British Metal Stalwarts Onslaught Bring Thrash Attack to Dayton
By Gary Spencer
When most people think about classic thrash metal from the 1980s certain names come to mind. Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer are among the most famous artists associated with the genre. But just like with nearly every other musical genre or era, there are several classic thrash bands from the same time period who quietly helped to pioneer the genre by laying down the framework and hallmarks that now easily define a band as playing the thrash metal style. One of the best of these overlooked and underrated thrash ensembles from the ‘80s certainly has to be Onslaught, an outfit from Bristol, England that originally formed as a punk band in the early 1980s, and eventually moved their sound into the more distinctly thrash metal territory for which they are best known today. But in the early days of the band, thrash metal as a definable genre basically didn’t exist.
“Thrash metal wasn’t really around when we first started out,” says guitarist and Onslaught founding member Nige Rockett. “We were into some of the heavier metal stuff — Priest, Sabbath and of course the hardcore thing too, but when we formed in ‘82 we could not play our instruments. As we progressed as musicians, it gave us the opportunity to incorporate more metallic influences into our sound.”
Knowingly or not, Onslaught was planting the sonic seeds for the development of thrash metal, and is often cited as one of the founding fathers of the genre by both fans and scholars of metal music history. Onslaught finally issued the debut full-length album, Power from Hell, in 1985. While this album still bore the influence of UK hardcore punk icons such as Discharge and The Exploited, Onslaught’s sound was still overwhelmingly metal with crunchy guitar chugging, charging double-time drumwork and snarling vocals.
Eventually the band grew in popularity in the U.K. to the point where major label London Records signed the band and soon the fledgling group was exposed to a much larger audience. Just when it seemed Onslaught was about to break through to the mainstream music consciousness, things went horribly wrong. The band caved in to the various wishes of the major label and the resulting album, In Search of Sanity, flopped and the band was unceremoniously dropped from London Records. Unable to secure another record deal, Onslaught broke up in the early 1990s – seemingly for good.
“[The breakup] was a culmination of bad business decisions / record company politics and the emergence of the Grunge scene which effectively wiped out 95% of the Thrash bands worldwide,” comments Rockett. “Sadly for Onslaught all these things hit us over the same period and we decided to call it a day.”
A decade passed, and the musical tide was changing. There was a renewed interest in Onslaught’s back catalogue, which led to the re-release of those early highlights of the band’s career. The band caught wind of this news and decided to inquire about this somewhat unexpected phenomenon.
“We were surprised to find that the albums were selling very well and that people were talking about the band once again in forums all over the world,” elaborates Rockett. “It seemed like the perfect time to try and correct the mistakes and to put right a lot of the wrongs we had suffered. The news of our return was taken in such a positive manner from both the press and the fans alike that we then knew we had done the right thing by coming back.”
The musical and philosophical mission that led to the resurrection of Onslaught encouraged the band to reform in 2004, and one year later saw the release of Killing Peace, the band’s first collection of new material in fifteen years. The album was hailed as a much welcomed return to form, pounding out no-nonsense and no-frills old school thrash metal with well written, technically sound songs, but with enough rawness and edge to satisfy even the most skeptical of fans. Onslaught has stuck to this philosophy and formula since then, up through their most recent full-length release, Sounds of Violence, an album that saw the light of day in 2011 and has left many fans stating that it might be the best album they’ve ever recorded.
With this growing renewed interest in Onslaught and classic era thrash metal in the last couple of years, Onslaught determined that the time was right for its very first tour of the United States this Spring, including a stop at McGuffy’s House of Rock in Dayton.
“The time is simply right in 2012,” says Rockett. “The album’s doing great over there. We have been offered many tours in the US over the years, but the timing or terms have never been good for us. What many people do not realize is that it will cost a UK band around $10,000 to start off in basic travel fees and work visas alone before we even play a show, so it’s not easy for a European band coming to tour your country.”
Following the band’s first visit to U.S. soil, Onslaught’s plans simply include continuing to do what they do best – writing, recording, and bringing their live show to headbangers around the world. As for what Onslaught guitarist Nige Rockett thinks of his band’s place in the history of thrash metal, Rockett seems to think the band is finally getting the recognition they deserve.
“It took us a little while to catch up, but all that has now changed on every level,” says Rockett. “I believe we are now earning the widespread respect that we didn’t get before. Many people are [now] seeing Onslaught in a whole new light.”
(Onslaught will play at McGuffy’s House of Rock on Saturday, March 31. Tickets are $15. Doors open at 7p.m. and the show starts at 8p.m. For more information visit www.mcguffys.net.)
Reach DCP freelance writer Gary Spencer at Gary Spencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.