ONSLAUGHT (Nige Rockett & Andy Rosser-Davies) INTERVIEW
Spending a Saturday evening in a music instrument fair is not really my idea of fun, however I have to admit that what took place at Walthamstow’s The Royal Standard on the night of the 25th of September was the exception that proved the rule. Prior to leaving the festivities late that evening with a bass guitar in one hand and with a massive Marshall guitar amp in the other, I met up with Onslaught axemen Nige Rockett and Andy Rosser for a nice chat which included news for their upcoming studio album “Sounds Of Violence”, their take on the current Thrash Metal revival, as well as their experience of moving to a new label and planning for the future.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
• Nige, Andy; thank you for taking the time to do this interview. I understand that you have to prepare for a show soon so I will try not to take too much of your time. I have been a fan of the band since the early days so it is a real pleasure to be doing this interview.
Nige; Cool, thanks.
• It is a bit strange to have to do an interview for an album that has not yet been released (see “Sounds Of Violence”), so you need to help me as much as possible here. According to your website, there are six songs that have been recorded so far, but I am sure that there must be more by this stage, right?
Nige: Yeah. We have eight new songs, three bonus tracks, one cover version which is quite special so I am not going to tell you yet (laughs)…
• Fair enough (I laugh)…
Nige: A big secret, big surprises. We have also re-recorded two tracks that I did not sing on; we re-recorded “Angels Of Death” and (note; I think he said “Power From Hell”, but I am not too sure) both of which sound absolutely amazing! What else did we do?
Andy: We also did “Thermonuclear Devastation” (from “Power From Hell”).
Nige: It’s always good to add such bonus tracks because Sy (Keeler; vocals) never sung on them and he gives them a new angle.
Andy: Something different – a new spin.
• People like myself who follo9wed the Thrash Metal scene quite early on are not very open minded about new musical approaches from already established bands, especially in the Thrash Metal scene. Having said that, I find Onslaught to be one of the few bands that have managed to bring a breath of fresh air into Thrash, not trying to re-create something identical to what was first played thirty years ago. What is the secret here?
Nige: I don’t know really; I guess that it’s the attitude really!
Andy: I think that you answered the question in the question! The attitude is really the same; nothing has really changed here – what drives the band is still the same, you know? You can move on as musicians and get different influences or try to push things in different directions, of course you do, but as long as the core part of the band remains the same then that is how you can keep going, you know?
Nige: We also managed to make those two songs sound really fresh, especially “Angels Of Death” – for some reason it sounds fu*king wow, so modern. This was one of the first songs that we’ve written for “Power From Hell”.
Andy: It fitted so well even with the new stuff that we did – it sounds fu*king brutal!
• Guys, there have been quite a few ups and downs in the band’s career over the years, a few decisions that some people were happy with and understood and some others did not; plus, there was a huge gap between the first phase of the band’s history and the current one. Is it possible that this break that you’ve had helped you in a way become the band that you are? What I mean to say is that, you might have not been as dynamic and determined if you were a recording band throughout your career, but now that you are given a ‘second chance’ things are different?
Nige: Definitely, one hundred per cent! If we hadn’t had that break we would not be making the kind of music that we make now! We came back in 2005 with a real…we’re going to give it everything we have, and that is what we have been doing ever since. There are loads of fresh ideas which occurred as a result of that break, us now feeling more inspired – that is the way we feel!
Andy: We are really motivated now, you know? The gap helps fresh your ideas, gives you time to think I guess. Obviously it is difficult to compare now as we haven’t experienced a ‘non gap’ situation, you know, but again, bands are always going to go in cycles, you know? Even if you release album after album, it tends to go good album, then dips, then good album, then dip again, you know? In our case, this gap really fired everybody and brought the hunger back I guess and that is obviously very important.
• 2005 was the year that you began recording your previous effort “Killing Peace” and granted, Thrash is quite popular again at the moment, but that was not so much the case when you guys decided to make a comeback. That means that you started playing Thrash again before any real revival took place. With that in mind, what made you guys make that decision?
