK Thrash: Part 1

UK author Ian Glasper has written a number of books on the history of punk rock, including Burning Britain: The History of UK Punk 1980–1984, and The Day the Country Died: A History of Anarcho Punk 1980–1984. Both of those books feature in-depth commentaries and scores of detailed band biographies, and I was thrilled to hear recently that Glasper is currently writing a similar book on the history of the UK thrash metal, to be published in 2018.

Glasper’s great at digging deep and highlighting overlooked groups, and fingers crossed his book will give due credit to a host of long-forgotten UK thrashers. The early UK thrash and crossover scene was jam-packed with raw enthusiasm and visceral talent, but it had a bumpy ride in both critical and commercial terms.

Even in the scene’s heyday, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, UK thrash bands were often seen as also-rans in comparison to their US and European cousins. And few UK thrash bands ever had an influential impact like their US or European brethren.

That said, there are clearly mountains of second tier (or less well known) thrash bands worth their weight in gold. Much UK thrash might have been tagged as B grade by some, but B-grade thrash is still A-grade fun if it’s delivered with gusto, and if you’re willing to forgive a few hiccups in favour of good ol’ nostalgic entertainment.

To be honest, the UK thrash scene wasn’t without its faults. A lot of UK thrash and crossover bands released horrendously produced recordings. And plenty of NWOBHM and punk bands just blatantly upped the tempo with little creative nous to cash in on thrash metal’s rise.

Even worse, many of those same bands shamelessly tried to adapt their sound to suit changing musical tastes in the early 1990s, leaving their original fanbases even more bewildered.

All of that clearly eroded support for the UK thrash scene, and when metal struggled to find a solid footing in the 1990s most of the early UK thrash bands imploded.

Of course, none of that means there wasn’t a huge amount of great music to be heard during the early years of the UK thrash scene—hence this four-part UK thrash metal special right here at Hellbound.

Some of the music featured still sounds powerful and punchy to this day. And some of it sounds, well, fucking atrocious. Although, to be fair, it sounded fucking atrocious back in the day anyway.

One small note: many of the bands featured in this four-part special have reformed in recent times. In most cases, I haven’t acknowledged that, mainly for the reason that those bands’ best work is found in their early years.

Now, let’s get thrashin’.


Xentrix

Xentrix are my favourite UK thrash band, and in the late 1980s and early 1990s Xentrix looked set to become one of the UK’s biggest metal exports. The band’s first two albums, 1989’s Shattered Existence and 1990’s For Whose Advantage?, were heavily indebted to the Bay Area sound, but they sold plenty of copies and garnered much-deserved critical respect.

Xentrix played key support shows with the likes of Slayer, Testament, and Sepultura as well. But the band’s poorly conceived/received third album, 1992’s Kin, really put the brakes on Xentrix’s momentum.

Still, Xentrix were firing on all cylinders on Shattered Existence and For Whose Advantage?. Both albums are stacked with chugging high-powered riffs, barking vocals, and heavyweight percussion. Sure, you can clearly hear Testament, Exodus, and Metallica in Xentrix’s sound. But Xentrix honed their big, burly, and mosh-friendly tracks to perfection, and their first two records are formidable UK thrash classics.

XENTRIX: For Whose Advantage

Xyster

Remember when I said UK thrash bands frequently delivered albums that were horrendously produced? Well, say hello to Xyster: a band once generously described as “a hot fucking mess”.

Like a number of UK thrash bands, Xyster’s roots were in punk rock, and the band’s full-length debut, 1989’s In Good Faith…?, is duly raw, abrasive, and features the kind of godawful barbwire noise that represents every D-grade UK thrash element in one untidy package.

That said, I love D-grade thrash — although even I’ll admit that the artistic merits of In Good Faith…? are clearly debatable. Mind you, Venom’s early efforts got a critical mauling too, right? Honestly, it would be a stretch to compare the rawest Venom to Xyster’s even more acid audio adventures, although both bands clearly wore their punk rock influences proudly.

Xyster’s songs were VERY uneven and unpolished, but the band delivered them with a heap of scrappy enthusiasm, meaning Xyster’s one and only full-length album has its own crude and coarse charms… maybe!?!

XYSTER: Sentenced by Pilate

Blood Money

Like many NWOBHM bands seeking to adapt to thrash metal’s arrival, Blood Money added more pace and anger to their sound, becoming gnarlier with each release. The band’s second full-length, 1987’s Battlescarred, is their heaviest, and vocalist Danny Foxx howls with all his theatrical power metal might over gritty and gouging speed metal riffs.

Blood Money were signed to Ebony Records, home to some great NWOBHM bands lost in the mists of time: see Blade Runner, Cobra, Chateaux, and Samurai. Ebony also released works by the more well-known Grim Reaper, and for a brief moment in time Blood Money were certainly deserving of the kind of attention Grim Reaper, well, reaped.

Blood Money tears through Battlescarred with buzzsaw guitars and a whirlwind NWOBHM flourish, setting dynamic propulsion and dramatic hooks front and center. File under rough but nonetheless rousing fun.

BLOOD MONEY: Shapeshifter

Warfare

Here’s the oft-told tale of Warfare: In the mid-’80s, the band were invited to open for Metallica at the famed Hammersmith Odeon. But upon learning that they’d have to cover their own expenses, Warfare said, “fuck you very much,” and played a set in the Odeon’s carpark during Metallica’s show.

That stunt resulted in damages to a number of vehicles, which led to criminal charges, and that (self-)destructive streak is ever-present on Warfare’s first three albums — which are their best releases.

