Tremble, You Weaklings, Cower in Fear: The Ten Best 80’s Thrash Metal Songs About Nuclear War

While the threat of nuclear war is still a very real thing today, it doesn’t weigh on my mind the way it did when I was just a li’l guy back in the 80’s. The nightly news talked about it a lot, and it used to terrify me, and then Nancy Reagan’s grandpa made Old Man Gorbachev tear down a wall, and it kind of faded out of the public eye, and life was fucking peaches and cream all the time, and no one wanted to hurt us, until Saddam Hussein threatened our freedom, or whatever. These days, not much airtime is given to the topic, save for an occasional report about Iran or North Korea and their uranium enrichment attempts, because terrorism is the new nuclear war. I don’t really know where I’m going with all this, except to remind you that the media should not be trusted, because they only tell you what they want you to know.

Anyway, I’ve been kicking around the idea of a mixtape about nuclear war for a while now, but to be perfectly honest, the topic can be a bit overwhelming. There are so many metal songs about nuclear war and its aftereffects that I just didn’t know where to begin, so I never bothered. Then one day last week, my buddy Sean suggested I put together a mixtape about nuclear war, and I decided to give it some more serious thought. To make it easier on myself, I settled on the requirement that the songs be of the thrash metal variety. What follows is the result, and if you’re a regular reader of this blog, there are likely to be no surprises. Thrash metal is my lifeblood, and I make no apologies about it. Maybe I’ll make another nuke-themed mixtape some other day where being a thrash metal band isn’t a requirement for the list…maybe not.

As with my previous entry about thrash metal ballads, I don’t necessarily believe these are the the ten very best nuclear war-themed thrash metal songs. Rather, they are ten nuclear war-themed thrash metal songs that I love dearly; I just gave it the title and numbered it from 10 to 1 to see how many people read the intro. It is, in fact, chronological.

Onward to mayhem!

10. Voivod – “Nuclear War” (from War and Pain – 1984)

“Storm, the only weather
Start the directives assassins
Warm inside the under shelter
Wait and fell your broiling skin…”

I’ve written about Voivod extensively, and there’s still more to come, eventually. I love them so hard. This is the last song on their debut album, and while it’s technically a part of the Voivod saga, it also perfectly reflects the air of paranoia and unease that permeated everything in the mid 1980’s. The broken English and the plodding, marching feel of the first almost-five minutes of the song work together to add an extra layer of complexity and fear.

9. Exodus – “And Then There Were None” (from Bonded By Blood – 1985)

“Wars coming, start running, eyes blinded by the nuclear blast
Hearts beating, retreating, all around are bodies burned to ash
Children crying and people dying, no salvation from this holocaust
Bodies burning and now they’re learning, in war painful death’s the bloody cost…”

This is one of my favorite Exodus songs. That main riff is the shit. So, full disclosure: I woke up at like 2:30 AM and couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got out of bed and started putting this together around 3:30 AM. I wrote the intro, then started filling in track info at the end and worked my way toward the top. It is now almost 7:00 AM. I’ve grown very sleepy.

8. Anthrax – “Aftershock” (from Spreading the Disease – 1985)

“Blinding our eyes as the sun turns to black
A world full of hatred and fear
All are committed, there’s no going back
There’ll be no one left to hear…”

I still have lots of Anthrax-related things to write about. I’ll get around to it some day. I love this song, and this album. Also recommended, “One World”, from 1987’s Among the Living.

7. Dark Angel – “Falling From the Sky” (from We Have Arrived – 1985)

“Watch the sky
Death is near
You are falling
The final day is near…”

The first Dark Angel album is a glorious, cacophonous, thrashy mess, and “Falling From the Sky” is a perfect example of what the rest of the album sounds like. Not recommended for the faint of heart, or the delicate of ears.

6. Nuclear Assault – “Nuclear War” (from Game Over – 1986)

“No one wins
In this game
Both sides have lost
Who has won
When all are dead
Except for the machines…”

If I didn’t already know, I would be willing to bet that Nuclear Assault were born in the long shadow of the Reagan years. Everything about this band is steeped in nuclear paranoia, government corruption, and environmental destruction. Also, it goes without saying, but Dan Lilker fucking rules.

5. D.R.I. – “Oblivion” (from Crossover – 1987)

“The day has come, the time is near
For all to end. It’s true, it’s here
It’s all over now, no way to stop
The button’s been pushed, the bomb’s been dropped
The city is melting, the sky burns red
The ocean is boiling, we’ll soon be dead…”

I never got around to writing a review of the D.R.I. show at the 5th Quarter Lounge in Indianapolis back in September, but it was fucking awesome, and so is this song.