Nige: There were signals we saw, as the Blackened label which is a subsidiary of Candlelight Records here in the UK had actually re-released “Power From Hell” and “The Force” – they re-released them back in 2003. The guy who runs Blackened is a friend of a friend, so I was getting fed all this information of how well the albums were selling and that kind of became an indicator that there was a market for Thrash and that there was still a lot of interest in the band. I mean, these re-releases sold a serious amount of albums. So Steve (Grice; drums) did a little more digging just to find out what it was that people were talking about and there was a genuine interest around about Onslaught and so he persuaded all of us to give it another try (laughs). I must say that I was reluctant in the beginning, but now there is no stopping me!
• Now, that’s a good thing to hear, especially as the end result was both encouraging and impressive.
Nige: Yeah, we were away for fourteen years and I hadn’t picked up a guitar in ten, so there was some serious thinking to be done there.
Andy: I think that it was a very positive way we chose to come back. It would be very cynical if we thought to come back only for the reason that this music was popular, you know? It was really of the fact, and I am guessing here, that the guys felt ‘we’re a band; we have always been a band, so let’s make music again’. This is the same thing with every great band; you make the music that you feel the need to make, not the one that people expect you to do.
Nige: We felt we kind of cheated ourselves, you know? We got cheated with the “In Search Of Sanity” (1989) album. Much as it was our biggest selling album by a long way, we still felt cheated by that album, because it wasn’t the album that we wanted it to be.
• To be very honest with you guys, when that album first came out I was quite disappointed; not so much because I was young and close-minded enough to understand it, but because I felt that the band’s character and personality was no longer there.
Nige: You’re right; our character was stripped away from us really by one thing or another, mainly our record label. It was never the album that we wanted it to be!
• Do you feel though that there were a few good lessons to be learned by this experience?
Nige: Boy we learned – it was a massive lesson! A massive lesson in every possible way; how not to do things, hence the reason why we made “Killing Peace” and our new record the way we did!
• So, if you were to compare “Killing Peace” with your new album, which I once again have no idea how it sounds, how many similarities and differences would you find between them? How surprising will the album be to someone like me who hasn’t got a clue about it?
Nige: You will not be as shocked as you were when you moved from “The Force” to “In Search Of Sanity”…this chap here (a fellow journalist from Brazil) has listened to the whole thing yesterday – how would you describe it? Does it sound like a follow up to “Killing Peace” to you?
Fellow journalist: I believe that things are moved to another level and sounding better. The vocals were different, not different but better. The changes within songs were quite dynamic and the drumming was awesome – killer.
Nige: I believe that he hit the nail in the head there (laughs). It was good what he said; it is “Killing Peace” taken to the next level. It is a little more technical, there are some longer songs and there is a bit more intricacy within each song. Also there are a lot more dynamics; we concentrated on taking things up and taking things down, so each part sounds very different and the size of vocals have gone to this small to that big (note: Nige points the difference with his hands). Sy’s voice is far bigger than it was on “Killing Peace”.
• So, “Killing Peace” took you guys approximately two years to prepare if I remember correctly?
Nige: I think that the first year of being back together we were kind of just trying to find our feet; we were mocking about with old ideas that we first came up with back in 1990, working with some things and then throwing them away. It wasn’t until…I cannot remember what the first song we did was, probably either “Killing Peace” or “Destroyer Of Worlds” – once we wrote these songs, we knew the direction that we wanted to take. That is when we found our feet again! This next album is a definite progression from “Killing Peace”; heavier, harder, more aggressive!
• Did you use any new tricks in the studio that perhaps you did not find fitting in “Killing Peace”?
Nige: No, not really! We recorded “Killing Peace” in sixteen days last time and I think that this one was even less really. We just utilized the technology provided to the maximum. Working with many guys previously, I learned a lot about modern technology in recordings, so it was not totally new to us when we came back.
