Psychotic past and present

Legendary underground metal band Radiation Sickness back from the dead

By Gary Spencer

Some bands are meant to stay broken up and left for dead – especially bands who were so underground in the first place that their disappearance may not even have been on many fans’ radars.  But the chosen few of those cult underground acts that made such an indelible impact on listeners, both from back in the day and the present, get pumped when they hear the news that one of those bands has finally decided to come back together.  Such is the case for Indianapolis old-school extreme metal legends Radiation Sickness, whose members decided to resurrect their multiple-decades-long defunct group and were welcomed back into the arms of metal fans not just in the United States, but around the globe as well. 

First formed in the late 1980s, Radiation Sickness quickly built a reputation in the extreme metal underground as one of the first metal bands to purvey the “crossover” style of thrash that was becoming increasingly en vogue and were one of the best of the underground bands blowing out eardrums everywhere they went and putting on a killer live show.  The band further cemented their cult following with the “Elvis Ain’t Dead” demo that also quickly became an underground sensation. But soon, tragedy struck when founding member Ryan Rollins committed suicide in 1989.  Saddened but undaunted, Radiation Sickness soldiered on, playing every weekend possible and gigging alongside classic extreme metal luminaries such as Cannibal Corpse, Autopsy, Suffocation, Repulsion, Immolation and Macabre and even going to Europe to promote their thrash/hardcore/death metal hybrid and gaining new fans all along the way.  In 1990, the band dropped the album The Other Me: A Journey into Insanity, which over the years has become a long-sought-out cult classic that was just re-released earlier this year alongside the reunited band’s newest opus, Reflections of a Psychotic Past (Abyss Records) that marks the group’s first studio recording in over 20 years.  Radiation Sickness called it quits in 1992 but had a seemingly-random reunion in 2010 for a one-off gig.  The fan response was so enthusiastic that vocalist and founding member Doug Palmer decided to keep Radiation Sickness as an active outfit, still thrashing skulls both in the U.S. and beyond.  While Radiation Sickness’s music has morphed over time to include elements of death metal, grindcore and crust into their signature crossover thrash style, the band still has the energy and the chops to keep crowds headbanging.  I recently spoke with vocalist/lyricist Doug Palmer about the origins of Radiation Sickness and the impetus to keep the outfit alive in this millennium, and he had plenty to say about the band’s past, present and future.

Tell me about the origins of the band … y’know, the who/what/where/when/why/how the band came together.

Radiation Sickness was formed in Indianapolis, Ind. in 1987 by (myself) and Ryan Rollins. Many people seemed to have not even given Indiana a glance when it to came to extreme grind metal (when) Radiation Sickness started making noise in the underground. We recorded the legendary “Elvis ain’t dead” demo (which) used influences from groups such as Napalm Death, Chaos UK, Discharge, Slayer, Cryptic Slaughter and The Accused.  -Doug Palmer

What was the impetus behind the formation of Radiation Sickness? Was there any kind of change that the band was/is hoping to instill with its music and/or message(s)?

Forming Radiation Sickness was nothing more than a bunch of strung out teenagers with depression and addiction problems who loved underground metal, punk and crossover. Tape trading was a big part of those days. I was big into crust punk from Englandso that was a big part of who we are. We had a message but things do not change by talking about them. The new lyrics have a much stronger message as I consider myself wiser (now).  The music of RS is based on the most evil of all life, things we have seen in real life. Life is a depressing thing.    -DP

How did the suicide of founding member Ryan Robbins affect you and the band, both musically and personally?

It screwed a lot of us up for a long time. The music changed, it became all very dark depressing, dwelling on insanity, death, drug abuse – all the dark things in life. Nothing was fun anymore. It was real now. It still sticks with us this day.  -DP

Why did the original incarnation of Radiation Sickness disband in 1992?  Did you do anything musically between the time of ending the original Radiation Sickness and the band’s reformation in 2010?

Burnt out – just got sick of it.  I was drunk, strung out all the time. We had a great record deal at the table (and) great shows set up. Perhaps it is part of my bi-polar disorder and crazy mood swings. I was so far away from music, it was unreal. I was locked up, not in jail but in a world of minivan hell – the real world.  I hated it. I sank so far into depression I thought my death was the only way out. -DP

What types of lyrical themes does Radiation Sickness explore, both past and present?

All the dark things people do.  The evil side of human life.  The deaths we have seen, suicide, insanity – all things I have had to deal with on a first-hand basis. -DP

Tell me about your live show.  How is it different than your records? 

We play old and new songs we like to play.  It is four guys playing their dark soul out for the music they love. You will not be let down from a RS gig. It is real, violent and on the edge of insanity. -DP

Tell me about your newest recording, Reflections of a Psychotic Past

Fast, brutal music (with) lots of tempo and speed changes – stuff we like to play. I write lyrics all the time, so I always have them on hand when they put new music together. –DP

11.  Do you have any plans for a full fledged tour of theU.S.orEurope?  Any plans for writing/recording any new material?  How long do you see yourself keeping Radiation Sickness going?  What does the future hold for Radiation Sickness, generally speaking?

We will record new material that’s a given. Tour Europe? Yes.  U.S.?  Many tours and  one-off  shows. -DP 

12. Anything else you’d like to say to our readers?  Why should they come out to see Radiation Sickness?

They should see us because it is a glimpse into the past when this type of music started. Insanity is what you will get out of the show. A good time that allows you to release your anger.  -DP

Radiation Sickness will perform this coming Friday, October 19 at Blind Bob’s, 430 E. Fifth Street.  Lysura, King Stench and Skinned Christ are also on the bill.  Cover is $6 for patrons 21 and over.  Showtime is 9:30 p.m.  For more details, please visit

Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at

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Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at

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