Interview: Onslaught on mocking an Amazon review and meeting Keith Richards

Interview with Nige Rockett | By Eric May

Onslaught have been around for well over thirty years now, but their newest release, VI, still sees them going strong. I spoke with Nige as he discussed the birth of the band way back in the eighties, as well as the interesting Arabic vibe on “Children Of The Sand” and the tongue in cheek mocking of an Amazon review that later became “66fucking6.” We also talked about some unbelievable tour experiences and an extraordinary occurrence in meeting the one and only Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones! We even talked about the new healthcare law, since I’m sure it’s still on everyone’s minds…

First, let’s start off with the early history of the band for those who might not be aware of you. How did Onslaught begin and how do you think your sound has evolved on this sixth full length release?

Onslaught was formed in 1983 by myself and two school buddies, Paul Hill (bass) and Jase Pope (vocals). The lineup was to be completed by Steve Grice (drums). Me and Paul used to travel all across the country watching our favorite bands – Discharge, GBH, The Exploited, etc. before we eventually decided that it should be us up there on the stage doing it for ourselves instead of watching other guys have such a blast. We were real novices in the early days and our musicianship was very limited. You can hear the progression through the first three albums in particular as we fine-tuned our skills in songwriting and worked very hard at playing our individual instruments. The new album is light years away from the first Onslaught record, Power From Hell, but it’s every bit as aggressive and far darker than any of the early releases.

What was the recording process like for VI and did you face any snags in that process? What was the best part about being in the studio?

VI was a real easy record for us to make, as we discovered a very cool formula that totally worked for us when we made the Sounds of Violence album in 2011, so again we followed the same path. We did all the pre-production and recorded all the guitars and bass at our own studio and went out to two other studios for the recording of drums and vocals, before doing the final mixes in Sweden with Thomas ’Plec’ Johansson.

I loved recording the guitar tracks every time. The guitar parts were particularly hard on this record, we really pushed ourselves to the limits and tracking each song perfectly four times was a real tough challenge for me. And of course the mixing stage when you finally hear all the hard work come together, it was so cool working with Plec, He’s an absolute genius and we had a lot of fun getting all the sounds together!

One thing that I’ve always liked about your band is that you’re not afraid to incorporate death metal elements into your thrash, much in the way that Testament did with their Demonic album. As a matter of fact, almost all of your last record was done with a sense of death/thrash. What do you think may have influenced that?

Well, Onslaught are very fortunate in the fact that we are one of the few bands that can actually crossover between the thrash / death /black metal genres and make it work on the record and at festivals too. Of course, we are first and foremost a thrash metal band but I don’t like having boundaries and incorporating the fusion of different styles within our sound gives us our own dark and individual identity.

Continuing with influences, what bands do you guys consider the biggest influences to your sound? What were you inspired by on this album, in particular?

Our influences have remained the same from day one. Discharge and Motörhead have always been a huge inspiration for Onslaught and that will never change. The raw energy and attitude of their music really did it for me, especially in the early days.

Aside from the two bands I mentioned, the real driving force behind the creation of VI was our previous release, Sounds of Violence! We simply had to top it and make a better album than the last one!

“Children Of The Sand” is not like the other tracks, due to its Arabic vibes. Can you talk a little about this interesting experiment in thrash metal?

The inspiration for this track came from some friends that we have out in Afghanistan. These guys have actually use ‘Onslaught’ for their battalion nickname, so it’s a big honor for us and we really wanted to do this connection justice with “Children of the Sand.” One of the guys sent us over some writings he made about life out there; it’s pretty heavy reading and really thought provoking stuff. He said we were welcome to use his words in any way we liked, which of course I did. It painted a very dark picture for me and was very inspiring in the overall creation of the song, which is why we gave it the full production treatment with female vocals and a live string section to give it that real Eastern authenticity. I’m really proud of the way the track has turned out; it’s definitely a new landmark for the band.

You talk about the New World Order and the mark of the beast on this album (“66-Fucking6”) but do you think that these things could actually happen and bring about the world’s end, or is it all just one big “Cruci-fiction?”

I think a New World Order is definitely in its early stages without question; it’s there for everyone to see. I’m pretty sure there are people in very high places scheming for a world controlled and policed by one core government that has access to all resources this planet has to offer. Ya know where I’m coming from.

66fucking6” is a kind of tongue in cheek track, actually. It’s inspired by a review that some Christian dude gave us for the Sounds of Violence album on the Amazon site. It basically said ‘we are the personification of all that is bad and evil and that we play the devil’s music.’ We thought it was probably one of the best reviews we have ever received. [Laughs] Religion = Cruci-fiction.

There were actually some power metal tendencies in terms of the high pitch vocal in “Fuel For My Fire.” I compared it a little to Judas Priest. Can you talk a little about this one?