Andy: It’s pretty much the same approach and indeed the natural progression from an album like “Killing Peace”. What strikes me is that it is heavier and more aggressive; these are the two key things that I think of, you know? There is a lot of anger and a lot of aggression in it and Sy’s voice is outstanding! He has kind of opened another layer to his voice in this one. His vocals, both high and low, are quite aggressive and there is a real power in them.
• Was there any specific concept in your minds when you started working on the new album, or was it a simple case of you guys meeting up, jamming and delivering the goods?
Andy: For me it was simply the case of making the best recording we could; that it is, that’s the bottom line! You’ve got to write the best songs, come up with the best arrangements, the best riffs – everything! You just have to strive to do the best you can, you know? Never just accept the first thing that comes to mind, always look for the best in what you’ve got.
Nige: Onslaught has never been the kind of band to write fifteen songs for an album and only use eight or nine of them; we never do that. If we write eight songs, we use eight songs and just throw the rest away! We don’t keep anything that fails to meet up our standards.
Andy: It is a very strict editorial process I guess, but the thing here is to make the best possible record, you know? As I said before, you cannot afford to be cynical. If people like the music and they understand it the way they ought to, you cannot afford to be cynical! You just have to be sincere and make the best recording that you can. I know that all of us have basically done the best that we can do and I am very pleased by that.
• So what led to the decision to move labels? How come you guys moved to AFM records?
Nige: The deal we signed with Candlelight was basically a one album deal with an option both ways…I guess we felt that we wanted to move on; certain things were not great, some things they did well and some things they didn’t, as with every business I guess. We had a good offer from AFM, we liked what they had to say, so…
• It kind of makes sense from a marketing perspective too, as AFM is a German label and Germany is the ‘metal heart’ of Europe, right?
Nige: Yes, that obviously played a massive part as well! German label, German efficiency and being based in Germany which is the biggest market for this kind of music makes absolute sense.
Andy: It kind of felt right I guess; right time, right offer and the right opportunity, you know?
• Do you believe that they understand and respect the band’s history enough to know what your needs are at this moment in time?
Nige: Yes, I think that this was probably part of the problem with Candlelight, which had a lot of Black Metal bands in its roster and I don’t think that they necessarily understood Onslaught 100%, whereas what we’ve gathered so far is that the AFM guys know totally everything about this band and have a big vision about where we are going from here. The future is the main thing here, not the past!
• So, have you guys formed a specific ‘strategy’ as to how you will promote your new album? Any things/events taking place in the near future?
Nige: Yeah, there are loads of things going on. I wish I could tell you (note: not again, surely) but I cannot (laughs). We are just about to sign a publishing deal with probably the biggest cooperation in metal music, I will tell you off the record later (laughs). Also…Andy, is it Guitar Hero or the other one?
Andy: It is Rock Band.
Nige: We are going to feature on that one as well! There’s so much stuff happening behind the scenes at the moment in preparation for the album, so…
• It is nice to see you active even though you cannot give specific info here (I laugh).
Nige: It is great that things are happening now as pretty much everything was done by the band itself on “Killing Peace” whereas now we are getting a team behind us.
• English bands always stood out when it comes to extreme sound. I am not sure if it is the whole ‘we are an island’ approach to things that’s responsible. Each extreme local scene was always very small but the bands were always quite unique, example being Sabbat and Acid Reign amongst others. How do you explain this from an artist point of view?
Nige: I don’t know really, I don’t know about us! I can see a certain English eccentricity in Sabbat maybe…I don’t know about us.
Andy: I think it is as a result of our musical heritage and also many times a case of not being able to do anything else than what you do (laughs). You just pick up a guitar and go for it. Probably, being surrounded by water also helps, you know (laughs).
Nige: I never really thought of that! Obviously you’ve got bands like Napalm Death and Carcass, all very extreme bands.
Andy: Maybe it’s all those long winter nights, yeah, that’s what it is (laughs).
Nige: We came from a Hardcore/Punk background and that also probably helps.
• I think that is probably the common denominator here; most extreme English bands, regardless of genre, have a certain affection towards the music of bands like Discharge, you know what I mean?
