Because of the stature they have attained, much of the metal-loving world puts the Big Four as the sort of holy, uh, quadrinity of thrash metal. These are the bands—all American—that we consider the originators and finest progenitors of the genre. But not so fast. If we’re to look at many of the Big Four’s influences, the paths pretty much all lead back to the UK. So, it comes as no surprise that there is a new documentary in the works, A History of a Time to Come, that aims to document the history of thrash across the pond.
The movie, directed by Joshua Callis-Smith, is currently in the middle of production, with release set for the summer of 2012, but we have a trailer that will give you a first look at it. In addition, Decibel contributor Greg Moffitt, who is writing a book that will act as a companion piece to the movie, endeavored to fill us in on the movie, the book and why we should care about UK thrash, past and present.
The birth of thrash in the US was primarily San Francisco and L.A. Was there a similar spot in the UK that was particularly fertile?
Not really. One of the key aspects of the UK thrash scene of the ’80s was that, as a whole, it was surprisingly unfertile, especially given that we pretty much invented heavy metal itself and, as my forthcoming book will contend, thrash also. But based on where the UK thrash bands did originate, there’s no particular pattern I can discern. It tends to reflect where metal in general has traditionally had its strongholds; in regional—usually industrial—towns and cities; typical working class population centres. For example, Onslaught came out of Bristol in the South West, Sabbat from Nottingham in the Midlands, Acid Reign, Slammer and Re-animator from Yorkshire, and Venom and Atomkraft from Newcastle.
What part did thrash play in the UK metal scene in general? How influential was it?
This is probably the time to mention that I believe that, essentially, Venom invented thrash metal. This is no doubt contentious, and, as always, there are other elements which need to be factored into the story, but in this respect I’d say that Venom were extremely important in the UK by proxy. Although they were widely-derided at home, they were a profound influence on bands such as Metallica and Slayer who subsequently became extremely popular with UK metalheads, as they did with the metal fraternity worldwide. The UK thrash bands which came after Venom were never wholly embraced by the UK scene which, as often happens, preferred foreign imports. Thrash was as popular in the UK as it was anywhere but just not the homegrown bands.
Are there bands in the documentary that may be somewhat unknown to North American audiences?
Most of them, I should imagine. That for me is the crux of the story and what makes it so interesting. Here are a few names for you: D.A.M., Deathwish, Hydra Vein, Sacrilege, Seventh Angel, Toranaga, Xentrix—and there are more where they came from.
What do you see as some of the differences between UK thrash and that from Europe and the US?
Mainly the provincial and somewhat unprofessional attitude. Obviously the original ’80s scene was something of a spectrum containing everything from truly excellent bands who could compete on any level, through to total crud which gave thrash a bad name. You could argue that this was true of any country or region, but I always thought that, pound for pound, the UK punched below its weight compared to the US and Germany. Especially as we are, and were, an advanced, developed, wealthy country, unlike, say, most South American nations at that time who still struggled valiantly and produced some great bands. However, I think most of the differences are historical, and the thrash outfits which have come together since the recent revival are more or less playing on a level field, wherever in the world they’re from. Evile aren’t about to get their asses handed to them by Warbringer or Bonded By Blood.
You’re writing a companion piece to the film. How will the two fit together?
I had the idea for the book back in 2003 when I wrote a piece for Terrorizer magazine entitled “One Foot in the Gravy: The Decline and Fall of UK Thrash,” the point of the title being that the UK scene never hit the heights its contemporaries did. I plan on writing the book I always intended to, the one key difference being that I originally envisioned only covering the past, stopping in the early ’90s when the last vestiges of the scene finally fizzled out. But working with the guys behind the A History of a Time to Come documentary encouraged me to bring the story full circle. Not only has the scene been revived in recent times by new blood, many veteran acts have reformed and are currently sounding better than ever, Onslaught being a prime example.
What are your own personal memories of or thoughts on UK thrash over the years?
The main thing I recall about the ’80s was that those of us heavily into thrash had little time for most of the UK bands who we felt were merely duplicating what they were hearing from overseas, particularly the US. There were honorable exceptions of course—quite a few in fact—but when Metallica broke it was game over. Or, rather, the only game in town seemed to be attempting to emulate their sound and success. Plus, thanks mainly to Anthrax we started to see all the upturned baseball caps and skateboarding crap which frankly was just not British.
Is there a band (or bands) that in your mind were particularly influential and noteworthy?
Hands down, Sabbat. Amazing, creative, wonderful band. A great metal band full stop, never mind thrash. Original, inventive, thought-provoking. Martin Walkyier is a genius, largely unrecognized in his own country, to our eternal shame. Plus I think the last Onslaught album is better than the last Slayer album.
What do you hope the world will learn about UK thrash from the book and film?
There’s an idiosyncratic, untold story here, and I hope people enjoy reliving the journey that the bands and fans made back in the day and, of course, the worldwide thrash revival which has sparked off the UK scene once again. Also, for all that UK thrash in the ’80s was a tale of limitation and unfulfilled promise, there were some quintessentially British bands who contributed a great deal to thrash metal globally.