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 to 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.)
Cerebral Fix recorded four albums in as many years from 1988 to 1992, and that’s a notable feat considering the meagre output of most UK thrash bands. The creative leaps the band took over those years were notable too. The bleeding-raw crossover noise you’ll find on Cerebral Fix’s full-length debut, 1988’s Life Sucks… and Then You Die!, is a far cry from the sophisticated tech-via-death thrash found on the band’s final album, 1992’s Death Erotica.
(FYI: Cerebral Fix reformed and released an album in 2016. But I’m talking about the band’s prime years here, my friend.)
Back in the day, Cerebral Fix toured with the likes of Bolt Thrower, Deviated Instinct, Doom, Electro Hippies, and Hellbastard. And as with plenty of other cult UK grinders and thrashers, famed BBC DJ John Peel championed Cerebral Fix’s cause.
Cerebral Fix’s repertoire grew increasingly complex over time, which certainly left some of the band’s original fans both peeved and perplexed, but it also saw the band gather a raft of new converts. Roadrunner Records released Cerebral Fix’s critically respected second and third albums (Tower of Spite and Bastards), but by the time label Music For Nations released Death Erotica, thrash’s day in the sun was almost over.
To Cerebral Fix’s credit, they didn’t end their career with a creatively desperate alt-metal-friendly album like a few other UK thrashers. And that’s meant the band’s legacy has remained intact and appreciated by most.
CEREBRAL FIX: Culte Des Mortes
Hellbastard’s first demo, 1986’s Ripper Crust, is often touted as giving crust punk its name and helping to define the genre’s sound. Whether that’s factually accurate or not, by the time Hellbastard signed with Earache Records to release their Natural Order album in 1990, they were fully committed to embracing West Coast US thrash.
That commitment to thrash over punk was a controversial choice among the band’s fans. Hellbastard’s fucking fierce and crusty crossover full-length debut, 1988’s Heading for Internal Darkness, had been met with deafening cheers. Natural Order, however, was greeted with a far more mixed reception.
Hellbastard weren’t the first punk band to morph into burly metallers, nor were they the first to be accused of selling out or forgetting their roots in the process. However, Natural Order isn’t a catastrophe on the scale of Discharge’s Grave New World (which, admittedly, I’ve got a real soft spot for). And Hellbastard had been clear they wanted to marry “Crass-like politics and the music of Slayer” from early in their career.
Problem was, Natural Order’s blend of Exodus, Slayer, Testament and Metallica was fairly stock standard, although, given that plenty of UK thrashers mixed the same ingredients, that wasn’t a huge crime. In fact, a quarter century down the line, Hellbastard’s blatant stab at thrash metal glory is actually well worth exploring, even if Natural Order stands out as an anomaly in the band’s far crustier discography.
HELLBASTARD: Natural Order
Energetic Krusher has close ties to Hellbastard, and the band’s sole full-length album, 1988’s Path to Oblivion, is one the greatest UK thrash albums you’ve likely never heard. Rather than repeat the same old Bay Area regurgitations, Energetic Krusher delved into the darker world of European and South American speed metal. They slapped on a thick crust of grimier death metal as well.
That all gave Energetic Krusher a more distinct personality than many other UK thrashers. But Path To Oblivion has never reached cult classic status. That’s a damn shame, because Energetic Krusher offered something genuinely different to what was being routinely served up during UK thrash’s heyday. Path To Oblivion’s production wasn’t overly muddy or wafer-thin either, like so many other releases at the time.
Energetic Krusher’s mix of complexity and brutality was astutely gauged. But I don’t want to oversell Path to Oblivion’s merits. It’s not a groundbreaking release as such, but it is dynamic, aptly energetic, and unquestionably entertaining.
ENERGETIC KRUSHER: Lord of Darkness
Pariah are the perfect example of the old guard successfully incorporating a new breed of brawnier and more murderous music. The band originally formed as NWOBHM legends Satan in 1979. But Satan changed their name and tweaked their musical style a couple of times in the 1980s, before settling on Pariah in 1988.
