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.)
I’m cheating right here at the start… because Cancer aren’t a thrash metal band. They’re a death metal band. But they’re on this list because they represent the frustrations of trying to put a feature like this together.
Creative cross-pollination was almost de rigueur in the UK thrash scene, with hardcore, crust, grindcore, NWOBHM and speed metal all intermingling, and that makes it difficult to define a thrash band outright, especially when a group like Cancer injected unmistakable thrash into equally unquestionable death metal.
Cancer recorded three breakneck albums (and one clunker) before splitting up in 1996. The band’s To the Gory End, Death Shall Rise and The Sins of Mankind are all bruising encounters well worth exploring if you’re a fan of Bolt Thrower, Benediction, or the more recent Memoriam. Cancer have reformed and dissolved a couple of times since the late 1990s, but the band’s best and most brutal material resides in their early years.
CANCER: Hung, Drawn and Quartered
Arbitrater featured Tony ”Rat” Martin on vocals (see Warwound, The Varukers, and Discharge), and the band essentially existed because punk ne’er-do-wells The Varukers split into a couple of competing thrash groups in the late 1980s. To make matters more confusing, for a time one of those bands was called Arbitrater and the other was called Arbitrator. Arbitrator eventually changed their name to Metal Messiah, who feature in Part 2 of this four-part UK thrash series.
Arbitrater released a couple of (now highly collectible) full-lengths in the early 1990s, before they broke up, with some of the band’s members returning to the punk fold. Arbitrater’s 1991 debut, Balance of Power, is replete with streetwise and acid-drenched thrash; i.e., it’s a much rawer Kill ’em All echoing with plenty of second wave punk’s propulsion. The band’s follow-up, 1993’s Darkened Reality, was another bleeding-raw but still high-powered triumph (although 1993 clearly wasn’t a welcoming year for rough-hewn thrash).
Arbitrater toured with UK thrash groups like Xentrix and Slammer, but the band never really found their audience or managed to sign to a well-funded label to give them a helping hand, and that’s more of a reflection of the times than any lack of talent. The band’s bass-driven music might sound coarse and crude, but that’s often what’s required to reinforce the appeal of visceral, authentic thrash.
A++. Hunt Arbitrater down, forthwith.
Decimator’s 1989 debut, Carnage City State Mosh Patrol, is a hugely fun sci-fi explosion framed by an apocalyptic/concept-driven narrative. The band’s follow-up, 1993’s Dirty, Hot and Hungry, doesn’t even come close to matching the appeal of Decimator’s first album, and band broke up soon after. All in all, Decimator had a couple of points of difference that are well worth pointing out.
Decimator were signed to Neat Records, and they had just as much in common with their NWOBHM labelmates as they did any overt thrashers. The band often injected bluesy, power metal hooks into their songs, and it’s been noted before that Decimator’s vocalist, Mad Dog, had a gruff, old-school style akin to Lemmy or Cronos.
Like Motörhead and Venom, Decimator didn’t take themselves too seriously at first, and that edge of irreverence matched the band’s dystopian comic book aesthetic, appealing to punks and metallers alike. If you’re a fan of classic/kitsch UK sci-fi like Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, Space 1999, and the annals of 2000 AD, make sure to hunt down Carnage City State Mosh Patrol.
DECIMATOR: Blood Island
Deathwish formed way back in 1983, and the band delivered two full-length albums before splitting up in 1990. At the Edge of Damnation (1987) and Demon Preacher (1988) are both speed/thrash metal tour de forces, featuring RIFFS + RIFFS + RIFFS galore. It’s a wonder that Deathwish didn’t find more commercial success, because the band’s music—aptly described as “Motörhead crossed with Manowar” in some parts—was a perfect fit for the time.
Demon Preacher was released by high-profile label GWR Records as well—home of Motörhead, Tank, Thor, Girlschool and more—but that didn’t do Deathwish any great favours either.
For whatever reason, Deathwish never made their mark outside of satisfying an appreciative cadre of fans. That’s a shame, because while At the Edge of Damnation is certainly a raw debut, in sonic terms, it more than makes up for any production weaknesses with mammoth levels of savagery and dynamic intensity.