4. Sodom – “Nuclear Winter” (from Persecution Mania – 1987)

“Slow death is what we can expect
Strike will have just this one effect
Condemned to capital punishment
By the nuclear sword of Damocles…”

The opening track from the Tuetonic thrash titans’ second full length album is a master course in Thrash Metal Riffery, and like the Voivod song above, Tom Angelripper’s slightly broken English makes the lyrics even more unsettling. Side note: I found this album on cassette in a pawn shop in Bedford, Indiana circa 1989. I bought it, along with Jimmy Page’s Outrider. I didn’t really appreciate either album at the time, but one of them made a notable impact on my impressionable brain – an impact that would manifest itself in a super hardcore fashion 4 or 5 years later. The other one was Jimmy Page’s Outrider.

3. Death Angel – “Final Death” (from The Ultra-Violence – 1987)

“Dogs of war, for your blood they lust
Radiation turns your body to dust
Watching fallout as it fills the sky
Now it’s time for this planet to die.”

From all the way back when some of the members Death Angel were still growing pubes, “Final Death” is a lean, mean bastard. It’s not the best song on the album, but it’s still better than most other songs in existence, and Mark Osegueda’s blood-curdling air raid siren wail at around the 2:35 mark sums up the fear in the lyrics perfectly.

2. Metallica – “Blackened” (from …And Justice for All – 1988)

“Fire
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Blackened is the end
To begin whipping dance of the dead
Color our world blackened…”

I hate …And Justice for All because of the way it sounds – Newsted’s nonexistent bass guitar, Lars’ steel trashcan drums, generally non-good sound quality – but I goddamn love …And Justice for All because of the songs, and because of the place it occupies in my nostalgic heart. Metallica is dead; long live Metallica.

  1. Megadeth – “Rust in Peace…Polaris” (from Rust in Peace – 1990)

“I spread disease like a dog
Discharge my payload a mile high
Rotten egg air of death wrestles your nostrils…”

That chorus hasn’t left my head since the first time I heard it. The final track on what is arguably Megedeth’s finest hour is a masterpiece of nuclear paranoia and terror. Mustaine’s vocals are perfect, and in a fresh twist, the lyrics are from the point of view of the Bomb itself. Rust in Peace is Dave Mustaine’s dragon, and he will probably chase that beautiful motherfucker until his final breath. Megadeth is dead; long live Megadeth.

That’s all I got for now, heavy people. Do you have any favorite nuclear war-themed songs? Let’s discuss it, why not? And don’t forget to stay heavy!

 

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Warriors of Ice: A Voivod Primer, Part 1

In lieu of my usual Thrash Thursday fare, I’m going to finally begin the long-talked-about saga of Voivod.  They started out as a thrash metal band, so it technically fits, and besides, it’s my blog.  The Voivod story will definitely spill into at least two parts, and possibly more, because the story becomes a bit complicated as it goes on, and quite frankly, I have other stuff to do.  Now, without further ado…

Voivod originally formed in Jonquiere, Quebec, Canada (about 300 miles north of Montreal) in 1981.  Visionary drummer and artist Michele Langevin spent much of his time as a young boy drawing, as well as reading science fiction and horror magazines and books.  He also lived with a near-constant fear of nuclear war (this was pretty common in the late 1970s and early 1980s, before fear of terrorism became the new thing), and he grew up near a massive aluminum processing/manufacturing plant (the largest in North America), which he could see out his bedroom window, and which often gave him nightmares.  While reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, he came upon a word that stuck with him – “voivode”, an old Slavic word which meant “warlord”, and which eventually came to denote a governor of a province (much like an English duke or a prince).  He began to combine this intriguing word with his frozen, mechanical surroundings to create a “post-nuclear vampire” character who ruled over a frozen land that Langevin dubbed Morgoth, where constant war was the norm.  Who could’ve guessed that a child’s fantasy would go on to influence heavy metal for decades to follow?

In 1981, guitarist Denis D’Amour asked Jean-Yves Thériault to play bass with him so they could start a band.  Thériault knew Langevin from high school, and the three attempted to make music together, only to disband soon after, because, in the words of Langevin, “everything went wrong because nobody could play.  [D’Amour] was the only true musician.”  Langevin and Thériault took a year off to learn their instruments, and the band reformed in full in 1982 and brought Denis Bélanger into the fold as vocalist in 1983.  In the spirit of NWOBHM heroes Venom,  the members of the newly dubbed Voivod took on nicknames (the reasons for the nicknames can vary, depending on the source): Bélanger became “Snake”, because he was tall and thin and moved in weird ways while singing; Thériault became “Blacky”, because he often had a bad attitude; D’Amour became “Piggy”, because he was chubby (although I once read an interview with Blacky, in which he said that D’Amour was called Piggy because he “smoked weed like a fucking hog”); and Langevin became Away, because his mind was always somewhere else (in that same interview, Blacky also indicated that Away had a propensity for being late to/not showing up for practice – i.e., he was always away).

