Onslaught was picked up by Polygram Records in the late 80s, a time when metal music was trending and experiencing major record profits, due to influential bands like Metallica. And it should have been a time when Onslaught was in their prime, but all that was cut short when they went on a 15-year hiatus, disheartened by their former label who was not thinking of their career’s longevity. It would be more than 15 years until they returned in 2005 to start recording and touring the world again.
Multiple albums passed their reemergence, flagged by Killing Peace in 2007, Onslaught is gearing up for the release of Generation Antichrist with AFM Records, due on August 7. The release was recorded with producer Daniel Bergstrand, who is well-known as a metalcore producer and leaped at the opportunity to amp up Onslaught’s thrash sound for a record they were looking to incorporate their punk stardom into.
“It’s quite well documented that we started off as a hardcore punk band and it’s always been an influence in our music and that attitudes always there,” guitarist and founding member Nige Rockett told American Songwriter. “We discussed the direction before we started writing, as the last two albums were kind of technical, we wanted to go a different direction because we never want to do the same thing back to back so we decided to strip things back to our roots for this one. A few riffs I actually wrote in 1983, that were stored away and I looked at those which got me thinking about the new material.”
The first single “Religiousuicide” is an anthem written from perspectives on religion that Rockett formed from early childhood experiences and explains is not hate for the sake of a song or cool title. Rockett has justified reasons for pegging the song around anti-religion.
“The anti-religion thing is personal for me because when I was young my family was very religious and I got sucked into that going to church on Sundays and all that and I really didn’t want to be doing that, I’d rather be playing football or with my toy cars,” Rockett said. “I was made to do that for years and it really poisoned me against region until I was old enough to get away from it. ‘Religiousuicide’ in particular is my view on religion and with my kids today. I think religion is just sort of the creator of demise. My kids and their friends have no interest in it whatsoever. I don’t think it’s really relevant anymore and I’d never push it onto anyone.”
Another song from the record that holds some unique significance for Rockett is “Strike Fast Strike Hard”, which was one of the instances where the band was really looking to their early ‘80s punk roots for something new. “Strike Fast Strike Hard” was actually one of the first riffs Rockett wrote for Onslaught, and it had sat in the vault for years until the band dusted it off and paired it with a new drum pattern, giving it a new sound, perfect for their fusion of thrash and punk on Generation Antichrist.
Aside from sewing in punk styles, Bergstrand who dutifully adhered to Rockett’s request to make the “most brutal, aggressive thrash metal album ever made”, also opted to forgo drum samples. It’s a technique incredibly uncommon in metal and especially the metalcore that Bergstrand is known for producing, which left drummer James Perry no avail, but breathed an authenticity into the songs that are far and few in metal today, harkening the legitimacy of early metal in the 80s before Pro Tools and so much polishing.
New vocalist David Garnett was also juggling his first Onslaught experience, still learning the ropes in the band while being produced for the first time.
“It was lots of pressure for Dave,” Rockett chuckled. “Because he had like two to three weeks max to learn the songs.”
The studio experience was somewhat of a learning curve for the new vocalist, but it was smoothed over quite quickly when Rockett recruited producer Pete Hinton, also a good friend of his, who has worked with fellow scene-partners like Saxon, to help out on the vocal performance.
“Pete’s so laid back, but great in the studio and he was such a calm influence on Dave,” Rockett said. “They hit it off right away and Pete got such a great performance out of Dave.”
Even with all the producer and engineering hands in the Onslaught pot, the band still opts to do all of their writing in the confines of the studio, where many bands will go the route of writing and demoing outside before bringing anything to the studio, but for Rockett it’s usually too many “cooks in the kitchen”. Rockett who writes a majority of Onslaught’s material still welcomes ideas however and constantly sends everything out for feedback, an approach that works best for the band and something they were not always able to do in the ‘80s where the communication and technology was not as advanced, now one of the biggest breakthroughs of this new era of thrash and metal.
“The scene was crazy back then, lots of madness, but we didn’t have the communication back then so we couldn’t do what we do now,” Rockett said. “It’s hard to say what period was best. We were young kids the first time around and it didn’t last very long. We’ve been back now for 15 years now and played 70 countries and that never happened back then, when we could only get as far as mainland Europe, so it was different in that respect.”
But perhaps the largest offset to Onslaught’s early career, even more so than communications and technological obstacles was ingenuine labels that were only looking at dollar signs to cash in on the young metal bands that were trending among a dense scene usually dominated by new wave and pop.
Polygram, who was known for signing British pop bands in the ‘80s, picked up Onslaught just after their 1986 release of The Force, but the success hungry label didn’t really have the band’s best interest in mind and corrupted a lot of Onslaught’s’ early experiences with the industry, ultimately leading to their hiatus, solidified by the takeover of grunge in the early ‘90s.
“We kind of fell for the bullshit, which was a mistake, because we had other labels who wanted to sign the band who would’ve developed our career in the long term,” Rockett said. “Polygram was just after instant success, they saw what Metallica were doing and they wanted us to be the British Metallica, within 1 album.”
“And they tried to change everything, they tried to change the singer, our image, the sound and it just took the fun away, all the creative freedom was gone,” Rockett added. “We were forced to put cover tracks on the album which we had already released before. It just destroyed us basically and we split with them after 1 album then grunge came along and really put the boot in.”
Now further and more successful than they have ever been, Onslaught has found a label that sees them for their true potential and has given them an honest shot at long-term success even amid a pandemic that is crippling certain avenues of the music industry. Still, Onslaught with AFM Records backing them are bravely plugging along into the certain darkness of metal and music with more and more tours cancelling until what could be 2022.
“We’re missing out so much this year,” Rockett said. “I don’t see anything returning back until we have a vaccine. I know shows are starting up again but they’re not going to be the same, I don’t think people will feel comfortable. But we decided to go ahead with the album, we felt it necessary to keep our profile up and we hope we can come out on the other side with it.”
“Testament put out their album, so we felt if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us,” he laughed. Generation Antichrist is out officially on all digital platforms August 7 and copies of the record along with limited edition vinyl can be purchased at the band’s website, or directly through AFM here, along with their remaining discography that reaches back to their 1985 debut Power From Hell.