Reforming in 2004 after more than 13-years out, traditional thrashers from across the country were elated to see the return of a band considered the essential unsung hero of thrash – Onslaught.
Frustrations have boiled over the years – and a dose of bad luck on their last UK jaunt didn’t help matters when frontman Sy Keeler suffered a detached retina and was forced to cancel the tour completely.
Now, three albums into their new career, the British five-piece are stronger than ever and if their live condition is any gauge – they definitely look set to further the run of form.
From what we can gather of North-East’s Fallen Fate, this is an act moving forward not in mere yards but in great confident strides. So often in thrash, guitar work is hacked to death with the delusional artistic mirage of quantity over quality when it comes to the good stuff.
But FF’s tendency to head the charge with a technical spray of lead shredding was certainly not a negative thing. There’s no snaking up and down the fretboard in an arbitrary flurry of trigger-happy showiness – Piers Donno-Fuller hits a melodious yet fierce balance in his playing.
Descendancy was the stunner with sticksman John Wright even showcasing a rare section of blastbeating that – alongside frontman and guitarist Lee Skinner’s vigorous tremolo picking – made the track an ultimate success.
The fact that the four-piece tenderly splice occasional bouts of breakdown into their structures does suggest modern metalcore influences. However, they’re executed differently, with the break-neck charisma of a pounding old-school riff.
Gama Bomb are the fun choice of the night. Their jovial jibes at pop-culture and general humour was pulled off in casual but charismatic splendour. The sheer sonic madness of the Northern Irish five-piece’s brand of thrash is an unrelenting assault that best annotates the nuttiness of the themes at hand.
Inspired by zombie films, video games and ‘other monsters’, they could be mistaken in pre-judgement to put on a lazy or careless show, but there’s gushes of passion (regardless of how strange) oozing from this band – and it’s all part of the package.
Vocalist Philly Byrne is a natural showman who epitomises all things bizarre in his conviction. Essentially, with hindsight, his banter leads to the inevitable question – why isn’t the guy a comedian? But in terms of the band’s performance it was as tight and rapid as ever and the frontman’s pacing style excelled to frantic rap.
Skellotron was rattled off with pace before the Robocop-influenced OCP and the conclusive homage to the Newcastle crowd – We Respect You. To sum up these mental thrashers – they’re a freight train full of 80s B-movies spilling over the side and gradually spiralling out of control with increased speed. Hell, it would certainly make a better movie than Unstoppable.
The sound of sirens might just be the ultimate cliché to open a set but with Onslaught it’s different. The five-piece follow up with an explosive raid of pure thrash aggression. Killing Peace rushed into the classic shout-along line ‘spitting blood in the face of God!’, before launching into a hefty constitution of pulsating riffery. For a gig with modest numbers this moment alone was a special treat missed by far too many.
Born For War continued this sentiment with its introductory picking of Middle-Eastern lead – giving way in aggressive fashion to a tirade of exhilarating riffs. Not simply a vocalist on record, Sy Keeler has a voice translated on the live stand to something exceptionally versatile and strong. From the episodes of high-pitched wails to the darker, more gruff stuff on various barbaric chorus’ – Keeler had a presence, remaining magnificent throughout.
A phoenix of true form, Onslaught are a revived band – to that there is no doubt. But as shown on this night, they’re an act eager to move on from past glories. They’re evidently looking onward, and while they rightfully kept the oldies more than pleased with a stunning rendition of Shellshock, it’s their new era of songwriting that’s doing the most impressing.
Planting Seeds Of Hate and Sounds Of Violence were both utterly brutal in their delivery and received in rapture by young and old – revealing that Onslaught’s post-reformation work may be breaking-news for a fresh generation of thrash fans. Amen to that.