The band played ceaselessly, recording live performances to use as demo tapes, and eventually garnering the attention of Brian Slagel of Los Angeles, California-based Metal Blade Records.  Slagel commissioned a song from the band for his upcoming Metal Massacre V compilation, where they would appear alongside such (soon-to-be) legendary bands as Overkill, Metal Church, Hellhammer, and Fates Warning.  Voivod’s song “Condemned to the Gallows” also earned them a one-album deal with Metal Blade, and their debut, War and Pain, was released later that same year (1984).

War and Pain is a nasty, loud, cacophonous beast of an album, just barely holding itself together, and punctuated by the band’s already noticeably off-kilter time changes. Paul Sutter, reviewing the album for influential British metal magazine Kerrang!, called War and Pain “probably the worst record I have ever heard in my entire life…like a moose being squashed by a steamroller (the vocals), whilst putting a strong magnetic current through a dustbin half-full of ball bearings (the band).”  Sutter said that like it was a bad thing.

Away’s original concept of the Voivod and his frozen lands played a small but significant role on the first album – the cover represents Away’s interpretation of the Voivod, and the very loose story on the album tells of the Voivod being awakened/revived after a nuclear war to reclaim its rightful place as ruler of Morgoth.  I call the story “very loose” because the lyrics aren’t exactly understandable or sensible, being in English as they are, while the band’s native language is Québécois French.  This makes for some unintentionally hilarious lyrics, such as “Why don’t you believe on it/ You know what we want/ Go shit! I’m not a fish/ We’re gonna burn your home” (“Suck Your Bone”), but does not necessarily make for the most cohesive story.  Essentially, you get the gist of the story from the album title and cover, from the song titles, and from the apocalyptic sounds coming from the record: the Voivod is back, and he is gonna fuck you up.  At the end of the album, the Voivod is defeated in “Nuclear War”, and you’re finally allowed to breathe.  Then the band’s second album, 1986’s so-very-aptly-titled Rrröööaaarrr, comes in behind you and fucks you up all over again.

The very basic story of Rrröööaaarrr finds the Voivod reawakening after several more nuclear wars, this time as “Korgüll the Exterminator”, an unstoppable killing machine of unimaginable destruction, hell-bent on avenging his previous defeat.  Korgüll is immortalized on both the album’s cover (again painted by Away), as well as on the eponymous opening track.  People who are utterly horrified/not impressed by what they heard on War and Pain are not going to be won over by Rrröööaaarrr.  Where the songs are concerned, there isn’t much difference between the two albums; the real difference here is in the production.  To the point, Rrröööaaarrr sounds like it was recorded directly into an old-school tape recorder stuck inside an empty 50 gallon oil drum.  It’s maybe my least favorite Voivod album, but I still think it’s fucking great.  Standout tracks include “Ripping Headaches”, “Thrashing Rage”, “Slaughter in a Grave”, and the subtle-as-a-hammer-to-the-teeth “Fuck Off and Die”.  The title of the album closer, “To the Death”, has become the rallying cry of Voivod fans since the album’s release (not unlike “Up the Irons!” to an Iron Maiden fan).

By the time the band’s third album, 1987’s Killing Technology arrived, Korgüll had destroyed Morgoth and escaped to outer space in search of new worlds to conquer.  The songs began to get noticeably different here – song lengths and structures became more fluid and open-ended, and the band had gotten much better at playing their instruments.  In fact, it’s safe to say that this is the last Voivod album that could rightly be called “thrash metal” from beginning to end.  The album was recorded in Berlin, and the influence of German thrash metal is undeniably present.  Some of the band’s very best songs come from Killing Technology, including the title track, “Forgotten in Space”, nuclear paranoia-fueled original album closer “This is Not an Exercise” (CD re-issues close with “Cockroaches”, which was originally released on a 12″ picture disc companion single to the album, and also include “Too Scared to Scream” which was the A-side to “Cockroaches”), and the brilliant “Ravenous Medicine” (which is the first Voivod song I ever heard).  The video for “Ravenous Medicine” features a lot of Away’s artwork, which is a nice bonus, plus you get to hear Snake warble “you’re going to the science hospital!”, which is a great fucking line.