Demon Preacher’s better production values saw Deathwish develop into an even more ferocious beast. So if gritty thrash that recalls as many violent Teutonic terrors as it does frenzied UK thrashers is what you’re after, make sure you check out Deathwish. A criminally underrated UK metal band.
DEATHWISH: At the Edge of Damnation
[Dissonance Productions has reissued both Demon Preacher and At the Edge of Damnation on CD and vinyl: www.facebook.com/DissonanceProductionsUK/videos/1619654918340175.]
Hydra Vein was formed in the spring of 1987 by Deathwish’s former bassist and drummer, and much like Deathwish, Hydra Vein released a couple of well-regarded albums before splitting up. The band’s debut, 1988’s Rather Death Than False Of Faith, features one of those standout awful/amazing metal album covers, although for the band’s second album, 1989’s After the Dream, famed artist Dan Seagrave stepped in to deliver more of his classic cover art.
Rather Death Than False Of Faith was an excellent opening gambit, seeing Hydra Vein garner positive reviews and airtime on Tommy Vance’s Friday Rock Show on BBC Radio One. Eventually, after a series of halting record company and lineup woes, the band signed to RKT Records to record After The Dream. But, sadly, even though After The Dream was a more creatively accomplished album, fans just didn’t latch onto it like they did with Hydra Vein’s scrappier debut.
Hydra Vein broke up soon after After The Dream’s release, but that album, and the band’s feral and bloodthirsty debut, certainly deserve more attention.
HYDRA VEIN: Rabid
UK Thrash Assault (12-inch vinyl)
Hydra Vein also featured on the UK Thrash Assault split, which was released by label C.M.F.T. in 1989. The 12-inch vinyl gathered a bunch of up-and-coming thrash metal hopefuls, who certainly didn’t realise metal’s landscape would be reshaped in a few short years. UK Thrash Assault serves as great window into raw underground UK thrash, and alongside Hydra Vein, the record also featured tracks from Snyper, Pendemia, War Dance, and Llamedos Riil.
Pendemia went on to release a great if little-heard full-length album, 1990’s Narcotic Religion, via C.M.F.T., and it features a torrent of ultra-coarse crossover thrash. C.M.F.T. also released a bunch of Snyper’s demos, and the band released their debut full-length Manifestations in 2013. The album had originally being recorded in late 1990, but it had sat in the vaults for decades, due to C.M.F.T. ceasing operations that same year.
War Dance featured English Dog’s Gizz Butt on vocals and guitars, and the band’s single full-length album, 1989’s Monkey See Monkey Do, sounded like it was recorded inside a rusty tin can inside an even rustier tin can—but that’s all part of its charm. Alas, it seems that Llamedos Riil disappeared into the mists of time after briefly appearing on UK Thrash Assault.
UK THRASH ASSAULT: Hydra Vein / Snyper / Pendemia / War Dance / Llamedos Riil Split
UK Thrash Assault Vol 1 (Cassette)
The UK Thrash Assault 12-inch above differs from the UK Thrash Assault Vol 1 cassette release, although both were released by label C.M.F.T and serve as equally effective peeks into the deep dark bowels of the UK thrash metal underground. Snyper features on UK Thrash Assault Vol 1, but otherwise it’s an entirely different lineup of bands. A couple of the groups featured have been mentioned elsewhere on this four-part thrash saga—namely Obliteration and Metal Messiah—which leaves Resentment, Epidemic, and Cruz Ducks to cover.
The wackily named Cruz Ducks are obviously a crossover thrash band. The group’s Alcohol Abuse demo from 1987 has its fair share of fans, but after a second demo Cruz Ducks changed their name to The Crack Babies, and went off to explore the world of hardcore. Resentment recorded a couple of demos in 1988 and 1989, which I’ve not heard, and they split up and duly vanished in 1989(?). Epidemic recorded their five-track Infectious Reality demo in 1988, which I have heard, and it’s lo-fi thrashing fun, but the band broke up and disappeared without ever recording another note.
