Like many British bands of the mid to late eighties, Bristol thrashers Onslaught always seemed to be just turning the corner to see the bus – and kindly, I’m going to call it a bus, rather than a bandwagon – departing. Always looking Westwards to the States for inspiration, the band never seemed to me to be fully convincing, whatever style of music they turned their hands to.
So, their first album, the titanic Power From Hell, was UK crust a la The Varukers leavened with US hardcore influences, whilst their ‘sophomore’ album The Force saw the band shedding their punk skin, adopting screech-friendly vocalist Sy Keeler and plundering the Slayer canon for all it was worth.
Which was quite a lot, as it goes. Both those albums are classics of their kind, and both get wheeled out in the Sentinel Daily office every now and then. Every band needs time to forge it’s own niche, and it looked like Onslaught might hit paydirt by adopting a style somewhere between those two styles. But then things turned sour.
Remember that bandwagon? It was staffed entirely by goofy funsters in Bermuda shorts and American sports wear, so of course Onslaught galumphed into view in Budweiser gridiron garb brandishing an Anthrax-style cover of Let There Be Rock, Keeler shuffling onstage apologetically in a Brian Johnson cap to deliver the song like some sort of clapped out end-of-the-pier impressionist. Not content with that, the band then signed a major label deal and promptly got rid of the doubtless too extreme Keeler to produce In Search of Sanity.
Released in 1989, three years after Master of Puppets had completely rewritten the heavy metal rulebook, In Search of Sanity is Onslaught’s Metallica album. Everything about the record is bloated – opener Asylum is five minutes of pointless noises – with the band clearly under orders to write Britain’s answer to MoP. Clearly, they were up to the task technically – there are moments of genuine excitement on the record, even if they’d all already been written by Metallica – but you’ll struggle to find an album as candidate for re-release in 2017 so utterly bereft of original ideas as this.
Lightning War and Power Play are probably the best songs here, (though the latter might as well have been called Trapped Under Ice), but the soulful hard rock vocals of Keeler’s replacement, Grim Reaper throat Steve Grimmett, completely strip the songs of any of the menace that the strident, at times vicious riffs seem to indicate was intended. Songs like Blood Upon the Ice and Welcome to Dying pall against the band’s earlier work, coming across as contrived and rather lame, and the band limped into the wilderness after the album was released, only to return (thankfully with Keeler back in tow), many years later in a new (and partially more convincing) guise as born again death metal practitioners. Get the first two albums, by all means, or even sample some of their later work – but you don’t need this unless you’re an Onslaught collector after the live recordings tacked on to the end of this reissue.
In Search of Sanity is out now on Dissonance Productions