The band’s most ferocious album is 1986’s Mayhem, Fuckin’ Mayhem, which is a cult classic for good reason. Mayhem, Fuckin’ Mayhem showcases Warfare’s combination of bleeding-raw thrash and appalling production values to a T. And it also highlights that Warfare were born from and fuelled by punk rock: founder, drummer, and vocalist Evo having spent time in bands like Angelic Upstarts and The Blood.

There’s no mistaking punk’s anarchic attitude in Warfare’s aesthetic. The band dealt in blistering unhinged tunes that were infinitely more concerned with snapping necks and giving the finger than any virtuosity. Mayhem, Fuckin’ Mayhem is an excellent choice for starting riots and/or soundtracking any lengthy solvent sniffing sessions you’ve got planned for the weekend.

WARFARE: Mayhem Fuckin’ Mayhem

Slammer

Slammer formed in 1987, and they were dead and buried by 1992. The band is probably best remembered because they signed to major label WEA Records immediately after they’d released their first demo. WEA had decided that Slammer were destined to be the UK’s very own Metallica.

WEA pumped mountains of money into the production and marketing of Slammer’s full-length debut, 1989’s The Work of Idle Hands…, but, of course, the band never sold umpteen millions of albums. Slammer did play packed shows alongside Onslaught, Acid Reign, Xentrix, and Celtic Frost, and they proved their artistic worth live. But Slammer were duly dropped when The Work of Idle Hands… underperformed, and the group broke after releasing their second album, 1991’s Nightmare Scenario.

The Work of Idle Hands… was criticized by many for being too generic on release — i.e., it was just too blatantly American for its own good. And all the pre-release hype didn’t help. But I loved the album when it was first released, and, to my ears, it still sounds dynamic and engrossing today. Fair dues, The Work of Idle Hands… certainly wasn’t the Master of Puppets WEA had hoped for. But it’s a solid album filled with thick-set and punchy thrash.

SLAMMER: God’s Prey

Toranaga

When people talk about the early years of UK thrash, you’re generally going to hear names like Onslaught, Sabbat, Xentrix, and Acid Reign being mentioned first and foremost. But Toranaga deserve just as much respect and recognition as the aforementioned.

The band was founded in 1985, and Toranaga released their visceral debut, 1988’s Bastard Ballads, on Peaceville Records. The band’s follow up, 1990’s God’s Gift, was cleaner (but still big and brawny) and was released by Chrysalis Records. Toranaga parted ways with Chrysalis after God’s Gift release (see Slammer and Onslaught for similar major label woes), and with key members leaving the band soon after, Toranaga dissolved in 1992.

Bastard Ballads and God’s Gift are both underrated gems of UK thrash. And both will prove particularly appealing if you’re a fan of the early years of Overkill or Exodus.

TORANAGA: The Shrine

Debauchery

Crossover thrashers Debauchery released a single full-length album, 1988’s On Ice, and it’s notable for a couple of reasons. First, On Ice sounds genuinely fucking terrible. Although, On Ice has plenty of competition in that department, given the UK metal and punk scenes were overflowing with awfully produced albums in the 1980s.

Second, On Ice has some of the worst/best comic book cover art imaginable. Yet, realistically, neither the album’s atrocious artwork or production issues are deficiencies, as such.

In fact, On Ice is a great example of the kind of instinctual thrash/punk being churned out on demos, splits, and bedroom-recorded cassettes in the UK during the 1980s. Admittedly, shithouse, bedroom or low budget studio recordings aren’t for everyone, but some people —i.e., me — love ’em for their obvious failings matched with their even more obvious enthusiasm.

Debauchery’s label, Loony Tunes, released plenty of snarling, lo-fi hardcore in the 1980s, including some 100% brilliant crusty grind/punk from UK band Atavistic (make sure to check them out!). Debauchery only released one more demo, before splitting up in the early 1990s, and like many obscure UK metal/punk bands, Debauchery are a conduit to discovering an interesting underground label and a bunch more brain-smashing music.

You don’t have to like it, but On Ice serves a good purpose.

DEBAUCHERY: Damnation Game

English Dogs

English Dogs are a long-running hardcore/crossover punk band that formed in the early 1980s. But like plenty of their shouty and snot-nosed brethren, English Dogs took a stab at delving into thrash metal in the mid-1980s. Guitarist Graham ‘Gizz’ Butt was the one who really brought metal to English Dogs’ sound when joined in 1984 (Butt also found fame playing noisy guitar for The Prodigy in the late 1990s). And English Dogs recorded a couple of heavily thrash-influenced full-lengths: 1985’s Forward into Battle and 1986’s Where Legend Began.

Unlike most dedicated UK thrash metal bands, English Dogs actually had a lot of crossover success in the US. In fact, the band’s 1986 tour of the US saw them play huge sold-out shows up and down the East and West Coasts. Returning home, English Dogs played alongside Possessed and Voivod, amplifying their metallic direction, and increasing their metalhead fanbase. But the band never managed to capitalise on that, breaking up for the first (of many) times in early 1987.

English Dogs have a lengthy discography nowadays. But Forward into Battle, Where Legend Began, and the band’s Metalmorphosis 12-inch (from 1986) are their most metal releases. All are highly recommended.

ENGLISH DOGS: Nightmare of Reality


Tune in tomorrow for UK Trash: Part 2.

Craig’s UK Thrash History playlist on YouTube

Craig Hayes

Internationally published writer, columnist, and radio producer.