Onslaught and the Blue Aeroplanes: two Bristol bands with absolutely nothing in common musically, but the only survivors of the city’s early ’80s music scene who can still pull an audience. So it’s kind of appropriate that the veteran thrashers should stage this 30th anniversary celebration of their breakthrough The Force album in a venue run by their indie peers.
There’s many a vintage Onslaught T-shirt stretched over a burgeoning beer belly in this heaving throng. And when Sy Keeler asks how many of us have a copy of The Force on vinyl, an impressively large number of hands are raised. But this crowd of what the frontman of support act Beholder winningly describes as “crusty old fuckers” are clearly ready to mosh like it’s 1986 as the album is performed in its entirety and in sequence. Let There Be Death is received enthusiastically enough, but we all know what’s coming next. The first pit erupts with that distinctive intro to Metal Forces and your correspondent bids farewell to his pint of cider as it flies into the melee.
Reaching the end of yet another extensive bout of touring, after which they’ll take a short breather before heading off to Russia in time for Christmas, Onslaught are on ferociously fine form. Keeler’s vocals have never been better, venturing effortlessly into the upper register for many a dog-bothering shriek; co-founder Nige Rockett supplies the vital bedrock of huge riffs; and the rhythm section of Jeff Williams and Mike Hourihan drive everything along at a merciless pace. Newest recruit Iain Davies also pulls off a difficult task most impressively. Coming at the end of the post-punk period, the lead guitar work on The Force was a tad rudimentary in places. Davies stamps his mark on the material by putting a thoroughly modern, technical metal spin on it without betraying its thrashy origins.
The trouble with these classic album tours is that each masterpiece, almost without exception, has one track that’s a rarely aired, unloved bastard stepchild. On The Force, it’s Contract in Blood. But this rattles past so quickly that we barely notice, such is our eagerness for Thrash Till the Death. With that done and dusted, it’s back to the standard Onslaught set. If any reassurance were needed that they remain very much an ongoing creative concern, the fact that the cream of their post-reformation material receives an even more wildly enthusiastic audience response than the 1980s stuff surely supplies it. These days, it’s hard to imagine an Onslaught show without the likes of Killing Peace, Destroyer of Worlds and 66Fucking6. Lest we forget their origins as a Discharge-worshipping punk band, we’re then whisked back to the title track of debut album Power From Hell and Thermonuclear Devastation of the Planet Earth (Historical note: every punk and metal band had a song with a title like this back in the ’80s – it was the law).
With the curfew fast approaching, there’s time for just one encore – and naturally it’s a Lemmy tribute. Onslaught can hardly be accused of bandwagon jumping here as they toured Europe with Motorhead back in 1987. (Should you ever meet a member of the band, ask for the anecdote about Lemmy’s dressing gown. I shan’t spoil it here.) With the vocalists from both support acts joining in, they drag Bomber down a back alley and give it a thorough thrashing. Rarely has nostalgia been so enjoyably violent. Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the Killing Peace album. Just a thought…
Read more: Metal & Prog picks: November 2016