British thrashers ONSLAUGHT recently hit the road to support their new album “Sounds of Violence”. A couple of hours before the band walked up on stage in Gothenburg, Critical Mass took the opportunity to discuss the band’s history with guitarist and founding member Nige Rockett.
In the beginning you were very influenced by punk bands such as THE EXPLOITED and DISCHARGE. What made you to start making thrash metal?
– When we started the band we were very young kids and basically couldn’t play. We were into that kind of music and it was the only thing that we could play with our limited ability at the time. We were practicing hard and improved quickly, and then when the thrash started we were moving into a more metallic edge of punk style music. It was a natural way of progression for us, we moved along as our ability grew.
I would guess that the heavy punk influence is the reason why ONSLAUGHT’s music is very straightforward.
– Yeah, I think the new album is a bit more technical than “Killing Peace”  but we have tried getting some of our old rawness back into some of the songs. It’s still a big influence for us now; I still listen to all that music. There’s certain “basicness” about it that kind of works with all the other influences that we have. The first two albums have a very dark atmosphere and very dark lyrics as well.
To what extent did the band explore the occult at the time?
– I was quite into that stuff, actually. It was one of our roadies at the time who got me into all that, he was into Aleister Crowley and stuff like that. He lent me some books, I found it to be a very interesting subject and things just went on from there. I wasn’t really practicing Satanism or anything like that but some of these things were really fascinating to read about and they were subject matters for our lyrics that I liked. We didn’t want to push it too far and when the “In Search of Sanity”  album came along we went off from a different angle lyrically. It’s a bit more reality based than what the first two albums are.
I have understood that today religion is what gives you inspiration for your lyrics. Does religion still have a lot of power where you come from?
– Not so much in Europe anymore, I think. You just have to look around the world to see what problems it causes. Luckily there haven’t been that many terrorist problems in Europe and the U.S. recently but it is all religion based, you know. It really gets to me. I come from a religious family and had it all forced on me as a kid, I had to go to church every Sunday and I absolutely hated it. I guess it’s some kind of backlash against that and all the other religions around the world causing so much trouble.
You mentioned that “In Search of Sanity” is more reality based. The atmosphere together with the title gives me the impression that you had grown tired of all the satanic stuff.
– I wouldn’t say grown tired, we just didn’t want to keep repeating ourselves and repeating what other bands had done. I think it was getting a bit overplayed at the time.
A lot of people thought that ONSLAUGHT lost their direction on that album. I feel that it might be a bit polished but it’s clearly thrash metal. What do you say about that?
– I understand why our hardcore fans don’t particularly like that album. It’s a little bit too polished, it took all the aggression away that we had. If you listen to the demos they sound a bit more like “The Force” , I think our American producer did come out a bit too slick. That is not to say that there aren’t some great songs on there, it’s actually our best selling album by a long, long way. We have tried to play some songs from it live but they really don’t seem to fit in. In a way we are kind of proud of that album but at the same time it was a difficult one because it was a difficult time for the band with Sy Keeler leaving and Steve Grimmet coming in, who wasn’t a popular choice among the fans. The fans have always seen Sy as the ONSLAUGHT singer and we tend to avoid that album nowadays.
So you won’t play anything from that album?
– Not on this tour and we won’t be [playing anything from it]. We have played “Shellshock” and “Lightning war” and as I said they really don’t seem to fit in. I mean, “Shellshock” is okay and we tried to adapt it but it still stands out from the rest of the material.
When you returned in 2006 you surprised a lot of people. I felt that people didn’t expect that much of you but then you did some good shows in 2006 and released “Killing Peace”, which is an acclaimed album.
– Yeah, I mean the reason we came back is that we have a point to prove. We split on a bad situation and wanted to come back and make an album that was what “In Search of Sanity” maybe should have been. We spent a lot of time making sure that “Killing Peace” was right because we knew that people were going to ask that question; “what are ONSLAUGHT back for?” It was very important to make a strong thrash album. I think that’s exactly what we did and that people know that we are back for some serious business and not just for fun.
Drummer and founding member Steve Grice recently quit the band. In his statement he claims that you temporally used another drummer and that he wasn’t informed about it.
– That is completely untrue! I have e-mails I can show you where I asked him about these shows. I asked him twice; “are you willing to cancel your holiday to play these shows?” These shows were very big shows, [playing to] potentially 25 000 people, 10 000 in Germany, 10 000 in Austria and 5000 in Switzerland. [They were] very important shows for a band like us that wants to move forward but he didn’t want to cancel his holiday. Our alternatives were to cancel these shows, which would be a very bad move for the band, or to find a replacement drummer. He knew very well about them, he’s done this to us before when we went touring South America. He said that he wouldn’t do it so we went away and worked with two or three different drummers within a month to make sure that we got the right guy for the job. It cost us a lot of money, time and effort. A week before we were about to tour, Steve turns up and says that he has changed his mind. He just wasted all this money, time and effort so this time around we didn’t give him any opportunity. We were going to do these three shows with another drummer and when we got home, Steve was still going to be in ONSLAUGHT and that would be the end of the story. I think there are other issues to why he quit. He wasn’t really in the band, he didn’t want to rehearse that much and it’s been evident for the last two years that he clearly doesn’t like touring. It’s quite awkward that he dropped this upon us two weeks before the tour. Luckily Jeff [Williams, bass] knows Mike [Hourihan] from DESECRATION, who has done a fantastic job in ten days and knows the set perfectly. We have not discussed any full time replacement, though. We will think about that after the tour.
He also wrote that his decision follows a series of events that, in his opinion, have seen the recurrence of old patterns of behavior that fuelled the band’s original demise in 1991.
– Well, I think that this is just Steve’s sort of bitterness. When he told us that he was leaving nobody questioned it, everybody accepted it and we all agreed to move on. I think he is annoyed that nobody tried to talk him out of it and I don’t really understand his comment about why we split in the first place. At that time we lost our record deal with Polygram, Steve Grimmet quit the band to go solo and things weren’t that great. I don’t think there were any issues going on internally in the band; I think that the band appeared to come to the end of its natural cycle. The grunge came along which had a big impact on thrash, there was no sign of any new record deals being offered and it was like “where do we go from here?” I think that the natural thing to do was to split the band.
There seems to be a few hard feelings between you two.
– Yeah, I guess. As I said I think he is a little upset that we didn’t ask him to rethink his decision. He said “I’m going to quit” and we said, “fine, we’ll move on.” We don’t want to get into a war of words with him but he seems to try that at the moment. We don’t want to get involved in any public argument; it’s not good for us. We just try to keep being professional about it and move on.
Finally, would you like to tell the fans about your future plans?
– We’re out on the road now for three weeks in Europe and then we obviously come to the festival season. We’re going to play at Wacken for the first time, hopefully it will be a very special show. I think we’re in negotiations about coming to China, Taiwan and Hong Kong in September. We’re also negotiating about a U.S. tour in November so we will be very busy for the rest of the year and I believe that we’re also going to do some shows in India in February, which will be quite unusual. We also have to think about the next album because we’ve been told that we’ve only got two years to deliver a new one. So there’s a lot of hard work for the next two years. Hopefully the band will move on to bigger and better things.