The Lazarus Pit: ZnöWhite’s All Hail to Thee

Welcome back to The Lazarus Pit, a look back at should-be classic records that don’t get nearly enough love. The column has been laying dormant for a few years, but considering we’re the sort of guys who sit around emailing each other about how great bands like, say, ZnöWhite were, we figured we might as well bring this back so we can get these records that we love so much a bit more attention.

So, speaking of ZnöWhite… I love this Chicago-based speed metal band. I mean, when we talk about “classic” speed metal records, we talk about one Exciter record and the conversation kinda awkwardly gets quiet, but, good lord man, ZnöWhite have something even better with their 1984 debut, All Hail to Thee. This record is a full-on speed metal classic, and today we’re going to turn back the clock for a while to discuss why.

First off, the fact that the band considers this almost-17-minute release a full-length is awesome. It shows some serious attitude and also backs my long-simmering argument that short releases can be even more powerful than long releases (looking at you, Assück). Sure, this is maybe “actually” an EP or a “mini-LP,” as the parlance of the day would have it, but they call it a full-length, I call it a full-length. If this record was 40 minutes long, it wouldn’t be as good, straight up. That’s not because the material wouldn’t hold up, it’s just because this is pure-adrenaline metal and sometimes seven great songs is all you need.

What sticks out most to me about this record is something I’ve already mentioned: attitude. So many bands—so many bands—today could stand to listen to this record and study the feel of it. It’s not overproduced, so the instruments make a visceral connection. The playing is just loose enough to sound human and make a connection that way; this record, as touchy-feely as this may sound, makes a lot of connections.

And it thrashes, hard and fast and reckless. Other ZnöWhite releases, and releases by associated bands that you haven’t thought of in literally decades like Cyclone Temple, are of varying levels of rad ranging from quite rad to not really rad—this is the record right here to spend the most time with.

The songs have an undeniable punk sound to them, but with thrash’s speed and heaviness. The riffs are pure metal too, but the absolutely raging vocals have tons of street-punk attitude. They’re unique, they’re delivered with tons of passion, and they actually sound good. The combination of the vocals with the manic playing just works so perfectly on this album.

“Saturday Night” is one of the album’s highlights, a mad dash to the finish line, and to the weekend, ZnöWhite managing to make us feel good without pandering to us with easy humour as bands would tend to do these days. Or maybe it’s just hard to write a song called “Saturday Night” in 2020 without sounding like you’re being ironic; maybe ZnöWhite have a bit of luck on their side in that it was easier to be earnest in 1984. Either way, turn this one up loud.

Then go turn the rest of the album up, loud. The trad metal leanings of “Bringin’ the Hammer Down,” the catchy songwriting of “Somethin’ for Nothin’,” the absolute non-stop insanity of total classic “Do or Die,” the dramatic kinda power-ballad “Never Felt Like This,” the beers-held-high closer anthem “Rock City Destination,” just the whole damn record. Feel the double bass pounding, hear the chain-link riffs clashing and bashing against your ears, remember how amazing pure metal glory can be.