Pariah changed their name back to Satan at a later date, but not before recording a couple of albums, breaking up, briefly reforming, AND seeing some members go on to form long-running UK folk metal band Skyclad. However, roller coaster band histories aren’t the important point here.
What is important is that Pariah represent how many NWOBHM bands endeavoured to adjust to a rapidly changing heavy metal landscape in the 1980s. Pariah’s first two albums are their best, and 1988’s Kindred and 1989’s Blaze of Obscurity showcase the band injecting a hefty dose of Satan’s melodic nous into muscular, mid-paced thrash.
Pariah never found huge fame or fortune, but they were clearly capable of blending adept musicianship with astute songwriting. Most importantly of all, the band were more than willing to explore thrash’s possibilities. Many a NWOBHM band tried and utterly failed to adapt to thrash’s arrival and a demand for faster, heavier, and grittier music. Not so Pariah. File under criminally underrated.
PARIAH: Enemy Within
The UK thrash scene is littered with bands that never had much of a profile — and sometimes that was completely deserved. But then there were bands like Holosade: groups that existed under the radar but still created a hell of an enjoyable racket.
Holosade’s sole full-length, 1988’s Hell House, showed a great deal of promise. Sure, it wasn’t going to upend the Big Four’s reign, or necessarily worry bigger homegrown bands like Onslaught, Xentrix or Sabbat. But Hell House is a well above average (and thoroughly brain-bashing) debut.
Hell House is the perfect album for anyone who’s looking for some obscure speed and thrash metal to dig into, although it isn’t without its faults. Holosade didn’t hit the mark on every track, and the album’s coarse production didn’t do the tunes within any favours either. But there’s something inherently engrossing about Hell House’s raw and high-octane music coupled with Holosade’s clear underground appeal.
Hell House really speaks to that time before thrash metal hit the upper reaches of the charts, when a lot thrash bands released primal albums where the raw enthusiasm routinely overran song mechanics. You’d look past a few of those stumbles and errors though, so long as the band making them knew how to entertain. Holosade definitely entertain, and trust me, you’ll forgive a few speed wobbles on Hell House too.
HOLOSADE: Welcome to the Hell House
D.A.M were signed to famed German label Noise Records, but you’d be forgiven for being unaware of the band’s oeuvre. I’m not trying to be unkind to D.A.M. They had a strong fanbase, played some high-profile shows, and signing to a label that hosted a long-line of other metal icons is certainly worth crowing about. (D.A.M. also were the first Western group to play in Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall.)
There are reasons D.A.M never, well, broke, as such. For a start, their debut, 1989’s Human Wreckage, was just too generic. The album was produced by Harris Johns (Sodom, Coroner, etc), and while D.A.M argue their work was, “distinctively British in [its] use of simplistic and crunching riffs rather than relying solely on technical aptitude,” I’d argue that same style just reeks of East Coast US thrash (see Anthrax, Overkill or New York crossover bands aplenty).
To be fair, Human Wreckage is a lot more enjoyable these days, given the addition of more forgiving nostalgia. But the real tragedy with D.A.M is that their follow-up album, 1991’s Inside Out, was a much stronger release — rhythmically, melodically, sonically, technically, and conceptually.
Inside Out is a genuine underground gem. But the album never found its footing. Noise Records dropped the band soon after, and D.A.M broke up (they’ve since reformed). But if there was ever a case of the right UK thrash album at the wrong time, Inside Out is it. D.A.M did themselves proud in the end, exiting on a genuine creative highpoint.
D.A.M: Inside Out
Re-Animator released three full-length albums on label Music For Nations’ famed subsidiary Under One Flag in the early 1990s. (Under One Flag was also home to the likes of Dark Angel, Death Angel, M.O.D, Nuclear Assault, and a million more crossover/thrash/speed metal crews.) For a time, Re-Animator were managed by Nuclear Assault’s handlers too, and while you’d think that might have lent a steady hand and injected some sage knowledge to proceedings, things didn’t go well for the band.
