Toxic Holocaust make total annihilation such a blast

I live not terribly far from an atomic plant, and after that 9/11 dealie, we kept hearing about how that could be a target of some sort of attack by the badies. Fear mongering. It’s my favorite.

But still, it’s not like I didn’t at least think about that from time to time, and weirdly (or not so), that always took me back to my teenage years when I was in the midst of the classic 1980s thrash era, which overlapped with the nuclear paranoia of the late Cold War years. We were taught a lot of scary, creepy stuff in school about what a nuclear explosion and fallout might be like, and considering I lived in the land of the steel mills, Pittsburgh always was mentioned as some sort of a target if the Russians ever decided to let loose and blow us away. Naturally that made bands such as Voivod, Megadeth and, quite obviously, Nuclear Assault resonate with me. By the time I got into most of those bands, the nuke threats were less of a reality, but having those fears imbedded inside of me made these bands’ style of paranoia and terror all the more ominous.

Now I pretty much know better. I go back and listen to those bands with great excitement, and their messages actually ring nostalgic with me and don’t keep me awake at night. Also, other bands that sort of hold onto that aesthetic always are of interest to me, and Toxic Holocaust is no exception. Formerly just a one-man project led by Joel Grind, the band has grown to a full roster, and they constitute one of the truest throwback acts going today. And no, not all of their songs are about nuclear holocaust, but that material certainly has been there over TH’s four full-length efforts and countless split and mini efforts. There also is homage paid to all-out war, horror, zombies, and all kinds of fun things like that. I find their music a fun time, an escape, something I don’t have to think too much about because Grind and his pals just sound like they want to plug in and obliterate your sense. I love that.

Their latest album “Conjure and Command” (the first where the whole band plays and Grind doesn’t just handle everything himself) is the follow-up to 2008’s “An Overdose of Death …” and it’s the band’s second overall for Relapse. If you’ve been a fan of the Toxic Holocaust all along, you won’t be too surprised by what you hear on this record, because they pretty much stick to their style. It’s vintage punk-flavored thrash, really, with Grind’s growly vocal assault, and there are tasty solos and crunchy thrashing everywhere. The record is slightly, and only slightly, more mainstreamed than their previous work and the production is crisper, but that’s probably only noticeable to someone who has knowledge of their back catalog. Anyone new to the band who also digs on Warbringer, Evile, Bonded By Blood or Municipal Waste probably will find this band is right up their alley and might even find they’re better than the ever-expanding group of throwback thrashers running around with back patch-emblazoned jean jackets, bullet belts, and white high tops.

Grind, joined by properly monikered bassist Phil “Philthy Gnaast” Zeller (who may or may not be paying homage to former Motorhead drummer Phil “Philthy Animal” Taylor ) and drummer Nick “Nikki Rage” Bellmore, blast open this bastard with “Judgment Awaits You,” a short, nasty barrage of power, where Grind howls about “nuclear fire,” bringing back that theme of total annihilation. From there it’s on to zombie tale “Agony of the Damned,” where Grind warns, “The dead will come back to life”; burn-the-witch crusher “Bitch”; “I Am Disease,” a meatier, more calculated song that isn’t too hard to decipher just from the song name; “Red Winter,” which is full of violence and animal instinct, as Grind promises, “We are the fucking dogs that turn on our masters”;  the lightning-fast “Revelations,” a violent end-times masher that clearly blazes down the speed metal path; and closer “Sound the Charge,” that’s more of a rise-up anthem that so many bands pumped out in the 1980s. Yeah, that idea can seem kind of cheeseball in this era, but it fits this genre and is a roots-style jam that should get fists pumping in unison live.

I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to overdosing on metal that’s overtly dark and serious, but sometimes it’s cool to have something that both kills and lets you have a good time. This is swimming pool thrash, where you can put this thing in, do a ton of cannonballs into the water, have a hundred beers, get sunstroke, vomit, and do it all again the next day. It reminds me of what lit my world on fire when I was getting into harder metal in my early teens, so I certainly have that emotional connection to this stuff. Toxic Holocaust should make you bang your head and make you smile, and if they don’t, you either don’t like the music, don’t get it, or are too damn straight-laced for your own good. I feel sorry for you, if that’s the case, but I’m going to keep indulging in good times for the sake of my own release, and so should you.

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