Pick Your Rock and Metal

Sunday, October 16, 2011

It gets better all the time...

THREE Bristolians and I forgot to ask them whether they supported Bristol City or Bristol Rovers...but given how down-to-earth and friendly Onslaught where on their recent visit to Belfast they would not have shied away from the potentially awkward football question.

Remember this is one of the few bands not just content to meet fans after a gig, but to stand shoulder to shoulder with them at the bar too. This is one of the few bands outside the big five or six metal bands to span continents gigging – thanks to budget flights and not deluxe personalised planes and corporate jets.

And being on the carousel of concert venues seems not to bother them at all.

As one Nige Rockett, Sy Keeler and Andy Rosser-Davis agree “It gets better all the time” when asked was the lengthy journey from 1983 to rocking out venues as diverse as the Spring and Airbrake, Italian festivals and south American gigs all worth it.

From personnel changes through to breaks in the band’s career, Onslaught are happy to reflect on the journey with positivity.

Nige declares for the rest of his band mates: “I’m enjoying it more than ever”; his colleagues chipping in their agreement.

And there hinges a lot of what Onslaught are about: a unit, operating at one on stage, at peace with the journey that takes them on a lengthy tour in 2011 and beyond.

Given that the rock and metal news rags and TV stations seem to concentrate all too readily on the latest US release and publicity hyped acts, at the expense of UK and Irish outfits, Onslaught are – perhaps surprisingly – relaxed about the situation. Many in their shoes would reach all too readily for the default grumble button.

“It’s always been the case,” said Andy on the lack of exposure to many homegrown heavy acts.” First time around we had a reasonably good crack of the whip.

“But they [the magazines] were always very trend orientated, especially Kerrang. But it’s a little different for us in Europe, the press isn’t as easily led by trends.”

Nige joining in, points out that many of the “hyped” bands don’t go out and do the touring legwork: a charge that could not be levelled against Onslaught.

Standing corrected as to the many times the band has played Belfast Sy tells that they were the first English band to play “at the height of the Troubles” in 1987, which we had to confess was what we used to tell all the bands that at the time to make sure they came back!

At a time when there was no Odyssey complex and few medium size venues Onslaught ventured to Northern Ireland. At that time only punk and metal bands played gigs in Northern Ireland.

“It was certainly memorable,” says Sy of their first appearance in Belfast in 87, “and for all the right reasons. It was awesome, absolutely awesome. The gig itself was crazy, certainly memorable. I remember looking across the stage for my fellow band members and I couldn’t see them for the stage invasion.

“I remember after the show doing our usual meet and greet and being literally whisked off my feet! There was a real thanks for us coming.”

As to the current resurgence of Thrash, Nige chooses not to namecheck the big four, but notes that the other forerunners of 80s are coming back, like Onslaught, stronger than ever.

“Everyone’s still here!”he says. “Testament are still here, Exodus, Overkill are all still here.” And as Andy points out: “They’re all still making good records!”

It is not too often that bands acknowledge the scene around them, offering praise for contemporaries: “Kreator are making some great records,” says Andy.

And that sort of sums up Onslaught: they’ve been around the block, they know the score. From adulation at massive Italian festivals (“The fans all dress like we all would have in the 80s with cut off denims, motorbike jackets and tight jeans,” says Sy.)

They know that as band they have stretched further musically than ever before both on stage and with the release of ‘Sounds of Violence’ earlier this year. But they recognise that the re-emergence of the thrash scene over the past four or five years it takes a collective success to ensure each band gets their fair crack of the (neck?) whip.

From headlining in Japan to, as I write this, touring Brazil, Onslaught are moving forward. As Andy notes technological developments “over the last 30 years” have helped bands to record without the impediments. “As musicians you can get quicker and heavier without trying to work around the studio.”

But equally, as Nige says, the shredders and dial it in rockers, lay down their licks, “at the expense of songwriting. New thrash and some of the new metal seems to be complex for the sake of being complex.”

“We pushed ourselves as far as we could on the album [Sounds of Violence] technically and in terms of music,” says Andy, “But it is all in the context of the song. The song is the most important thing.”

On stage in Belfast that is clear. The songs are clarion calls, mixed metaphors for middle aged and teens alike; political commentary comfortable with the old black metal-inspired lyrics of the 80s.

Chatting about style changes, when challenged about the changeover from the trend for cookie monster vocals to more clean styles band mates are quick to note the maturing of Sy’s style. He himself says that while he still retains that “chest based growly voice” he prefers clarity, even with his, as he admits “very growly” clean vocal style.

In many ways that speaks to the honesty of Onslaught again: not only are they prepared to stick together, and acknowledge their place in the thrash scene, but to analyse their sound, their individual influences. They are an exemplar for many bands growing through the ranks

Onslaught have grown up gracefully in a scene that has seen so many fade to the blackness of bickering and disillusion.

“When we quit,” says Nige, “we said that was it, and never, never again. But you should never say never. I, and we, could never imagined that we could be doing what we are doing and doing it much better than before.”

Doing it better than before. That’s honesty. And with Onslaught, they have proved it really does get better every time: even if I don't know whether they are City or Rovers fans...

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