Noted UK punk rock journalist Ian Glasper recently announced that he’s writing a book on the history of UK thrash metal, to be published in 2018. That announcement got me thinking about all the old school UK thrash and crossover bands I used to listen back in the day, and the ones that I still listen to today. So I decided to get busy and write this four-part UK thrash metal special here at Hellbound. I hope you’ll discover a few bands you’ve not heard before.
Feel free to start at Part 1 of this series; there’s plenty of music covered, along with a far more comprehensive introduction to UK thrash. I’m looking forward to Glasper’s new book immensely. In the meantime, let’s get thrashin’.
(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.)
Acid Reign, Lawnmower Deth and Metal Duck
Acid Reign’s initial musical career only lasted for a few short years. But in that time the band gathered a mountain of fans; signed to famed British label Under One Flag; released their well-received Moshkinstein EP (1988) and The Fear full-length (1989); and toured across UK and Europe with the likes of Dark Angel, Flotsam and Jetsam, Death Angel, Nuclear Assault and Exodus. Not bad for a band that primarily dealt in comical crossover thrash.
Acid Reign broke up not long after their second full-length, 1990’s Obnoxious, met with a less than enthusiastic response. But if zany metal is your thing, then absurdist crossover crews like Lawnmower Deth and Metal Duck might also appeal (see their Mower Liberation Front / Quack ‘Em All split from ’89).
Lawnmower Deth found a lot of success with their wisecracking Ooh Crikey It’s… Lawnmower Deth (1990) and Return of the Fabulous Metal Bozo Clowns (1992) full-lengths, which were both released by Earache Records. But the band broke up after releasing their (very) mediocre Billy album in 1994. Metal Duck’s sole full-length is 1990’s Auto Ducko Destructo Mondo –– the band disappearing soon after its release.
ACID REIGN: Moshkinstein EP
UK thrash’s prime years were from around 1985 to 1991, and a number of groups delivered a single full-length album and then faded back into the shadows during that time. Metal Messiah were of those bands.
The group was formed after members of the punk band The Varukers decided they wanted to take a shot at playing thrash metal (the band actually split into two different thrash groups for a while). After a well-received demo, and a coveted slot on Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on the BBC, it wasn’t long before Metal Messiah were in the studio recording their debut, 1989’s Honour Among Thieves.
It’d be fair to say Honour Among Thieves met with extremely mixed reviews due to its flat and horridly muddied production. The band weren’t too happy with the album either, and Metal Messiah folded soon after Honour Among Thieves’ release. But the album isn’t a complete disaster.
You can almost hear what could have been buried deep in Honour Among Thieves’ mix. Especially if you add volume + volume + volume + a lot of forgiving nostalgia. Truth be told, Honour Among Thieves has almost taken on mythic status as an album that’s so bad it’s good. I’ll leave up to you to decide if it makes that grade.
METAL MESSIAH: Metal Messiah
Amnesia had a tantalizing taste of (almost) fame when they recorded a couple of demos, signed with Major Records (a briefly active subsidiary of Peaceville Records), and recorded their full-length debut, 1991’s Unknown Entity, in a very short period of time.
The band’s vocalist, Simon Rose, had more polished vocals than most of his peers, and Amnesia emphasized that by delivering upbeat, power metal-influenced thrash.
After sharing the stage with the likes of Toranaga, Slammer, Xentrix, Metal Church, and Sabbat, Amnesia nabbed Toranaga guitarist Andy Mitchell to produce their debut, Unknown Entity. But that’s essentially where part one of Amnesia’s story ends.
For whatever reasons, Amnesia had dissolved by 1993 (they’ve since reformed), leaving Unknown Entity as a little-heard piece of mid-paced, melodic thrash that fans of Megadeth and Testament might find very appealing.
AMNESIA: Unknown Entity
Onslaught began life as a down and dirty hardcore band, but they transformed into a thrash metal behemoth and delivered two stone cold underground thrash classics in 1985’s Power from Hell and 1986’s The Force. The band then signed to major label London Records to record their third album, 1989’s In Search of Sanity. But when London Record executives heard gravel-throated singer Sy Keeler’s work on the album, they decided he wasn’t fit for purpose, so Keeler was swiftly replaced by former Grim Reaper vocalist Steve Grimmett.
Grimmett had a far more melodic voice, and In Search of Sanity was infinitely slicker and more chart-baiting than Onslaught’s previous releases. That left long-time fans hoping for another filthy, cutthroat classic bitterly disappointed. But, to be fair, those encountering Onslaught for the first time on In Search of Sanity were met with a proficient and polished album that featured plenty of punch in the production stakes.