Sy likes to get some high vocals in there now and again and Rob Halford has always been a big influence for him personally, so I’m sure that he’d be stoked to hear that. He used a lot of high pitch vocals on The Force album back in 86 and the fans seemed to really dig it. I think it’s cool just to have as many variants on the album as possible to set each track apart from the next; it works for me because he delivers it with such aggression and I love the chorus on this track.

Is there any one theme for the album as far as lyrics are concerned? It would seem that the whole album is based in apocalypse and war, which have always been great subjects for thrash!

There’s no single theme as such, it’s just one big portrait of life in the 21st century, lots of violence, hatred and war. I guess it’s not too different to centuries gone by in that respect, but the extremity is far more lethal in this modern age. I used to write a lot of kind of fictional lyrics back in the early days, but now I find that reality based subject matter is far more powerful and interesting.

I also noticed the use of more traditional thrash metal vocals on this record, as compared to the harsher vocals of the last album. Can you talk about this change?

It wasn’t a conscious decision in any way; it was just the way things happened to turn out on this record. I love the vocals on both albums, but it’s cool that they do sound different from each other. We like to make each album we record sound unique within the Onslaught catalogue and I’m sure that the next album will sound quite different again.

As far as tours go, what’s the best one that you guys have played thus far? What legendary acts have you had the honor to meet?

I would have to say that the best tour we ever did was the ‘Motörhead – Orgasmatron’ Tour in 1986, no question. It was an awesome tour when Motörhead were at their peak. There were huge crowds every night and the guys were so cool to us, we learnt a lot about touring in the four weeks we were on the road with them!

Jeez we’ve met so many cool people over the years and not necessarily all musicians, but I think meeting Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones kind of tops the list. We’re working in the same studios in New York around 1988 and I was listening to some rough mixes in the relax lounge when I sensed somebody standing behind me. I turned around and there was Keith just standing there listening to our music. He said, “Sounds fucking cool man, do ya mind if I listen along?” Awesome!

On the other hand, what has been your worst experience on a tour? Did you learn any lessons from that experience?

Bizarrely enough, even after thirty years in this business we are still learning lessons with every tour we make. Drivers have always been the biggest nightmare/worst experiences we encounter. A drunken bus driver through the Swiss Alps at night has to be the worst and most terrifying I can remember. We were so glad to see Italy and the light of day!

Problem is with drivers, is that you can’t learn from it. You never know who or what you are gonna get from one tour to the next. We just had another bad driver experience on the latest tour. It wasn’t as bad as the Swiss Alps situation but he nearly had us over the edge of a big drop! He also insisted on using an old map book even though he had a fucking Sat Nav. Needless to say, he was doing a lot of reversing in a huge bus with a trailer!

Do you guys have any funny of interesting stories from tours, or just being on the road in general?

Yeah for sure, but I don’t think people would thank me for putting them into writing though. [Laughs] We used to be really out of control in the early days; especially when the beer was flowing, which was very often and we got ourselves into a lot of very awkward situations. We’ve had dealings with terrorists and the Mafia, have had gunfights outside of our show, bomb threats to our hotel, guns drawn, knives pulled, a venue tear gassed by the police, a full scale riot at a show, a concert hall trashed with ten people hospitalized, set fire to Sy our vocalist, partied with gangsters / been told by the British army that we are fucking insane and stole some guys toupee. He looked very uncomfortable at breakfast the next morning! And that’s just some of the stuff I can actually mention. (Smiles) Being in Onslaught has been a lot of fun, believe me!

Well, our country is forcing us to pay for our healthcare and it’s literally divided the country in two, even shutting down our government! What do you think about this healthcare law that they’re forcing upon us over here?

I find it quite outrageous personally; I’ve heard some stories that are beyond belief about people at death’s door not being treated until they can prove they can pay for the care and left to die if they can’t! Where do all your taxes go for fuck sake? Every human being should have the basic right to free medical and health care. In Europe we are very lucky that most of us have access to this free benefit regardless of wealth. Okay, you can pay for private treatment if you wish to speed up the process and receive more luxurious surroundings, but I could never imagine living under a care system that operates purely on a financial basis.

Finally, your album seems to be based in war, death, destruction and hatred – but do you see these things leading to the destruction of mankind?

The human race will most certainly be the perpetrators of its own demise, whether it is through war or by simply abusing the world we live in, I don’t know. Global warming is a huge problem but we still continue to destroy the rain forests at an alarming rate.

We somehow survived the cold war intact and I think the two major superpowers are now a little more careful how they tread in regards to each other, but it’s the fucking small lunatic despot nations seeking nuclear weapons who now pose the biggest threat to humanity. One of them, one day will unleash a nuke for sure, it’s just all about where it leads from there.  |

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