*** Due to unforeseen workumstances^, general burn-out and actually having real things to do, like in the real world, with like real people and stuff, my carefully planned schedule of a record every day, or two, including a carefully chosen Christmas one from my extensive collection of three has just gone by the board, so this has ended up as my Christmas gift to you all…along with peace, love and some new socks to replace the ones which just rotted clean off your feet in late September and a mauve tie you’ll never wear. 1537 out. ***
I mentioned before that I saw active service in the Glam / Thrash wars in the late 80’s fighting for the right to wear eyeliner and girly scarves and so by the time I became a bit more broad-minded I’d missed out on having a thrash metal adolescence. Which is a shame because rarely can a musical genre have so well fitted one’s own internal hormonal detonations at a certain point in history. Nuclear Assault Survive is a Grade A case in point. But let’s not worry about it, thanks to the twin wonders of my own arrested development^^ and the internet let’s have my adolescence right here, right now.
As I saw it every thrash band needed four essentials in their tool kit:
- Energy, energy, energy – think small hyperactive kiddie after a five-day diet of bright blue sweets and energy drinks, exclusively.
- Technical ability – in particular the ability to pull off numerous time changes and overhand guitar runs during each track.
- Scary, spiky, goblin or skull face thing for LP covers and T-shirts.
- Heavy subject matter, like REALLY heavy.
What could be heavier than the total annihilation of the planet through a full-on Nuclear Assault? nothing*. It was a great toxic fountain of ideas and inspiration, giving loads of cool, sorry I mean appalling, images of melted faces, rats the size of buffalo, post-apocalyptic zombie dudes – possibly even post-apocalyptic zombie dudes on bikes – maybe even post-apocalyptic zombie dudes on bikes with chainsaws. You get the picture. Whilst the hardcore punkers of a few years earlier like Discharge** and Conflict used the prospect of ‘Two Monstrous Nuclear Stockpiles’ as fuel for protesting and surviving, let’s face it we metal kids just used it to get our jollies – ‘Whoa dude, check it out! His nose is like totally running down his face into that pile of ashes that used to be his dog!’. Hence this:
Back in school Nuclear Assault Game Over was a big album for those in the enemy camp, it went toe-to-toe with Appetite For Destruction and endless LPs by Simple Minds, for domination of the boom box in the Sixth Form common room, until girls discovered how cute Steven Adler was and the war was won. They seemed to either play more regularly, or maybe just more locally than the other big American thrashers and people got to see them a lot. All of which sailed over my head until I inherited Survive from my brother in 1998.
First up, I just love the sheer energy Nuclear Assault bring to the party on opener ‘Rise From The Ashes’, straight off the bat. It’s maybe not as technically spot-on as any of the Big 4 were by that point, but you don’t always need that when you can hit the adrenalin-turbo button as neatly as they do – Anthony Bramante and John Connelly are both pretty damn serious guitarists. As an aside one thing I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE about this LP is the fact that, like Judas Priest used to sometimes, they noted which guitarist had played which lead, or solo on the lyric sheet. I think it just captures the nerdy, adolescent fret spotter in all of us perfectly. Yup, leads were AB, JC and then JC again …
As in all the best late 80’s vintage thrash all the best tracks are split into sections; Intro (sound FX), Chorus, slow bit, fast bit, bridge, chorus, faster bit, slow moshing bit, chorus x3, squealing outro. It just really works for me once in a while. As always when I listen to thrash metal I am in total awe of the drummer, in this case Glenn Evans (who I’m guessing is the one with bulging veins like Conan’s on the back cover) – how the hell do they do it? just physically I mean, never mind hitting all the right drummy thingys in time to the tuney thingys, as someone with an, umm, individual sense of rhythm I just find it perplexing in the extreme.
I’m missing chunks of early Megadeth and Anthrax back catalogues, so I can’t get all learned on your ass about how Survive compares, Anthrax being probably the most apposite comparison as Dan Lilker was jettisoned by them in ’84. The heavier tracks are the ones I like by far the best on this LP and there is more than a touch of punk hardcore here and there, possibly due to Lilker’s S.O.D connections – try ‘Equal Rights’ for size on that front, or the 11 second ‘PSA’ for that matter.
The lyrics are kinda funny too, just so irredeemably adolescent, or at least that’s what I think as a smug patronising 41 year-old. All about having a mind or your own, not believing what you read, technology = bad, nuclear annihilation = bad, not listening too much to others = good. If I’d had the chops and the dedication to have been in a band at the time it’s exactly what I would have written and the messages are all positive, consciousness raising and empowering, but primarily there to make sure the guitar solos are correctly spaced apart. My fave, from ‘The Great Depression’, is
You’re always sticking your nose into my life I wish you would leave me alone
Why can’t you just shut your mouth and keep your mind off my life and onto your own
Why can’t you leave me alone, I don’t want your goddamned help
I don’t recall asking you to stick your nose in my life
Why can’t you mind your own fucking business leave my life alone
Yeah! No-one tells me to tidy up my room and do my chores!!
Because it’s taken me 10 days, so far and counting, to write this post I’ve listened to Survive a damn sight more than I normally do for my write-ups and I’ve really enjoyed it. There really are some thrash gems here like ‘Fight to be Free’ with its melodic passages, but their cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ is unlistenable, musically it’s a bit of a heavy-handed simulacrum but it really highlights that John Connelly is no Robert Plant and that you really need one of those to make the song work. Strange choice.
P.S – Funnily enough I had actually encountered Dan Lilker prior to absorbing this LP, playing on, of all things, a Dead Can Dance tribute album. Playing rather beautifully too.
^see what I did there? God, I’m good!
^^note absence of capital letters folks, although I did quite that one they did about teaching a man to fish.
*although for most of their audience at the time maths homework came close.
**Don’t make me, get up take my Christmas party hat off and come over there to tell you again what an amazing album Discharge Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing is, or you’ll regret it.