Seventh Angel and Detritus
Seventh Angel are a Christian UK thrash/doom band, and the group’s first two albums, 1990’s Torment, and 1991’s Lament for the Weary (featuring some great cover art by fantasy and science-fiction illustrator Rodney Matthews) were issued by noted UK label Under One Flag. The same label was also home to antithetical hordes like Venom and Sarcófago, as well as UK thrash bands like Acid Reign, Re-Animator, and Onslaught, but Seventh Angel had a measure of success that outstripped many of their peers during the group’s heyday in the early 1990s.
Seventh Angel’s first two albums were critically praised for astutely blending doom and thrash, and they certainly make for top-notch entertainment for any open-minded thrash fans. Quite honestly, aside from Seventh Angel, I know absolutely nothing about dedicated Christian UK thrash metal. But I did discover UK band Detritus, who released a couple of full-lengths, 1990’s Perpetual Defiance and 1993’s If But for One, which both sound like they fall into the Slammer and Xentrix school of burly Bay Area-esque thrash.
SEVENTH ANGEL: Tormented Forever
Much like Hellbastard, Sacrilege, and English Dogs, punk ‘n’ stenchcore progenitors Deviated Instinct also incorporated thrash (and a mountain of death metal) into their sound. The pioneering berserker punks (who formed in 1984) had most of their early works released by famed label Peaceville Records. Deviated Instinct’s 1986 full-length Rock ‘n’ Roll Conformity and 1988’s Guttural Breath are not thrash metal albums as such, but they are both crucial punk/metal releases that showcase the breadth of thrash’s influence on the UK extreme underground music scene at that time.
To be honest, I didn’t include Deviated Instinct here to highlight thrash metal’s influence on punk. Deviated Instinct are here because they (and groups like Amebix and Antisect) underscore how a big an impact crust punk had on shaping extreme metal boundaries. That includes UK thrash, which was very clearly shaped by the influence of second wave of UK hardcore.
DEVIATED INSTINCT: The Resurrection Encore
Sacrilege made clear stylistic shifts to move from their classic crust-fuelled debut, 1985’s Behind the Realms of Madness, to the thrash-heavy realms of 1987’s Within the Prophecy. The same filthy guitars were all there on Within the Prophecy, and vocalist Tam Simpson continued to own every track, but the shredding thrash on Within the Prophecy did shear off a lot of Sacrilege’s stench and crust.
These days, it doesn’t seem like any great crime to develop your sound or explore your potential as a band. But back in the day…yeesh! Sacrilege sure had their fair share of critics. As it stands, Within the Prophecy marked a new path for Sacrilege, and it was one they continued to follow as they evolved into a doom band on their next album, Turn Back Trilobite.
Within the Prophecy is a transitional album for Sacrilege, and I’ve always had a soft spot for it because it’s the first Sacrilege I ever heard. In fact, I’ve got a soft spot for plenty of punk/metal albums that people will tell you are X band’s worst recording. It’s simply a reflection of the age I first encountered those releases. But it’s certainly weird discovering that an album you love is considered to be the band’s worst.
SACRILEGE: Sight of the Wise
Crossover band Concrete Sox formed in 1984, making them one of the UK’s earliest punk/metal hybrids. The band’s visceral full-length debut, 1985’s Your Turn Next, is generally regarded as the band’s best work, and it was released by label Children Of The Revolution Records (COR), who also issued crucial works by Sacrilege and Onslaught.
Concrete Sox were genuine pioneers in smashing thrash into punk (alongside the likes of English Dogs, Hellbastard, Deviated Instinct, and Sacrilege), and the band delivered three LPs—Whoops Sorry Vicar!, Sewerside, and No World Order—and various splits, compilation tracks, and 7-inch releases before breaking up in 1999 (they later reformed). Each of Concrete Sox’s releases features a warp-speed mix of raggedly produced metallic punk, with a few kooky tunes often thrown in, and the band’s music and attitude were a clear influence on UK punk, grindcore, hardcore, and thrash metal.
CONCRETE SOX: Eminent Scum (Your Turn Next)