In 1988, with outer space all used up, Korgüll created  a new dimension in a laboratory experiment, then traveled there to observe its inhabitants, extract their knowledge, and destroy them all and their dimension.  The evidence of these otherwise undocumented events is the band’s first foray into full-on concept album, Dimension Hatröss, and this album absolutely changed the way I think about music, and to some extent, about life itself.  Musically, Dimension Hatröss finds the band evolved far beyond the sounds that made Paul Sutter wish he was deaf just four short years before.  Of particular note is Piggy’s guitar work – his already-common use of dissonant and minor chords came to full fruition here, and some of my favorite sounds of all time are parts of this album.  In fact, I can’t even choose a favorite song (or songs) from Dimension Hatröss – rather, I have favorite parts of the album, and favorite sounds from the album.  Like any great concept album, musical and lyrical themes reoccur throughout the album, and the end is so sublime and magnificent that I can’t listen to the album just once – one listen demands a second listen, immediately following.  Since I can’t choose a favorite song, I’ll share the two songs for which the band made videos, “Tribal Convictions” and “Psychic Vacuum”.

Seriously, I cannot recommend Dimension Hatröss highly enough.  Get yourself a copy, turn off your phone, pop open a beverage of your choice, and listen to the album from beginning to end, while reading the lyrics, the way albums are meant to be experienced.  It might take a couple of listens to get it, but that’s okay – it’s meant to be listened to again and again (and again, and again, and again…).

The final chapter in the saga of Korgüll the Exterminator (for a while, anyway) came on 1989’s Nothingface, which marked an even more drastic change in the band’s sound.  Nothingface was about as close to a breakthrough as the band would come, until more recently, reaching number 114 on the Billboard 200 charts.  The album was released on Mechanic Records, which was a heavy metal sub-label of MCA Records.  They embarked on a headline club tour of the US in support of the album, bringing a couple of up-and-coming bands called Soundgarden and Faith No More along with them, and finished the tour cycle with some Canadian dates opening for Rush.

Nothingface ties in with the original concept a bit more loosely, but the story is still in place – after using up and destroying Dimension Hatröss, Korgüll destroys its own personality and tries to assimilate the personalities of others, but to no avail, and becomes trapped inside its own mind.  All but two of the songs on Nothingface deal in some way or another with fear, with depression, or with mental processes going wrong, and the time changes in the music ultimately create an atmosphere of confusion in the listener, bringing you somewhat in line with what the Voivod is experiencing.  This album is perhaps best known for the amazing cover of “Astronomy Domine”, a Pink Floyd song from that band’s brilliant first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967).  Away has stated in interviews that they recorded it and included it on the album in order to try and get airplay, although it really does fit nicely within the overall framework of the album.  The plan payed off to some extent – “Astronomy Domine” was featured in pretty regular rotation on MTV’s Headbanger’s Ball, and to this day, when I talk to people about Voivod (which can happen pretty often), I find people who know the song and/or video from the days when MTV meant something other than white trash twentysomethings getting drunk and fucking each other.

I’m also going to share two songs from Nothingface: the title track and the side one closer “Missing Sequences”, which explores memory loss in a person mining aluminum on an unknown planet.  The latter is one of my very favorite Voivod songs, and if you listen with the right kind of ears, you can hear traces of the influence of fellow Canadians Rush.

Some major changes befell the band when they entered the studio to record the highly anticipated follow-up to Nothingface, but that will be a subject for another time.  For now, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of Dimension HatrössNothingface, and Killing Technology, in that order (the first two can wait until later), and diving deep into the strange, beautiful, and sometimes frightening waters that are Voivod.  And it goes without saying that you should keep on staying heavy.

To the death!

Thrash Thursday: The Eternal Nightmare of Kroger

I was making some brownies earlier tonight, and discovered quite last minute that I was out of peanut butter chips.  I said some swear words, covered the brownie batter with plastic wrap, said some more swear words, put on my coat, and got in the car to drive to Kroger, which is the nearest store to my house.  The entire trip should have taken no more than 15 minutes.

When I got to the store, the parking lot was a madhouse.  After locating a parking space, I walked inside to find the entire floral department (which I had to walk through in order to get where I needed to go) abuzz with dumbasses standing around with bouquets in their hands, none of them knowing what to do next.  I finally made my way through them, got to the “Baking Needs” aisle, and on the other side of two unattended shopping carts (the owners were standing about 5 feet away, yammering on about some kind of inane bullshit), I found an empty  Reese’s® Peanut Butter Chips display box.  I began to scan the shelves frantically, looking for an inferior store brand peanut butter chip, but to no avail (one more reason why Marsh is the superior large grocery chain in southern Indiana).  As I began to leave the aisle, one of the women whose cart was in my way issued a half-assed apology to me.

