Harry Headbanger isn't a man renowned for his love of the understatement; to this Shakespeare Of Speedhem, nothing is simply "poor" when it can be a "pile of steaming crap", and something is rarely "good" when it could be "the bone-shattering, brain-barbecue-ing business!"
So when the good Harold comes bursting into Spotlight City, face the colour of a baboon's jacksie, ears steaming like an outdoor urinal in winter and white-knuckled hands frantically waving his latest album review copy like MacMillan on sulphate, most unflappable folk would be ready to take the imminent shower superlatives with a pinch, nay a fistful, of salt.
Such was the senario for the Double Aitch's most recent rave, Flotsam And Jetsam's debut disc, "Doomsday For The Deceiver". The best trash album I've ever heard! quoth he. "It's that good - I kid you not!" he promised passionately. "I guarantee you'll be amazed!" he squealed at the end of a hot-headed, hilariously hyperbolical six-K kritique. And sodium chloride was duly passed among the sober
But should one capable of such stunningly accurate statements as "Ted Nugent stinks!" always be taken so lightly? I, in a disnal,
diet, stricken state of sobriety, thought not, and when claims of "impressive musicianship" were uttered from that frothing HH cake 'ole, there was nothing for it but to check the thing out for myself. And d'ya know what? That sonofaroadie was right!
Yup, Flotsam And Jetsam's "Doomsday For The Deceiver" is indeed a K-ridden killer, turbo-charged with all the speed this side of Brands Hatch and yet filled head, shoulders and private parts above the monotonous majority of Thrash bash
I've had the gross misfortune to encounter by nifty songs, smarter-than
average lyrics and ... yes, might fine musicianship!
I'm not for one micro-secong suggesting that the Flots are some sort of perverted Thrash equivalent of Yes , although "Tales of Topographic Oceans" might sound better at 180 mph, but just that for those Metal fans with considerably more brain cells than Thrash albums to their name, this "Doomsday ..." thing could be a real eye-opener.
So to the dog'n'bone and a week-long 8000 call attempt to contact Flots in their hometown of Phoenix, Arizona. The band were founded there during '84 - the current line-up being completed by arrival of Michael Gilbert in Feb '85 - and they first turned people's heads with their "Metal Shock" demo which surfaced in August '85.
One track from the demo, "I Live, You Die", was selected by Metal Blade Records to appear on their "Metal Massacre VII" album, and indeed further attention was gained by the band's second demo, "1985 Bootleg", from which "Hammerhead" and "Iron Tears" were chosen by New Rennaissance Records to appear on the "Speed Metal Hell II" compilation.
From then until the release of "Doomsday ..." FAJ pretty much launched themselves at the South West Metal audiences, playing with the likes Alcatrazz, Armored Saint, Malice, Autography, Megadeth and many more, and building up quite a reserve of local support into bargain.
Whn I finally tap into the warmth of South West America on chilly London evening in October, it's not surprisingly bassist Jason Newsted I talk to. A founder member of Flots, Jason is the band's prime pensman, manager, agent and spokesman, and appears to be capable in these capacities, leaving the rest of the krew , singer Eric A.K., drummer Kelly David-Smith and guitarists Edward Carlson and Michael Gilbert , to get on with the job of whipping up that manic-yet-mature, chaotic-yet-classy FAJ sound.
To get the ball rolling, I ask Jason if he considers that "FAJ sound" to be Thrash Metal.
"No, we're more of a Power Metal band than a Thrash metal band," he claims, leaving me wondering what on earth is
difference! "We do play fast, but we're more into the melodic side of things and our music is much more refined than Thrash. With Thrash you can't hear what's goin' on and and it's just like, noise, with what we play - US Power Metal - you can hear the melodies and all the other subtleties. I thought the best description of us was Harry headbanger said in Kerrang!: "Thrash with an IQ". yeah, that's just how we feel."
So are FAJ disassociating themselves from the Thrash movement?
"Not really," Jason says, "it's just that we've got a lot more to offer than most of those bands, and I wouldn't like us to be bunched in with them. We do listen to a lot of Thrash bands - I mean, I really like the Crumbsuckers - but that's not all we listen to. I like listening to classical music a lot, particularly Paganini and Bach, and I also like people like Stanley Jordan, Al Dimeola, Dixie Dregs and John McClaughin - sı I have a lot of influences coming in at me. In one evening I might be listening Bach one minute and Slayer the next!
"But I'm glad bands like Metallica and Slayer have been signed to major labels, because that has opened a lot of doors for the whole new wave of Metal that's around right now. I don't know if Thrash will ever reach a point where you'll here it being played on the radio as often as genesis or anything like that, but at the moment it seems to be picking up popularity and that's a good thing. I think"
The Essence of the most Thrash is, of course, speed. But I wondered how important speed is to FAJ's so-called Power Metal.