Nige: This is probably what it is, because the whole Punk thing was really English based originally and the real Hardcore proper scene was in England, not the American Hardcore/Punk style. The really extreme stuff came with Discharge, The Exploited and GBH. That is where we drew our influences from I guess.
• You guys are veterans of the Thrash Metal scene and as we mentioned before, Thrash is going through a revival at the moment. Many young bands try to recreate that famous 80s style and sound, some more successfully than others. How do you see things from your point of view? Do you agree with labels getting behind Thrash once again and advertising it the way they do? Do you believe that these young bands have anything really interesting to offer?
Nige: It is a difficult question to answer really. When you have the likes of Testament, Exodus, Onslaught, Overkill, Sodom, Kreator, Destruction ex cetera that still go at it, it is hard for these young bands to come in and compete I guess. When you got the pioneers still there making some good music, it will be quite hard for these bands to come through. They are never going to be original – that is how I look at it! There are some good young bands which try to sound a little bit different by taking things on different angles maybe, bands like Fall Of Fate.
Andy: Yeah, these guys are good. This is a difficult balance to get, isn’t it? Most bands that we listen to sound like they came from 1984 or something so it will be very tough for such a band to break through. Again, each musician has to do what he has to do really and if it is popular it is, if it is not it is not, you know?
• I still haven’t decided what it is that I think of such bands. Part of me says ‘these are eighteen year old kids who love the kind of music I grew up listening to and all they want to do is to grab a guitar and play similar stuff’, which is quite commendable, and another part of me says ‘we’ve heard this all before – all it is are labels trying to make money out of this new fad’…I don’t know…
Nige: Yes, that’s it…I don’t know…I am not convinced to be honest! I have to say that, because when you have the original purveyors of that music doing things as good as they are doing them, it will be tough for them. I think that they need to go and find their own identity really. I mean, they can embrace the rules of Thrash; we started as a Punk band and then we moved on from there, so I am sure that there is a way for these bands to go in order to try and do something a little bit more original.
• I am not a big fan of five year plans, especially since both Stalin and Hitler were instigators of such themes; however, I am sure that in the backs of your heads you have something planned for Onslaught, right? Are you guys thinking in such terms or is it a case of ‘enjoy each day as it comes’?
Andy: It has to be a ‘take it as it comes’ approach. You cannot make massive plans in this business, just do what you do and hope for the best.
Nige: If you are Metallica, I guess that you can make a five year plan because you can go out and book a massive arena two years in advance and these are tickets that you can sell. When you are at the lower levels, it is kind of difficult to plan that far ahead. We get an album out, we know that we are going to tour hard for it and try to sell as much of this album as we can. That is as far ahead as we can look for at the moment.
• Ok, no five year plan; what about a plan B then? You must have a plan B, right?
Nige: It is difficult because everything is still in the building process of putting our structure together behind the band, with agencies and management being involved. Things are still being put in place, so you can say that we don’t even have a plan A yet (laughs).
• So it is a case of ‘first you need to learn how to crawl and then how to walk’, right?
Nige: If things go according to plan, the album should come out in Autumn and then we will tour relentlessly in order to reach June and hopefully play all the big festivals in Europe. When we came back we played all the big festivals for three years and it was great so hopefully, fingers crossed, we can go back and play there in order to support our new album.
• Guys, seriously; I find you quite an enjoyable and honest band, so I wish you all the best for the future!
Andy: It’s a pleasure talking to you.
Nige: Thanks mate!
On Sunday 28 July 2019, David Randall celebrated his 600th show. “Assume The Position” started in June 2007 on UK City Radio before transferring a year later to Get Ready to ROCK! Radio. The show includes tracks played on the first show plus Upton Blues Festival highlights, new music and the regular features “Live Legends” and “Anniversary Rock” which this week celebrates the Island Records label 60th anniversary.
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SKYFEVER Burning Hands (OTI Records)
HENRY’S FUNERAL SHOE High Shoulders Everywhere (indie)
MICHAEL J BOLTON Trans Lunar Injection (Market Square)
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