Sound: I'm going to state before I start the review that I'm a lifelong Onslaught fan - their second album "The Force" was the first thrash metal album I ever heard at the very tender age of eight years old, and has remained my favourite album of all time since then. Saying that, this review may be slightly bias to a degree but do you know what? I wouldn't matter whether I had previous experience with the band or not. Read on.
We'll skip the long history lesson and get the important information out of the way first; Back in the eighties, Bristol's Onslaught were the biggest thrash metal band in the United Kingdom... possibly with the expection of Nottingham's Sabbat. That alone should give you an indication of what they're more than capable of, and after a 14 year hiatus their 2005 reunion spawned what was argueably the greatest thrash album of the decade - 2007's brutal "Killing Peace". While it was far from original, it was a blistering all-guns-blazing return for the band and set the bar high for all the newer bands doing the rounds, and now we're four years down the line with "Sounds of Violence". Does it live up to the previous album, or have the band lost steam?
No, no they haven't - I could end the review right there and be done with it, but that'd make for rather dire reading and a bollocking from the editor. It's difficult to know where to start with "Sounds of Violence" because all aspects of the record are so overwhelming and full of energy, from the production and the performance to the song writing itself so I'll just state that if you have a heart condition, avoid this album. The band's drummer Steve Grice may not be as young as he once was - the same could be said for everbody present - but jesus christ, he can pound those drums HARD! I'm certain that the production has helped give those vicious kicks some more 'oomph', but even with that in mind it's difficult to breathe with the album on at loud volumes. Jeff Williams' bass work here is nice and audible too, which is fantastic considering that many albums with such a thick, full-on production sound tend to lose the bass amongst the distortion and whatnot - being Jeff's first studio effort with Onslaught, I'd say he's done a mighty fine job with a shining moment of his manifesting after the bridge in 'Code Black'.
Speaking of new members, lead guitarist Andy-Rosser Davies makes his studio debt with Onslaught here too - from what I've been informed, he actually co-wrote most of the album with guitarist Nige Rockett which really shows in the songwriting. The biggest problem "Killing Peace" faced was that Nige wrote a large majority of the album himself, and though that wasn't a bad thing in one way - the songs were immense and Nige did a fantastic job - it all felt a little too similar at times. That's not to say "Killing Peace" was a bad album (far from it) or that Nige can't write or play, but one person writing a whole album will become apparent since it's their primary writing style being put forward - with Andy sharing the writing duties, all the songs present here feel more enjoyable back-to-back and don't have that ever-so-slight deja vu feeling you you got once in awhile on the latter half of "Killing Peace". Andy is a player whose abilities are nothing short of jaw dropping too, with a lot of the solos here being far more than just the standard collection of tasteless wank licks that've become increasingly more common in metal these days - it's apparent that every single riff and solo has been fine-tuned repeatedly until it was absolutely perfect. The songs are brutal, in your face and wild as all hell, yet they're still catchy and for the most part rather simplistic in their composition - the music is restrained but still kind of... not. The songs are more varied in terms of tuning, tempos and time changes as well, with the colossal C-tuned 'Code Black' being a relatively slow number in comparison to say, 'Rest In Pieces' which is possibly the speediest track on offer though this says little considering that this is a thrash record. Nige and Andy work together very well here with both their composition and their playing, and I'm already looking forward to hearing what else they may be able to bring to the table in the future. The closer of the album, a cover of Motrhead's 'Bomber', is a fantastic way to finish the listening experience and I really feel that the band have made the song their own - yeah, they only really sped it up a bit but all the same, it's a marvelous rendition. The fact that Sodom's Tom Angelripper and Motrhead's own Phil Campbell feature as guests on this track just adds to the fun factor of what was already a fantastic song. // 10
Lyrics: Vocalist Sy Keeler deserves to get almost an entire paragraph to himself, for the simple fact that his performance on "Sounds of Violence" surprised me. Sy is, more often than not, remembered for his raspy thrash snarl and his epic, ear shattering high notes - the latter of which are completely absent. I was initially disappointed by this, as Sy's high-hitters were one of the key defining factors that made him so unique and in turn, so f--king brilliant, but he tries to go for the opposite extreme here by performing what are essenitally death growls... for lack of a better word. He never goes quite as gutteral as most of the well known death metal singers but he holds his own without a problem - listen to 'Godhead', 'Hatebox', 'Antiheist' and once again, 'Code Black' for prime examples. His trademark raspy, snarly thrash shout is better than ever, and he annunciates better than nearly every other singer in the genre - if that wasn't enough, on top of this he still retains a sense of melody with what he's singing, even if at times it's only slight. Even though Sy didn't write any of the lyrics - lyrics are usually Nige's thing - Sy really makes the songs work with what he's given lyrically, applying some spectacular arrangements for some truely epic choruses. The lyrics themselves deal in rather typical, maybe even somewhat cliched metal topics such as war, tyranny, hatred and of course, the infamous anti-religious statements that the band are known for, but they still pull out some classic lines here - whilst "Killing Peace" had 'Spitting blood in the face of God' in the title track, "Sounds of Violence" gets a just-as-cool line in 'Godhead' with 'Children of God, you're f--king evil'. Most certainly not one to play for your parents or at church. Nige has always managed to pull out some spectacular lyrics and this is no different, he most certainly deserves more recognition for his lyrical contributions! And on that note, I've always thought that Sy Keeler was the greatest vocalist in metal and his work present here pretty much solidifies that opinion. // 10
Overall Impression: There's nothing else to say. Onslaught have once again released an album that stands as a landmark for heavy music - this isn't a matter of opinion, a matter of taste or a matter of fanboyism or whatnot. This album is absolutely mandatory for anybody who claims to enjoy metal - despite being dubbed as a thrash band, Onslaught have become more than just some thrash outfit by introducing elements of death metal, black metal and f--k knows what else into their sound and pulling it off effortlessly. Strangely, this record eerily reflects 1986's "The Force" - they're the second albums released by the old and new incarnations of Onslaught, the pentagram is the centrepiece of the artwork, they're both leaps and bounds ahead of the respective album/s released before them in terms of composition and execution... just a very peculiar observation of mine there. There are potential complaints to be made here, though they're so slight that they only really need a brief mention - First of all, every song (with the exception of the intro/outro and the cover of 'Bomber') is over four minutes long. Overall this is fine because the album is only composed of 9 full tracks, but the length of the songs sometimes makes you lose track of where you are. Second, Tom Angelripper does guest vocals on the cover song only and I'd have liked to have heard him on one of the other tracks, and third is the lack of Sy Keeler's high screams. These are rather pitiful complaints admittedly, and overall they do very little to diminish the quality of the album so it could just be me nit-picking. Why Sy decided to nix the high screams is beyond me, but thinking about it, they would potentially sound out of place on an album so heavy. Onslaught's "Sounds of Violence" is almost certainly going to be the best release of 2011, and even though we're expecting new releases from the likes of Evile and Destruction, I doubt that anybody will be able to achieve the sheer colossal intensity that these Bristolian bruisers have managed to craft. This is an album that lives up to it's name and then some, and if this doesn't help propel Onslaught to the top then there is absolutely no justice to be found in this world - if I could give this a rating of 11/10 then I would. And not even out of my previous love of the band, but purely and simply because this is as good as metal gets so buy this as soon as humanly possible - I promise you, you won't regret it!
(Originally written for www.brutalism.com) // 10