I decided to check the natural foods section and found a bag of organic peanut butter chips for 9 FUCKING DOLLARS.  I said “Fuck this!” and decided to grab a bag of Reese’s® Pieces, along with a couple of other things I needed, and get the hell out of there.  I had to weave my way around and through more dumbasses standing around in front of the Valentine’s Day displays, got my three items, and proceeded to the self-checkout, because with very few exceptions, the Kroger stores in this town are not known for having friendly cashiers.  I scanned my three items, pressed the button to proceed to the payment screen, and then the screen informed me that the attendant had been notified to assist me (for absolutely no apparent reason, I might add – all three items were scanned and bagged, I had no coupons, and I was paying with my debit card).

A full 15 seconds passed while I shot eye-daggers of hatred into the back of the attendant’s head, then she looked up at her computer screen, pressed a button, and my transaction was finished.  I zipped through a final run of morons, made it out the door and back to the car, pulled out of my spot, and was almost backed into by some jackass who could not manage to park their giant goddamn SUV.  Then I got stuck behind another jackass, who was waiting in the main thoroughfare (without a turn signal, of course) while some dipshit took forever to back their car out of their parking space, so the no-turn-signal-using jackass could park as close to the door as possible (to go and stand around the Valentine’s Day displays like a dumbass, I’m sure).

What’s the point of all this, you ask?  The point is that I listened to Vio-Lence on the way home, and it made me feel better.

Happy Thrash Thursday.

Stay heavy.

Thrash Thursday, Official Volume 1: The Final Testament

Happy Thrash Thursday!  This is the first time since starting this blog that I’ve had both the time and the motivation to put together a Thrash Thursday post on Thrash Thursday, and I’m pretty stoked about that.  Hopefully this will be the beginning of an amazing run.  Or at the very least, y’know…a run.  Onward!

If you need to catch up on the story of Testament, as told by me, you can do that here and here.  You’ll note (or perhaps recall) that this story began as a tangent from a related topic, a common occurrence for me.  The original topic will be revisited here eventually.  In case you’re in a hurry, or simply can’t be bothered to click links, here are the essentials you need in order to be caught up for The Final Testament:

1. Testament formed in Oakland, California in 1983 as Legacy, featuring Steve “Zetro” Souza on vocals.  Souza left the band in 1986 to join Exodus, and Chuck Billy took his place.  The band changed their name to Testament that same year.

2. Testament has had several line-up changes over the years – the only original member from the 1983 formation is rhythm guitarist Eric Peterson.  Peterson and Billy are the only two members who have remained in the band since 1986.

3. Testament’s sound has evolved from their pure, godly thrash metal origins, experimenting with death metal sounds, and, like most of the 1980s thrash bands, flirting with groove metal a bit as well.

4. Testament is my #1 All-Time Favorite Thrash Metal Band (and #2 All-Time Favorite Band, after the almighty Iron Maiden).

With that, The Final Testament begins…

After the release of the ultra-heavy The Gathering in 1999, veteran guitarist James Murphy was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  The tumor was successfully removed, but Murphy has no memories from the recording of The Gathering.  He continues to write, record, and produce music today.  In 2001, vocalist Chuck Billy was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called germ cell seminoma.  This type of cancer usually afflicts the testicular region, but Billy’s cancer was even more rare, as it grew his chest.  A fundraiser called “Thrash of the Titans” was held to raise money for Billy’s treatment.  Many Bay Area Thrash Metal bands (as well as some non-Bay Area Thrash Metal bands) performed at the event, some – such as Death Angel and Vio-Lence – for the first time in years.

ThrashOfTheTitansPosterSeriously, look at that fucking lineup!

A Legacy reunion was part of the lineup as well, featuring Zetro on vocals, and former Legacy/Testament lead guitarist Alex Skolnick, who left the band in 1993.  Original bass player Greg Christian also joined the band onstage, though bass duties were largely handled by fretless bass wizard/then-current Testament member Steve DiGiorgio.  In 2001, Testament went into the studio and recorded First Strike Still Deadly, a collection of re-recordings of songs from the band’s first two albums.  The lineup for this album was Chuck Billy on vocals (Souza recorded vocals on the last two songs), Eric Peterson on rhythm guitar, Alex Skolnick on lead guitar, Steve DiGiorgio on bass guitar, and John Tempesta on drums.

