If you love your thrash metal, then you’re probably still recovering from the wonderful and colossal Dark Roots of Earth album by Testament, or you’re still sunbathing in the ferocious progressive glow of the riffaholic Death Magnetic by Metallica. But thrash metal isn’t just about the ‘Bay Area’; other countries have their fair share of talent to showcase. UK-based thrash metal titans Onslaught, in the eyes of many critics and areas of the metal music community have recorded quite possibly the best album of their career! When they realised the song titles on the album didn’t work out as a suitable album title, they felt the next best option was to call this latest offering simply VI. The presence of the roman numeric display for six is understandable as this is their sixth studio album. Loaded with eight explosive thrash examples and one intro piece, VI is going to smack a smile on many faces.
Still buzzing with excitement in the aftermath of their 2011 album Sounds of Violence with its no-nonsense approach and shredding fret work, the band have maintained, if not excelled on that album by pushing themselves to a punishing level of quality. A remarkable feat when you consider that the band lost momentum in the very late ’80s when lead vocalist at that time, Steve Grimmett, left the band, and it took around 15 years for them to reform!
Not only has this major break been a factor to take in to consideration, but also the constant line-up changes have plagued Onslaught throughout their career. The band these days consist of the founding member and guitarist Nige Rockett with Sy Keeler taking on lead vocal duties again. Keeler has now been the singer on four of the band’s albums starting off with The Force back in 1986. The line-up is then completed by Andy Rosser-Davies providing the second healthy dose of guitar whilst Jeff Williams (bass) and Mic Mourihan (drums) provide the pounding rhythm section.
The songwriting that has laid the platform for this newly discovered energy and focus with both Sounds of Violence and VI comes from the chemistry between the two guitarists. “Writing wise, we get on so well. We feed off each other all the time on the way we write. I think, probably, virtually every riff on the last two albums has been between us. One of us will come up with an idea and the other will kinda tweak it a little bit or twist it around. That’s the way it’s worked. Everything’s really 50/50 on the music, and we really know where we’re going with each other. Its great writing together, I mean, as I said, we’ve done two albums now and we’ve never had a writing session where we haven’t created something really cool.” The excited recognition from Rockett’s tone is palpable to say the least. He knows that the feedback from the critics on hearing this latest studio offering has been for the majority, an outpouring of positivity.
Rockett is currently the only original member of the band that is left fighting the good fight, and this is what he had to say regarding why he picked up the guitar and eventually co-founded Onslaught. “I was massively into hard-core punk at the time. Me and a friend of mine used to travel all around the country watching various different bands from right up to Scotland right down to the south of England, we travelled everywhere. Sleeping rough and watching our favourite bands. And it kinda got to the point where we’re spending lots of money and time doing this, why don’t we actually get off our asses and try and put a band together if we enjoy it so much, let’s try it ourselves-and that’s exactly what we did really.”
After Onslaught split up around 1990, as with most bands and artists, the record label reissued their earlier albums to fill the void of no forthcoming new material. Power from Hell and The Force began to stir up nostalgic emotions within the old fans, plus garnering respect from new fans. “It was something I said that I would never ever do,” responds Nige when his thoughts drift back to 2005 and the moments before they released Killing Peace. “A couple of the guys had found out the albums had been re-released, the first two albums had come out on CD again. They were actually selling really well, and it was kinda obvious there was still some kind of interest in the band floating around, you know. So I think they managed to twist my arm a little bit, and get me to pick the guitar up again.”
According to Rockett, Sounds of Violence was an easy album to make due to the chemistry between Rosser-Davies and himself, and once this chemistry had been established incorporating the familiar understanding they had with each other, VI was an enjoyable and even smoother experience. “It was only over a few months, if you add up the total time spent” Rockett calculates as he thinks back to the creative process for VI. “And the recording process was very quick, probably around three weeks to do the album.”
Rockett, when pushed, does elaborate on the attitude and approach towards VI. “We put ourselves under a lot, a hell of a lot of pressure with this album, ‘cos we simply wanted to make one better than the Sounds of Violence. And we do seem to work well under pressure, we really pushed ourselves to the limits in terms of the playing on the album, I mean it’s a lot more technical than previous albums and some of the tempos and some of the parts are really intense.” With a mixture of gushing pride and almost a startled realisation, Rockett summarises, “So, yeah, it was tough recording it. It was easy writing it, but when you come to play it absolutely perfect, it was tough when you’re kind of mashing four to six guitar parts of all the same thing, they’ve really got to be super tight.”
One of the formats for VI will include a bonus track in the shape of a re-recorded version of Shellshock. You can find the original version on their 1989 album In Search of Sanity. “It didn’t fit with the rest of our stuff you know, back in the scheme of things it was actually Sy’s album. He recorded the vocals originally for that album. The album was writ with Sy Keeler as our singer and we felt that he’s got the opportunity, and we owed him that, to come back and make this album his own again you know. And I think what we’ve done with the version of Shellshock it sounds a lot more like Onslaught.”
This album was pivotal to their commercial peak incorporating a cover version of Let There Be Rock originally recorded by AC/DC, and along with the title track, the epic ballad Welcome to Dying and the driven Lightning War conjured up comparisons to classic Metallica.
As Rockett rounds up the justification for re-recording Shellshock, he casually adds that Onslaught is committed to re-recording the whole In Search of Sanity album!! Obviously knowing this to be their intention, you would naturally enquire further. Rockett elaborates, “For me personally I want to make the album sound how it should’ve done, you know. I was disappointed looking back at that album; I can’t really put it on. As much as I love the songs that are on there, they don’t sound like Onslaught I don’t think. But now this is the kinda chance for me to put my songs right, the way they should’ve sounded with Sy and with a great aggressive production. I think we over-played a little on the album so we’re gonna fine tune it a little bit. There’s a couple of little bits that go on too long maybe, such as the intro.” At this point, Rockett cannot contain a hearty chuckle as he recalls the five minutes or so of Asylum at the beginning of the original version of In Search of Sanity.
Rockett revealed how the band were going to be very busy right through to the first four months of 2014 with promotion for VI, but was hoping to find opportune moments to tackle the ‘tweaking’ process of In Search of Insanity.
Since 2005, Onslaught has produced three albums, all of which get better in quality. When fans hear the finished article that is VI, they will rejoice as it sounds like a band that know their own identity and are pushing their abilities to make the best album they can without compromise. If you’re partial to the boundless energy and aggression exhibited on Reign in Blood by Slayer, or razor cutting riffs of classic era Metallica with a gritty production value; welcome to Onslaught in 2013. To summarise then, fans and newcomers alike can shamelessly smile from ear to ear knowing that a new album has arrived in the shape of VI. After a deep breath, you can then begin to keep an eye open for what is to come next. Let there be riffs!!
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