In the end, though, Onslaught’s core fans deserted them. Grimmett quickly exited the band, and London Records dropped the group. Onslaught broke up in 1991, but the band has since reformed for a very successful second life, with Keeler on vocals once again.
ONSLAUGHT: Power From Hell
Anihilated originally formed as punk band called Prospex in 1981, and changing their name signalled a move into more aggressively metallic territory for the band. Great releases like 1986’s Path to Destruction EP and Anihilated’s full-length debut, 1988’s Created in Hate, fall squarely into the warp-speed and feral as fuck thrash ‘n’ crossover camp (seek ’em out, forthwith). But Anihilated’s second album, 1989’s Ultimate Desecration, saw the band change their sound once again.
That shift in sound wasn’t welcomed by all the band’s fans. I’ve got a soft spot for Ultimate Desecration, but it does feature shonky production, and sees Anihilated endeavouring to become a full-fledged Slayer clone.
I’m fine with that. Others were/are not…understandably so. If you’ve studied Show No Mercy or Hell Awaits you’ll certainly note clear similarities in Ultimate Desecration’s riffs, vocals, and (an attempt at) a similarly razor-edged production.
Obviously, Anihilated are no Slayer. But Ultimate Desecration isn’t a complete facsimile or a disaster. At its best, it highlights that the band’s earliest work captures their instinctive savagery.
A charge laid against a lot early UK thrash bands was that they were they were second tier at best, and were never really going to be able to compete with the big kids. I don’t know about you, but that sounds fucking great to me. Nuclear Assault, Dark Angel, Overkill, Death Angel, Lääz Rockit, Whiplash, Sacred Reich, and countless other bands were also all considered to be second tier groups in thrash’s heyday, and they all made an awesome racket.
I much prefer raw enthusiasm and chainsawing sonics to big production values and bands playing it safe and living in fear of commercial failure. And that’s essentially what makes Virus’ rough-hewn music so much great.
The London band never fussed about with excess technically or convoluted songwriting when pure punked-up speed metal aggression worked just as well. And Virus’ three full-length albums, 1987’s Pray For War, 1988’s Force Recon, and 1989’s Lunacy, are all gloriously toxic and over-the-top thrash metal salvos.
All those albums also happen to be, well, woefully produced –– to varying degrees — which, to be honest, only adds to all the high-speed fun. Best of all, Virus’ ragged and raging songs tapped into the brutal noise that came out of Brazil and Berlin more than any slick Bay Area worship.
VIRUS: Testify to Me
Of all the early UK thrash bands, it’s Sabbat that have garnered the most critical respect. The band’s first two albums, 1988’s History of a Time to Come, and 1989’s Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays) are enshrined in thrash metal’s hallowed halls. And Sabbat’s distinct lyrical focus, highlighting vocalist Martin Walkyier’s mystic/pagan beliefs, and guitarist Andy Sneap’s acclaimed songwriting and arrangements are utterly revered, for good reasons.
Sadly, inter-band turmoil saw Sabbat struggle to get through the recording of Dreamweaver (Reflections of Our Yesterdays), and label, management, and financial woes only added to the pressures on (and in) the band. By the time Sabbat recorded their poorly received third album, 1991’s Mourning Has Broken, guitarist Simon Jones, bassist Fraser Craske, and Walkyier had all excited the band.
Sabbat split up soon after Mourning Has Broken’s release. Sneap has since carved out a career as an in-demand producer, and Walkyier’s folk metal band, Skyclad, has released a long run of well-received albums. Sabbat played sporadic shows after their breakup, but long-running interpersonal tensions look to have buried the band once and for all.
Obliteration formed in 1985, and the group released a long run of demos and then a single full-length, 1990’s Obscured Within. The band’s debut is woefully produced, although that’s no rarity in the realms of UK thrash, but Obscured Within’s mid-paced, chugging thrash also makes it very clear that Obliteration were no virtuosos.
In fact, Obscured Within isn’t any kind of long-lost classic. Parts of it are genuinely atrocious. But I’ve always advocated listening to the full range of UK thrash—the good, bad, and the mediocre—because sometimes the best music is discovered in the worst locations.
The one redeeming thing you could say about Obliteration is that you can certainly hear the band trying hard to make their mark while paying clear tribute to their musical heroes. Obscured Within is absolutely worth a listen, if only as a reference point to the full spectrum of UK thrash metal.
Check back tomorrow for Part 3.