"Well, we like to play fast, but it's also important to be melodic, precise and in control of the song," Jason explains. "This band plays a lot of real fast songs but, but I also like to play slow, where you can be real melodic and create a lot of feeling with the song."
Is it difficult to be melodic when you're playing at the speed of light?
"Not really," Jason reckons, "it's all down to the construction and arrangements of the music. If you've got that right and you've also got the right guys to play it, then it's not hard at all. But I don't know of too many bands who can be melodic and real fast at the same time."
You' re obviously proud of your melodic side, but do you deliberately try to be faster than the next band as well?
"Uh ... I don't know," Jason confesses. "We don't play fast just for the hell of it" we play songs of
different speeds and hopefully the ones we do that are real fast are only done like that because they should better and more effective that way."
Does playing fast require a lot of practice?
"Well, we practice a lot - much more than a lot of other bands I can tell you! - and a lot of that practice is for us to build up stimina," Jason tells me. "When you're playing Power Metal like us onstage for a long time it really takes it out of you, and if you haven't worked on your stamina then you're in real trouble. We go over our songs until we're so tight and so fit we just know we're gonna be hot onstage."
Are lyrics that important when you're playing so fast?
"Oh yeah, our lyrics are very important to us," Jason emphasises, "and so are our vocals. Every member of the band sings, so we perform live we can really make an impact with our vocals, they come across real powerful. But with a lot of Thrash bands you can't understand the words at all, and in any case, these people just seem to wanna sing about satan an' that kinda stuff - I guess
because it's so easy to rhyme "death" with "last breath" and stuff like that - so it doesn't really mater if you can't hear what they're saying."
From your lyrics, it's so obvious you're anti-Satan.
"Well, I don't know if I wanna come out and say we're anti-Satan any more,"
Jason ponders, "because I don't want it to be thought of as a kinda Stryper, hyped-up, gimmicky sorta thing. But we are
different from all these other bands who seem to think it's great to sing about Satan just because it might get some attention and publicity. We want to be
different from that."
Apart from occasional lapse into clichedom (see "Hammerhad"), FAJ do manage to keep their lyrics interesting, and, in the case of "U.L.S.W" (Which, Jason assures me, stands for Ugly Little Slimy Wench and is
inevitably about groupies) quite humorous. But it's the more serious stuff on the lyric sheet that caught my eye, and in particular trax like "Der Führer" and She Took An Axe", concerning Adolf Hitler and Lizzie Borden respectively.
"I'm fascinated by all these evil, black-hearted people who gained so much power simply through what they said and did," Jason explains. "I mean, how did such a monster as Hitler gain so much power? he was killing, like, 12 million people or something for no reason, and yet there was a whole nation of people worshipping him and follow him just because he got up there and gave all these wild speeches! I just had to write about it."
"And Lizzie Borden was another character who fascinated me. This bitch was a lesbian and her mom caught her with the maid, so her mom fired the maid ... and Lizzie killed her mom with an axe! She also slaughtered her father ... and then got away with it! She got let free! That's what really fascinated me about that story, and again, I was just inspired to write about it. I spend a lot of time going through books - especially encyclopedias - looking for inspiration."
The inspiration for the epic nine-minute title track of the FAJ album, "Doomsday for the Deceiver", came more from Jason's own personal anti-Satan stance than from any encyclopedia, however. Flotsam and Jetsam - names taken from from Tolkien's "Lord of The Rings" - are misfits, outcasts and drifters by definition, who worship a figure called Flotzilla, a survivor of the holocaust who seeks to kill the Devil (or Deceiver). Jason takes up the story.
"Flotzilla in this case is the hero of Metal and he fights the Deceiver, who has turned the world into a living nightmare. ("Belial begins his scheming, treacherous plan / Turns brother on brother, toys with the leaders of man / He creates before them illusions and broken truce / A wicked plot of deception that commanders cannot refuse / In a short time he has control, USA, Russia - chaos from pole to pole / Mankind's worst nightmare, it's too late to pray / Hold tight and take your last breath, and missiles are on their way")
"But of course Flotzilla rises to challenge and manages to triumph over the deceiver ("The air is charged with Power Metal, Flotzilla's eyes glow as he feeds / The clash begins, a fight 'til death, such power never seen before / Thrashing jaws, slashing claws, dealing the darkside's fate; the Deceiver's doom this day!"), ridding the world of evil," Jason concludes.
"It's really the main theme of the album and it's continued on the first track of side two, "Metal Shock", which is about life after holocaust and how Metal
somehow becomes the savior of mankind, giving it the power to recover ("... until World War Four")."
Pretty fanciful stuff. Will Flotsam And Jetsam achieve similar succession
the "real" world of Thrash/Speed/Power (call it wotcha will!) Metal?