While enthusing about the return to the studio of major old school UK thrash bands like Acid Reign, Xentrix and Virus over the past couple of years, I somehow completely failed to notice that Onslaught also released a new album. In fact, I hadn't even noticed that they reformed in 2004 and issued three studio albums to sit alongside the original three I know well. Onslaught were a special thrash band, as heavy as any the UK produced and with a particular talent for songwriting. I loved Power from Hell but The Force sat among the key steps forward for the genre in 1986.
The band today is very different from the band back then, though the 2004 reunion did include three of the five members from before their split in 1991, along with a return for Sy Keeler who sang on The Force. Keeler remained until 2020 but left before this album was recorded, meaning that this features founder member Nige Rockett and four musicians who never featured in any pre-split line-up. Bassist Jeff Williams has been on board since 2006 but the others only joined in the past few years.
The good news is that they still sound damn good. Once we get past the radio dial intro, the sound on Rise to Power is slow and heavy but ever building and, when Strike Fast Strike Hard starts, we're up to full speed and attitude. Onslaught came out out of the British punk scene and this is a great example of British punk-enthused thrash, with precision playing under blistering attitude. In fact, there's only one better exmple that springs to mind and that's Religiousuicide, later on this album.
I should point out that the band's sound here is right up my alley. It's fast and heavy, slowing down to the midpace now and again but never staying there, because this is the sort of thrash to utterly clean out your system, leaving you both knackered and refreshed. The riffs are strong and incessant, with an impressive drum sound pounding them onward and an audible bass backing them up. The vocals, from new fish David Garnett, are fundamentally clean and intelligible but they're infused with attitude and they're willing to slide just a little into harsh for emphasis.
What struck me most, beyond the fact that this new Onslaught sound excellent, is that these are often shorter songs than I expect from them. There were only seven tracks on The Force because they tended to be in the six or seven minute range. In Search of Sanity was more varied but not shorter. Since they got back together in 2004, the songs have been more likely to run four or five minutes and this album follows in that vein. In fact, there are more songs here under four minutes than over it, if we exclude the bonus track on the Japanese edition, a rework of In Search of Sanity which outstrips the longest other song by a full minute.
While I miss the dynamics and growth that Onslaught's longer songs allowed, these shorter ones play with more urgency. That's aided by the surprising fact that there are more lyrics than there used to be and the lines are shorter. This is a punchier and more succinct Onslaught than I'm used to, but with a similar weight to their sound. By the way, those lyrics aren't as Satanic as they used to be, even given the album's title, but continue to rage against society.
I can take or leave the intro, Rise to Power, but everything else here is strong. Some songs stood out to me immediately, not just punkier songs like Strike Fast Strike Hard and Religiousuicide but a more thoughtful title track too; it's the longest and most old school song here, with Empires Fall following it in both respects. However, other songs stood out on a second listen and still more on a third. There are no bad songs here.
In fact, to call out a negative, I'd have to dig deep and suggest that the solos don't feature as much of a punch as they should because they're buried a little deeper in the mix than I'd like. Even running as short as three and a half minutes, there's time in Religiousuicide for some blistering solos but they're a little suppressed by the mix. Does that spoil the album? Not at all, though it would be a better one had that minor issue been addressed.
So, thank you to Dallas Falvo in the Thrash 'em All Till Death! group on Facebook for making me aware of this return. It's a real peach, right up there with the new Acid Reign album from the end of 2019. All hail the return of classic British thrash metal!