I have never been big on thrash, but every once in a while, I do enjoy a romp through the bullet riddled bad lands of the genre. I grew up on Metallica and spent the first couple years of post high school listening to quite a bit of Slayer and Pantera (somehow, I never latched to Megadeth, Anthrax, or Testament), and since I feel like I can’t find a decent metal show these days that doesn’t have at least one black/thrash band in the roster, I like to think that, despite my handicap, I do know a few things about thrash. I would say if there’s one thing preparing for this review has taught me (i.e. listening to this album 4 or 5 times in a row), it’s that thrash hasn’t changed much in the past few decades. The production is shinier, we have drum triggers now, and the modern bands absolutely adore using blackened vocals, but for the most part this is the same WWIII predicting, genocide loving genre that has laid the foundation for so many subcategories of metal over the years. So get out your bullet belt and copious amounts of alcohol, because we’re going to take a little trip through the new album of one of the leaders of modern thrash.
Toxic Holocaust is a band that, up until very recently, consisted of one man recording anthems of death and destruction, then finding a bunch of touring musicians to fulfill his vision in a live setting. That man is Joel Grind. Mr. Grind is also a man who I have never seen a picture of where he wasn’t wearing a Bathory shirt, a leather jacket, and some of the craziest bleach blonde punk hair you’ll ever see this decade. His music is the most vicious elements of the thrash legends of the past, except with all epic melodies, soft passages, and clean singing removed and nuked into oblivion, leaving behind machine gun double bass and razor wire riffs that will slice through your metal pleasure centers and leave you wanting more.
Before even hitting the play button for the first time, it’s hard not to notice that there have already been some major changes to the Toxic Holocaust that we have come to love. The album artwork is no longer an image of pestilence or radioactive killer nazi wolves with a purposefully gaudy spikey thrash logo. Instead we are given an underground black metal vibe, almost something you would expect from a Southern Lord recording like Black Breath. It’s cool stuff but a definite deviation and the first sign that things have changed.
Once the play button is finally pressed, we are treated to just over a half hour of the punishing warfare that has come to be expected from Joel and company, but with a few subtle changes. If you have never heard this band before you will probably be stricken with a very strong case of “well this is pretty cool… but wait, is this it?”. If you have heard Toxic Holocaust before you will probably be let down by the changes and if you have not, you may not even bother to check out their other releases.
It’s not that “Conjure…” is bad or annoying. Actually, there are a few really cool songs on here, and this has the best production of all of Toxic Holocaust’s releases. But overall there is nothing presented that we have not heard from the genre before or from the band a million times. The songs have slowed down, with stronger emphasis on groove and melody, Joel Grinds vocals are less barked and more enunciated, and everything sounds exactly like you think it should, with no surprises.
There are some bands that benefit from that sound of everything falling into place perfectly, but punk driven thrash isn’t that kind of style. This band needs rough edges and riffs that sound slightly thrown together.That’s what makes their brand of thrash fun: the ability to say “let’s drink some fucking beer and rock out!!!”. If you want precision and calculated execution, I’m pretty sure Revocation just came out with a new album.
“Conjure and Command” does have some strong points. Even though there are new musicians and artwork, this is still Toxic fucking Holocaust we’re talking about. Jet-fueled speed and crusty hateful lyrics are still represented despite the changes. The song “Bitch” has one of the catchiest chorus’s ever written in the history of songs about burning witches, and is my favorite track. “Red Winter” is a pretty chilling song (sorry for the pun) filled with images of Russian soldiers painting snow drifts arterial red with their insides as they are blown to pieces.
Overall this album is not terrible. On the contrary- it’s a solid thrash album with black and crust elements to boot. I just hope Joel Grind tries a bit harder next time, maybe gets all these other yahoo’s out of here and start writing everything himself again. So, if Municipal Waste isn’t serious enough for you and you have heard every Metallica riff ad infinitum (and seriously who gives a fuck about Lazarus A.D.) then you should probably pick up some Toxic Holocaust. But start elsewhere, perhaps An Overdose of Death… then once you have the knowledge to judge for yourself, check out “Conjure and Command”.
-Chaz 9/29/2011 11:32am