Onslaught - Peace Kills...But Who's Dying?

By Dr. Abner Mality

It was back in the wild and wooly 80's when I first felt "Power From Hell" emanating from a "new" British band with the upfront name of Onslaught. The dudes had their origins in the English punk scene but like many others, they evolved into outright thrash metal with the mighty debut "Power From Hell". These guys gave Venom stiff competition when it came to evil, filthy metal. There's something yet about the murky sound of this record that brings out the inner beast in Dr. Mality's soul.

That was not the last we heard of Onslaught, who returned with "The Force", a sharper and sleeker album featuring the intense vocals of Sy Keeler and a hammering, Slayer-like brand of thrash. "The Force" still ranks as perhaps the best British thrash album of the 80's despite it's awfully
boring pentagram cover.

Onslaught again underwent a metamorphosis with their next record, "In Search of Sanity", which featured a much more melodic tone, longer songs and the vocals of ex-Grim Reaper man Steve Grimmett. Though not without its fascination, the album just did not deliver what Onslaught fans wanted. Then, the thrash boom collapsed, and along with the poor response to "In Search of Sanity", so did Onslaught.

Only to rise again in the new millenium! The band is back with a new assault of ripping thrash called "Killing Peace" and Smilin' Sy is back with the boys. The album reeks of a sincere desire to wreck necks and is not merely a "cash-in" thrash reunion designed to squeeze out bucks.

It was the perfect time for me to touch base with Sy Keeler about the return of Onslaught, the lessons they have learned and the punishment they plan to inflict...this is indeed the "Dark Side of The Force"!

WORMWOOD CHRONICLES: First, exactly when did you know that Onslaught had to continue and what triggered the band's return?

SY KEELER: Steve Grice was behind the reformation, he sounded us out after receiving royalty statements which amounted to ‘£0’ & thought ‘to hell with this, the albums were still selling & someone was making money from the name Onslaught. Although making money from the reformation was not our aim, we wanted ‘CONTROL’, so we decided to have a go, with the intention of recording a new album...not to play gigs off the back of a career that ended 15 years ago.

WC: To play the devil's advocate, some folks say that many of the thrash band reunions of late are just to cash in. What would you say to somebody that claimed Onslaught's return was just for money?

SK: Many have asked this question. We didn’t make much money back in the 80’s, & we have no idea how this album will sell, so our intentions were not to cash in. If we can earn some money that will be great...we reformed to have some fun, record the best album we could & play some gigs. We all have families, day jobs & all the responsibilities that go with life these days, so we’d have to sell a lot of CD’s to enable us to concentrate on Onslaught full time.

WC: When the band got back together, did things click right away or did it take a while for you to "connect" with each other again?

SK: It took a little time to find our feet, none of us had picked up an instrument for years. We had to borrow at first... we weren’t gonna go spend loads of money on gear before we knew it was gonna work. The first rehearsals were terrible. We reconnected well straight away, and within a couple of months we were writing new songs.

WC: You come from the "golden age" of thrash. Have you kept track of the scene throughout the years and what are your thoughts on more modern practitioners of the art like The Haunted, Lamb of God, Arch Enemy, etc?

SK: Yes, I have kept track of what’s been going on over the years; Steve & Nige had not, so I introduced them to the likes of Arch Enemy etc. I love music & bands such as The Haunted have kept the spirit of thrash ‘alive’. So many great bands these days.

WC: You left the band after the success of "The Force". What was the reason for your departure then and was it easy to get back into the band?

SK: I was pushed! A combination of record company, producer & management saw to that, I wasn’t right for the band??? So they was a dirty period which is now a very distant memory & the guys realized very quickly that the wrong decision had been made. They say that decision was the beginning of the end for Onslaught. The guys tell me now, if I had said no to the reformation it would not have happened. I jumped at the chance to rejoin Onslaught.

WC: I notice you sounds different on "Killing Peace" than "The Force"...less falsetto screaming. Was that a conscious decision or just something natural?

SK: Definitely very natural, I open my mouth & that’s what comes out. Many years have passed & the voice changes, I was in the band for only 6 weeks before we recorded The Force, so even then I was finding my voice, which changed over the next year, I still sing the old songs with the high screams, but with more control. If we ever release the demos I recorded for ISOS you will hear a huge change even then.

WC: "In Search of Sanity" was a real change of pace for the band. Do think you deviated a bit too far from what Onslaught fans were expecting?

