Style: Speed Metal
Release Date: 4 Oct 2019
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Toxic Holocaust, who I missed here in Tempe at the weekend, have always been a retro project for Joel Grind, who has generally been the one and only band member over the past couple of decades, but this cover is a thing of beauty, at least for all those of us who grew up renting straight to video VHS tapes back in the eighties. Is that Jean-Claude van Damme's TimeCop hiding inside that traditionally ridiculous post-apocalyptic suit?
Grind comes from Portland, OR but his key influences are European, primarily British. It doesn't take us long in Chemical Warlords to realise how much he likes Venom and that's apparent throughout the album. What part of his voice isn't sourced from Cronos is Cal from Discharge, which is especially obvious on Deafened by the Roar, a minute and a half punk d-beat blitzkrieg. There's Celtic Frost in here too and Bathory and GBH and Warfare and others.
It starts out fast, just as means to go on, with Chemical Warlords, the one single to predate the album, and it rarely lets up. The first time we get a chance to breathe is when Primal Future kicks off with an atmospheric intro and we realise that we're halfway through the album. It really doesn't feel like we've been listening for twenty minutes and, after twenty more, we're not ready to be done.
Part of that is the sheer sonic assault that comes from that early Discharge influence. We're used to those songs being two minutes or less each so that a mere ten of them can't amount to much. However, only Deafened by the Roar is really that short with Controlled by Fear coming close. The others run a more usual four minutes or so each that we might expect from speed metal.
And, while there's a lot of speed metal here, which helps proceedings pass a lot quicker than we expect, Grind does mix up tempos. New World Beyond feels a lot faster than it is because of what's around it, being preceded by the frenetic speed metal workout of Black Out the Code and followed by Deafened by the Roar, but it chugs along at a slower speed with panache. If it isn't as fast, it's a little heavier, the bass high in the mix and Celtic Frost in the inspiration.
The best thing about the album is that it becomes comfortable really quickly because it takes us right back to the eighties. It felt like an old friend I hadn't visited in a while and we picked up exactly where we left off however many years ago.
The worst thing is also that it becomes comfortable really quickly, because it fades away. Once we get past the first four tracks, which are strong, it vanishes until the fantastic riff that kicks off Iron Cage brings it back to attention. And, with nothing to match that later, it fades out again. Maybe we tune in to hear a more Quorthon-inspired vocal in Aftermath, but maybe we don't.
Playing the album a few times on repeat merely emphasised those early tracks and Iron Cage, while the rest vanished. That made me wonder about a rating. I'd initially gone with a solid 7/10 but with half the album falling away, it'll have to be a 6/10, even though there are four stormers of tracks on offer.
One last note: while Grind is the main man here and is usually the only man, I'm not sure that he's solo here. I'm seeing Robert Gray listed on guitars and Tyler Becker on drums. Maybe they're the touring band but they may be on the album itself, which would be something different for Toxic Holocaust.