“Disciples of the Watch” from First Strike Still Deadly (2001) (originally appeared on 1988’s The New Order)

By 2003, Chuck Billy was cancer-free, and the band began performing live again, with a different lineup again.  Aside from Billy, Peterson, and DiGiorgio, the names don’t matter much.  Here’s what does matter: in 2005, Testament announced a brief European tour called “The 10 Days of May”.  The lineup for this tour was Billy and Peterson in the usual positions, along with the return of Alex Skolnick and Greg Christian.  Drumming duties were split between John Tempesta and original drummer Louie Clemente.  The tour was a smashing success, and the band went on to tour more of Europe, Japan, and the United States with the same lineup.  An outstanding DVD (Live in London)  was released in 2005, after the original tour.

“Electric Crown” from Live in London (2005) (originally appeared on 1992’s The Ritual)

The band was rejuvenated, and the original members (sans Clemente) began writing music together for the first time since 1992.  In 2007, Paul Bostaph (formerly of Forbidden Evil, formerly and currently of Slayer) rejoined the band on drums, and in 2008, most of the original lineup of Testament released the monumental The Formation of Damnation, their first studio album of original material in nine years.  It’s not their best album, but it’s a damn fine return to form for a band so fraught with hardship and strife.

“More Than Meets the Eye” from The Formation of Damnation (2008)

The band continued to tour like mad, and also began to write new material for another album as early as 2009.  In 2011, they were set to record their tenth album when Paul Bostaph was sidelined due to a wrist injury.  Drum maniac Gene Hoglan re-rejoined the band to assist in recording (Lamb of God’s Chris Adler contributed as well), and on July 27, 2012, Testament released one of the best and heaviest albums of their career, Dark Roots of Earth.  Absolutely punishing riffs, drumming, and bass work form a nearly impenetrable wall over which Billy screams (and occasionally sings) like a man possessed.  Highlights include the entire fucking album.  Seriously, not a single weak spot.  Three-quarters of the members of the “Big Four” wish they could still create something so fierce and relevant.

“Native Blood” from Dark Roots of Earth (2012) – Chuck Billy is a member of the Pomo Indian tribe of Northern California.  This video won the Video of the Year Award at the 2012 Native American Film Festival.

“Dark Roots of Earth” from Dark Roots of Earth (2012) – This song is another example of Testament’s social awareness, which, savvy readers may recall, is how this entire series on the band began.

The deluxe edition of the album also features three cover songs – “Animal Magnetism” by the Scorpions, Queen’s “Dragon Attack”, and this little number:

“Powerslave” from Dark Roots of Earth (2012) (originally recorded by Iron Fucking Maiden)

The band has pretty much toured their asses off (with Gene Hoglan staying on as the official drummer) since, and in 2013, they released a live CD/DVD combo entitled Dark Roots of Thrash, recorded live on February 15 at a sold-out show at The Paramount Theater in Huntington, New York.  It is a perfect snapshot of a fucking amazing veteran heavy metal band at the absolute top of their game.  It has caused me on more than one occasion to mosh around my living room like I was 14 years old.

“Rise Up” from Dark Roots of Thrash (2013)

Earlier this year, the band announced that they were amicably parting ways with bass player Greg Christian.  The news makes me sad, as I truly believe Greg Christian is one of the great unsung metal bass gods, but the band’s choice to replace him couldn’t be better, as Steve DiGiorgio has re-re(re?)joined Testament.  If this lineup stays in place, I imagine their next album, which should be released later this year, could be a serious contender for The Heaviest Thing Ever Recorded.

That wraps up The Story of Testament, as told by me.  It is a story that, all told, features no less than 25 characters (I didn’t include all the characters, because I’d still be writing Part 2 if tried to manage that).  It is a story of perseverance.  It is a story of seriously kicking ass.  It is a story of asking no quarter and giving none in return.  And like all the stories I share here, it is a story of staying heavy, always.  Enjoy the rest of your Thrash Thursday, friends!

Thrash Thursday (Special Friday Edition, Volume 2): Happy Birthday, Jeff Hanneman; May You Rest in Peace

May I should call it “Thrash Thfriday”.  That was stupid.  Anway…

Today (January 31) would be Jeff Hanneman’s 50th birthday, if he hadn’t died last year from liver failure.  Hanneman was a founding guitarist (along with other guitarist Kerry King) of Slayer, who formed in Huntington Park, California (a suburb of Los Angeles) in 1981.  They played their first gig on Halloween that same year.  In their early days, their live performances consisted of a lot of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest covers; they were approached by Metal Blade Records founder Brian Slagel after he saw them playing Maiden’s “Phantom of the Opera” live, and he asked them to record an original song for his upcoming Metal Massacre III album.