Re-Animator’s full-length debut, 1990’s Condemned To Eternity, was a solid enough start, and the band hopped on the tour train and gained a swag of fans. But by the time Condemned To Eternity was released, traditional thrash was just on the wane, and the album wasn’t filled with innovative enough music to turn that around.
Condemned To Eternity leaned hard on East Coast thrash (plus a hefty dose of the usual Metallica and Testament veneration) and much like D.A.M’s debut, Human Wreckage, Condemned To Eternity sounds better today than it did in the past. But then, Re-Animator cooked their goose on the follow-up, 1991’s Laughing, adopting an almost funk metal approach on some tracks, and throwing in goofy ideas on others.
By the time 1992’s limp disaster That Was Then… This Is Now arrived, the band had lost and gained a guitarist and singer, and Re-Animator broke up soon after.
RE-ANIMATOR: Condemned To Eternity
Strictly speaking, Tröjan don’t deserve a place on a thrash list because they were really a warp-speed power metal band at heart. I’m highlighting the band’s one and only full length album, Chasing the Storm, because it’s a shredder’s delight and was released by Roadrunner Records in 1985 — just as UK thrash was really kicking into gear.
To be clear, Tröjan had more in common with NWOBHM bands who’d grabbed ahold of speed metal (see Atomkraft or Raven) more than any torn-jeans and greasy haired Bay Area thrashers. But Chasing the Storm puts its foot to the floor from the first second, and it’s worth tracking down if that mid-1980s period where power metal plowed straight into speed metal appeals.
TRÖJAN: Chasing the Storm
Scottish thrashers Drunken State originally caught my eye because the band’s sole full-length, Kilt by Death, features killer cover art courtesy of famed comic book artist Simon Bisley (ABC Warriors, Lobo and Sláine). To be honest, Drunken State probably did themselves a bit of a disservice with their moniker, because it suggests goofier crossover fare than the band delivered. The band dished out fairly burly and bruising (albeit roughly produced) thrash. In fact, if a few more production dollars had been thrown at Kilt by Death, it could well have been a real contender. (It begs for beefier guitars.) Still, what’s done is done, and Drunken State are long gone, leaving Kilt by Death as another “what could have been” tale to add to the storied history of UK thrash.
DRUNKEN STATE: Call to Arms
Tortoise Corpse and Bomb Disneyland
It’ll probably be no surprise when I tell you that Welsh band Tortoise Corpse and English group Bomb Disneyland are both thrash/crossover bands. (Those ol’ wackadoodle names, eh?) I’m guessing it’ll also be no surprise when I tell you that Bomb Disneyland ended up having to change their name after a few terse letters from lawyers arrived in the mailbox.
Tortoise Corpse released three demos and two full-length albums (1991’s World’s Got a Problem and 1996’s Standard of Misery) before they split up. Tortoise Corpse’s albums sound markedly more impactful than average thanks to the band’s guitarist and producer Tim Hamill, who’s gone on to have a lengthy producing career. In fact, World’s Got a Problem and Standard of Misery sound a hell of a lot crunchier and fuller than many more well-known thrash releases from the same era.
Bomb Disneyland released their sole full-length, 1989’s Why Not!, on label Vinyl Solutions, which was also home to Bolt Thrower, Cancer, Energetic Krusher and Cerebral Fix around that time. Why Not! has a galloping (über-)bass-driven sound, and the raw and rapid-fire songs within hit one after another. Why Not! is certainly worth noting down if you’re looking for some obscure crossover noise that won’t let you down in sonic, riffage, or songwriting terms.
TORTOISE CORPSE: World’s Got a Problem
BOMB DISNEYLAND: Faster Bastard
Don’t miss tomorrow’s installation: the final entry in this four-part series on 1980s/early ’90s UK thrash.