Welcome to The Lazarus Pit, a biweekly look at should-be classic metal records that don’t get nearly enough love, stuff that’s essential listening for students of extreme metal that you may not have ever heard of. Stuff that we’re too lazy to track down the band members to do a Hall Of Fame for. This week’s selection were well ahead of one curve and well behind another, showing up long after the blue and red headache-inducing glasses had become a novelty and long before clear lenses and hideous up-conversion: Wrathchild America’s 3-D.
Tortured film metaphor aside, Wrathchild America really were one of those groups that came about too soon for their own good. Nowadays, angular riffs, offkilter rhythms, and weird tangents into unrelated genres are pretty commonplace. Not so much in 1991. Originally known just as Wrathchild and featuring former Kix guitarist Brad Divens and future Godsmacker Shannon Larkin, they had to change the name because of an even-more-forgotten UK band of the same name. They’d been around for years, and apparently they had enough going for them that they attracted the attention of Atlantic records. That wasn’t unusual for the time – they were label mates with Testament and Overkill, after all – but by 1989, when their debut Climbin’ the Walls came out, the majors were more interested in stuff like Slaughter and Firehouse. So, while Climbin’ didn’t exactly blow away experienced heshers with its unpolished take on the thrash formula, there was that germ of potential hidden deep in the labyrinth. Potential that was fulfilled two years later in stunning 3-D.
The first thing you hear in “3-D Man” is a harsh, choppy riff, compounded with a complicated drum pattern courtesy of Larkin. Thanks to him and 5, 6, and 12-string bassist Divens, there is a palpable, for lack of a better word, funkiness to the proceedings. Divens doesn’t have the most dynamic voice, his ranting on the aforementioned track reminiscent of Dave Mustaine’s occasional same and his howling on the next reminiscent of James Hatfield’s frequent same, but it’s serviceable. Speaking of the next track, “Spy” is where some of the unusual genre mashing starts. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if you gave a thrash tune a swing backbeat, there’s your answer. That isn’t nearly as unusual as “Prego,” an instrumental that mixed in jazzy time signatures and passages the very same year as Cynic’s Focus, much less the foray into reggae on “Another Nameless Face.” Not that they were slouches at the straight up mad metal thrashing – “Surrounded by Idiots” is just as catchy (and funny) as Anthrax’s best, while “Forever Alone” could have been written by Testament (if Testament had had as good a drummer as Larkin).
Unfortunately, they were summarily dropped by Atlantic after this album, changed their name to Souls at Zero (not after the Neurosis album), released a few more records, and then went their separate ways. Maybe if they’d had death vocals, they’d be remembered more fondly, but thrash was well and truly over (for the first time) by the time they even had a chance. Nowadays pretty much everyone listens to jazz records and uses weird polyrhythms and throws in samba breaks. While Wrathchild America weren’t the first to do some of those things, they were one of the first to do all of those things. Climbin’ the Walls was reissued in 2008, but 3-D remains way the hell out of print. An ignominious fate for a band who, despite the referential name, were pretty groundbreaking in their own right.