“Agressive Perfector” kicked off the 1983 compilation, and Slagel signed the band to his label shortly thereafter.  They released their debut album, Show No Mercy, in 1983; Hanneman wrote or co-wrote the music to 8 out of 10 songs, including modern day fan favorite “Die By the Sword”.   Like many of their contemporaries, Slayer’s first album doesn’t sound a lot like what Slayer became.  The speed and agression are there, and the dark imagery is right up front, but overall, the sound owes more to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal than does their later work.

1984 saw the release of the Haunting the Chapel EP, which indicated something of a new direction for Slayer – the 3-song effort was darker, faster, and heavier than its predecessor.  In 1985, the band released what I consider to be the first of the Three Absolutely Essential Slayer Albums, Hell Awaits.  This album is a mean, bottom-heavy, evil motherfucker of a record, and includes Hanneman’s first really great songwriting credit, from a musical standpoint (“At Dawn They Sleep”).  Kerry King has indicated in interviews that he and Hanneman were very into Mercyful Fate at the time of this recording, which accounts for the longer, more progressively structured songs, as well as for the extra touch of Satan in the lyrics.

After the release of Hell Awaits, Slayer signed with Rick Rubin’s Def Jam Recordings and recorded what is widely considered their best work, as well as an all-time thrash metal masterpiece, 1986’s Reign in Blood.  Hanneman’s songwriting matured fully on this album, most notably on the amazing opener “Angel of Death”, inspired by the atrocities commited by Nazi physician Josef Mengele.  Hanneman’s lyrics to this song, which describe some of Mengele’s surgical atrocities at the Auschwitz, were the cause of untold amounts of controversy, ultimately leading many people to accuse the band of Nazi sympathizing.  In truth Hanneman had always been fascinated with World War II, his father having served with the Allied Forces.  Regarding the controversy over the song, Hanneman stated in an interview that “[there was] nothing I put in the lyrics that says necessarily he (Josef Mengele) was a bad man, because to me – well, isn’t that obvious? I shouldn’t have to tell you that.”

After recording what was, at the time, certainly one of the fastest heavy metal albums ever recorded, Slayer threw the metal world a curveball and slowed way the fuck down on their next album, 1988’s South of Heaven, which is the third and final of the Three Absolutely Essential Slayer Albums.  Hanneman wrote the music to two of my favorite Slayer songs, both of which appear on this album – the opening title track, and the chilling closer “Spill the Blood” (to which Hanneman also wrote the lyrics).  Fun fact: Rolling Stone magazine gave South of Heaven one star out a possible five stars, with the reviewer calling it “a cacophony of genuinely offensive satanic drivel that will probably win over a couple of thrash fans who’ve already lost their hearing anyway”.  As if we needed more proof of Rolling Stone‘s utter fucking uselessness.

1990 saw the release of the band’s last great album, Season’s in the Abyss.  I call Seasons a “great” album, but honestly I consider it to be really good; I only think it’s great compared to what came after.  The three best songs were co-written by Hanneman and singer/bassist Tom Araya (the closing title track, the opening anthem “War Ensemble”, and the slow, dirge-y ode to the original psycho, Ed Gein, “Dead Skin Mask”).

After Seasons, original drummer Dave Lombardo left (replaced by Paul Bostaph, who has also played with Testament, as has Lombardo), and the band’s output in the 1990s, while better than most bands, was spotty.  I judge Slayer by a harsher standard, because they set such a fucking high standard to begin with, y’know?  That is not to say that the band wasn’t still capable of writing great songs.  The creepy, atmospheric “213”, with music by Hanneman and lyrics by Araya (213 was Jeffery Dahmer’s apartment number), is one of the album’s standout tracks.

My main problem with what Slayer began to do after South of Heaven is noticeable on “213”; Tom Araya began to simply shout in a monotone, forsaking his earlier combination of screaming, shouting, squealing, wailing, and, in a few cases (see “Spill the Blood” for a good example), actual singing.  In short, vocal dynamics pretty much went out the window.  This may be a natural by-product of Araya getting older; I don’t necessarily expect a metal singer to always sound the same, forever and ever and ever, but I do think that when a metal singer has a style as formidable and commanding as Araya’s on Reign in Blood and South of Heaven, they shouldn’t fuck with it quite as much as he did.

In 1996, the band released an album of early hardcore punk covers that I consider to be the best thing they’ve done without Dave Lombardo.  While Undisputed Attitude was comprised mostly of covers, it did feature a few original songs, namely “Gemini”, written by King and Araya, and two songs from a hardcore side project called Pap Smear that Hanneman put together with Lombardo and Suicidal Tendencies guitarist Rocky George in 1984 – “Can’t Stand You” and “DDAMM (Drunk Drivers Against Mad Mothers)”.  They also inadvertently introduced me to the hardcore version of D.R.I. (with the song “Violent Pacification”), as prior to this, I had only heard D.R.I.’s post-crossover stuff.