SK: The finished recording of ISOS was too polished, too much of a departure from The Force, but the demos we recorded were closer to The Force stylin’s. We hired Stephan Galfas for the ISOS recording, who was instructed by London Records to produce a more commercial sounding album, (what was it I said about Control?). So yes, I do think it was too much of a departure for the old fans, although it is Onslaught’s best selling album to date, so many new fans came onboard.

WC: You have roots way back in the punk rock scene. Does punk still influence Onslaught today and if so, how?

SK: PUNK ROCK! Very much an influence again these days. We lost the attitude with ISOS, but we all agreed with the new Onslaught we had to rekindle the Punk spirit, which I think we have achieved.

WC: "Killing Peace" to me sounds like the natural successor to "The Force". Is that the way you look at it?

SK: Yes, exactly what we had's 80’s Thrash dragged kicking & screaming into the 21st Century. Obviously recording techniques have changed dramatically in the last 15 years, and people have said it should sound more like "The Force", but that album is 21 years old, recorded onto tape with all its limitations. I say wake up to the 21st Century.

WC: It sounds like the lyrics are more death and Satanic oriented than on "In Search of Sanity"...a back to basics approach. Would you agree? Or are they more topical?

SK: Events over the last few years have fuelled the lyrical content of this album, Religion is there,obviously but we also deal with Internet on ‘Prayer for the Dead’ & drugs once more with ‘Pain’ so I would say very topical.

WC: I still love the crude energy of the "Power from Hell" album. Is this period of the band's history still relevant today and will you be playing anything from this album live?

SK: We also love PFH, a classic! So still very relevant as it will always be. Yes,we play 3 from the album in our live set... obviously the title track, but you guys will have to come see us live to discover which others we do.

WC: Do you have any idea how Onslaught will be progressing in the future? Will you stay to the basic style of "Killing Peace" or perhaps become more progressive again?

SK: We have started work on songs for the next Onslaught album, & I can say with confidence we will stick with the style of songs you hear on ‘Killing Peace’.

WC: How would you say the band have grown as musicians in the interim between "In Search of Sanity" and "Killing Peace"?

SK: Nige summed it up recently when he said ‘I had to learn to play thrash metal guitar all over again, but this time without all the bad habits’. We are much more confident with our approach these days & I think that shows both on ‘Killing Peace’ & in the live situation.

WC: How did you wind up with Candlelight Records? Was there interest from other labels?

SK: Loads of interest. We were blown away with the response to our demos, but we chose Candlelight because they could dedicate more time to Onslaught because of a smaller roster, & not having so many similar styles on the label. They are local to us, only a one hour drive, not based in another country & thus far have delivered very well.

WC: What touring plans do you have? Any plan to come to the States, maybe as part of a package?

SK: We would love to come to the States, I think as you say a package would be favorable. We were offered a Euro tour with Celtic Frost & Kreator & I think this type of package has been working well around the whole world & is the future of touring, sharing costs & giving the fans value for money. We would like to come to the States this year but we’ll have to wait & see where the next 12 months takes us.

WC: What was the last CD you bought just because you wanted to check it out yourself?

SK: I buy lots of CD’s, & with the internet we can check out bands before we waste our money, as we’ve all done from time to time. The last one I purchased was the 5.1 surround mix of Opeth’s Ghost Reveries, Amazing album from a band who get better with every release

WC: What was the last gig you attended just because you wanted to check it out?

SK: Lots of local gigs in & around Bristol. The most memorable recent gig was ‘Wolfmother’

WC: If you could have any three people from history to dinner, who would they be?

SK: Carl Sagan. Brian Eno & Akhnaton (Egyptian Pharaoh & Heretic)

WC: Is there any "Spinal Tap" story from Onslaught's history you could share with the fans?

SK: I was sitting peacefully in the back of our bus in 1987 reading a daily paper, when I suddenly became aware it was on ‘fire’, Mr Rockett thought it would be entertaining to set me on fire. The next few seconds were both comical & painful as I tried to dispose of Flaming Tabloid out of the window, I received 3rd degree burns to my hand, but in true metal style I soldiered on in great pain with the gig that night in Leeds before visiting hospital.

WC: Any final words.

SK: I hope you all take the time to listen to ‘Killing Peace’ & hope you enjoy our Thrashtastic effort, it’s been a great reunion so far & visiting the U.S is high on our agenda & can only add to the fun we’ve already had……. Thank you & THRASH!

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