Evil Is as Evile Does
It’s not as good as I remember it.
In the summer of 1985, my musical world was tumped on its pear-shaped ass by the arrival of thrash. Thrash was terrifying – a new species formed from 80 percent metal, 20 percent hardcore punk. The joke metalheads shared prior to the birth of thrash was that hardcore sounded like metal played by people who didn’t know how to play their instruments; it was all speed, no technique or skill. Well, unless you count slam dancing as a skill. Thrash took hardcore’s balls-out speed and applied it to metal’s love of the solo, be it guitar or drum. Thrashers played so blindingly fast that guitarists stood rooted in one spot, for fear of flying off the neck of the guitar. The only motion was from the shoulders up, as guitarists banged heads to the whirlwind of double bass drumming and no-bullshit riffing.
But it wasn’t just the sound of it, it was how thrash manifested that caused such fear. There was no warning, no transitional band that represented a developmental stage between the two arch-enemies of high school smoking lounges. (And one should never forget that up until around 1985, punks and longhairs hated each other with a violence that was beautiful to behold.) I went to bed in a world where the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (Motorhead, Judas Priest, Iron Maiden and to a lesser extent, Saxon) represented the fastest and loudest bands in the world, and woke up in a world in which thrash’s “Big Four” -- Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax and Megadeth -- left those bands for dead on the side of the freeway. How powerful was thrash? Crème de la Hardcore band D.R.I. went metal for the Crossover album. Agnostic Front went metal. Corrosion of Conformity went metal. And yet no metal band went punk. (Rob Halford went gay, however, but that was more than likely a pre-existing condition).
Notice the past tense usage in reference to thrash. “Was.” Thrash had a good, loud run, about four or five years, and then it was over. The Big Four are still together, still releasing albums, but none of them are really thrash bands anymore. Hell, only Anthrax could even be considered a good band anymore – and they haven’t released an album of new material in four years. Thrash imploded almost as quickly as it exploded, it’s status as “most extreme” usurped by Death, Grind, Black Metal, Industrial, Nu Metal, Metalcore and whoever the fuck headlines Ozzfest this year.
How low has thrash fallen in the last 20-odd years? Allmusic.com doesn’t even acknowledge that any thrash band started up after 1989. Of course, Allmusic also lists Motorhead as a “3rd generation” thrash band, despite Motorhead existing for ten years prior to the development of thrash. Long story short, Allmusic should go get it’s shinebox.
But is thrash dead? Germany kept thrashin’ for years (see: Kreator, Destruction, Tankard), and Rik Ernst’s documentary Get Thrashed may or may not inspire a new generation to take up wearing jean jackets with back-patches and pummeling low-slung Jackson Flying V’s. But if anything is going to bring thrash back, it won’t be the movies or the Germans: it will be another absolutely brilliant band. A band that appears from out of nowhere, banging out heavy machinegun riffs with their heads down while audiences destroy themselves in a mosh pit that makes the Kumite look like a ticklefight.
England’s Evile may be that band.
Look, I’m an old man. I forget all sorts of shit. I just rambled on for 600 words before I got to my point. I occasionally drink so much that I piss myself (I call those “weeknights”). I could be totally glorifying the good ol’ days while sipping lemonade brewed by a beautiful woman who neither swears nor works outside the home. But stick with me on this: I think Evile has a very good chance to be the greatest legitimate thrash band that’s surfaced since the Big Four – and I also think that if our boys fight the good fight, we’ll have the Kaiser licked by Christmas, or January dickety-two at the latest.
But I’m not just old – I’m also a scientist. I have the beard and the pipe and everything. And if I’m going to throw a crazy theory out there, I’m doing the research to back it up.
I’ve spent the last week listening to nothing but thrash. I listened to bootlegs of Tankard and Sabbat, I played Voivod’s War and Pain (I actually listen to that one about every other week), I bought a CD version of Exodus’ Bonded By Blood when my original cassette snapped in the tape deck, I skipped class and got high in the woods and I very studiously listened to the debut albums of Metallica, Anthrax, Slayer and Megadeth, all to set a baseline vis a vis “thrash awesomeness.” My neck hurts, my ears are ringing and I may be responsible for the hole in the wall of the third floor men’s room.
And I can very confidently state that Evile’s Enter the Grave deserves to be considered on the same level as the Big Four’s debut albums.
Is Enter the Grave perfect? No. Is it at times derivative of Metallica’s Ride the Lightning? Yes. (Hell yes. Guitarist/vocalist Matt Drake cites James Hetfield as “the reason I play guitar” in the liner notes.) But it’s also the most fun and thrashy album I’ve heard in many years – probably since I first heard Ride the Lightning, come to think of it. Perhaps that has something to do with Danish producer Flemming Rasmussen, who helmed those first classic Metallica albums and twists the knobs on Enter the Grave as well – but it has much more to do with the songwriting, the riffing and the overall feel of the music.
It should always be about the music. You can have all the technique in the world, but it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. Listen to that opening staccato riff in “Thrasher:” it’s a classical “chukka-chukk-chukk-chukk-chukka-chukk-chukk-chukk” thrash riff that underpins the whole song. Matt Drake’s rhythm guitar outlines the entire song structure in the first 40 seconds, embellishing the basic riff with a few single-note ornaments; his brother Ol chases him with a run of his own, then the brothers race to the solo after the first verse. It’s a skidding-on-ice, one bar outburst that whets the appetite for Ol’s full-blown bent note, speed-up/slow-down pile-up of a solo later in the song. That interplay of one guitar barking out the tempo while the other guitar adds color and tone is vintage thrash, as is the heads-down charge of the rhythm section (bassist Mike Alexander and drummer Ben Carter). Alexander and Carter punch open the album’s epic track, “We Who Are About to Die”, with a heavyweight stomp that provides the perfect backdrop for brutal riffing and some rather tasteful soloing. It’s the album’s heaviest song, a big ol’ thrash monster with a titanic drum sound and dead-nasty vibe. The louder you play it, the more fun it is to headbang along. What’s the last album that you couldn’t stop playing? What’s the last album that made you want to throw shit around and turn your living room into a pit? Enter the Grave does both.
Enter the Grave could have been written in 1987; it’s that true to the spirit of the classic thrash era. Hell, by the end of the third song, I looked down to discover I was wearing huge white sneakers and the knees were blown out of my jeans – and my dad had driven across town to pound on my front door and tell me to “turn that shit down.” I haven’t found a volume loud enough to satisfy me yet.
But is it just nostalgia?
I don’t think so. I still rank Metallica’s Kill ´Em All as the best overall thrash debut, but that’s mostly on the basis of Cliff’s bass playing; Megadeth’s Killing Is My Business is a very close second, and Evile’s Enter the Grave would be right behind those two. Twenty years ago I didn’t think anybody could even come close to those two albums – now I’m anticipating Evile’s next album to see how it stacks up against the Big Four’s sophomore albums.
I just hope in another 20 years I’m not watching Evile’s full-length documentary about their therapy sessions and looking back on this particular moment as the band's good ol’ days. Keep the faith, Evile. All us old timers need you.