To be perfectly honest, I’m very, very tired, so I’m gonna wrap this up for now.  It kind of got away from me anyway.  I’ll finish another time.  The point?  Happy 50th birthday, Jeff Hanneman.  The fact that you are dead sucks, but your music will live forever, even if Slayer is something of a punchline these days.  At least you’re not a Metallica-caliber punchline.

Anyway, thanks for reading, and remember: no matter what life hands you, always stay heavy.  Jeff Hanneman would’ve wanted it that way.

 

Thrash Thursday (Special Friday Edition): An Accidental Eulogy

I first heard the term “Thrash Thursday” back in like 1990 or so.  There’s a radio station in Indianapolis (which used to be based out of Bloomington)(to be clear, the radio station used to based out of Bloomington, not the city of Indianapolis) called “92.3 WTTS, World Class Rock”, and they more or less play what you might expect with a name like that – plenty of John Mayer, Sarah McLachlan, Jack Johnson, Norah Jones (I will admit that I love her voice, and I still own her first album, although I haven’t listened to it in probably 10 years), Dave Matthews Band, etcetera, etcetera – you know: safe, boring shit.  They do play quality music sometimes, usually in the form of Led Zeppelin, The Who, Elvis Costello, The Beatles, Queen, David Bowie, etcetera, but by and large, they are boooooring.

When I was a young pup, though, they were different.  They were still WTTS, at 92.3 on your FM dial, but back then, they called themselves “Rock 92” (after a brief stint as “Power 92”, which I’m guessing they decided sounded too much like a religious station), and for a kid in the pre-internet days, who grew up without cable TV and lived pretty much in the middle of nowhere, they were awesome.  They had the “Rock ‘n’ Roll House Party” all-request show every Saturday night, and my cousin Jason and I would tune in most weekends and hear plenty of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Dio, Def Leppard (we both loved Pyromania), Aerosmith (from back when they were relevant), etcetera, meanwhile always hoping that we might hear Iron Maiden or Metallica or something of that nature.  One Saturday night I called in to request something, and I asked the DJ (Sam Stock) if he had any Death Angel.  He immediately responded, ” Fuck man, I wish“, which I thought was so cool, but then I didn’t know what to do.  (For the record, I think I ended up asking him to play “something by Led Zeppelin”.)

What the fuck were we talking about?  Oh right, Thrash Thursday.  So another super-rad thing that Rock 92 had was a show called “Brave New World”, which ran from midnight to 1:00 AM every Monday – Thursday.  Sam Stock hosted that show as well (which was why I thought he might be able to play Death Angel on the Rock ‘n’ Roll House Party), and it was chock full of stuff you wouldn’t hear on other stations at the time, especially in the listening area.  I honestly don’t know what kind of songs were played Monday through Wednesday (although I do know that Mondays were called “Mayhem Monday”, and I think he played punk and punk-influenced stuff), but every Thursday was “Thrash Thursday”, and I listened every chance I got, often taping it so I could listen again later.

The format wasn’t always straight thrash metal, though I do remember hearing Overkill, Metallica, Anthrax, and Slayer on the show.  Thrash Thursday on Brave New World was my introduction to Morbid Angel, Upsidedown Cross (a weird Boston-based doom metal band which once featured Dinosaur Jr’s J. Mascis on drums, as well as the late Seth Putnam from Anal Cunt on bass), Napalm Death, and many others.  One Thursday night, Stock played a Jello Biafra spoken word segment called “Grow More Pot”, which got so many complaint calls the next day that he was forced to make an on-air apology the following Thursday.  I was confused, amazed, and scared by many things while listening to that show, and I also found out about some really great music.

At this point, I don’t even remember how long the show aired…it probably wasn’t a terribly long time, as 92.3 was a country station until 1986, became Rock 92 in 1988, and adopted its present format in 1992.  The impact it had on my life, however, has been pretty longstanding and significant.  And while researching for this entry, I learned that Sam Stock died in Colorado Springs, CO (where he was working as a DJ) in 2005 at the age of 35, with alcohol and cocaine listed as the cause of death, and now I’m weirdly bummed out.

I’ll leave you with a few of the songs I first heard on Thrash Thursday on Brave New World.

“Fuck You” by Overkill (from the !!!Fuck You!!! EP – 1987, orginally recorded by The Subhumans)

“Battalion of Rats” by Upsidedown Cross (from Upsidedown Cross – 1991)

“Chapel of Ghouls” by Morbid Angel (from Altars of Madness – 1989)

That’s all for today.  Rest in peace, Sam.  And to all the rest of you, stay heavy.  Always.