Onslaught is a band which was first born in the gritty and heavy punk rock scene of Thatcher's England and crossed over into Thrash not long after. Onslaught's albums are legendary and the songs which have been pressed into their vinyl have driven many a metalhead into the throes of non-stop headbanging with their riotous, sublime power!
After reforming in 2004, Onslaught has produced two of the best albums in recent Metal history; "Killing Peace" and "Sounds Of Violence". Now, they are about to embark on their first ever North American tour with M-Pire Of Evil.
We were given the opportunity to catch up with the man who has been with Onslaught from the very beginning, Nige Rockett, mere days before the band is scheduled to cross the pond to lay waste North America while "bearing the standard of Hades"!
ThrashHead: Tell me about Bristol in the early 80's before Onslaught, was it dominated by the punk scene or had NWOBHM taken over?
Nige: Bristol was always a very big city for punk music, particularly in the early 80's, it was also a pretty tough place at the time with lots of violence during and after shows... As the decade went on, the punk scene slowly transformed into a real healthy hardcore metal scene and a place where punks and metalheads mixed in harmony, always drinking in the same bars and clubs etc etc.. Looking back, i think that's probably one of the reasons for the way the Onslaught sound eventually evolved. It was a very exciting part of my life...
ThrashHead: What were you doing at the time? And how did Onslaught begin to materialize?
Nige: I was just going to tons of punk shows at the time, me and Paul Hill, with who i formed Onslaught, were massive 'Discharge' fans and we would travel everywhere across the UK to see the guys play... We used to get ourselves into all kinds of trouble and in some very sticky situations, but it was one hell of a blast believe me..
Onslaught came to be because of me and Paul watching all these cool bands playing live, we just wanted to part of the other side of things, up there on stage looking out, instead of standing on the outside looking in. Even tho we couldn't play any instruments at the time we decided to have a go and form a band with another school friend Jase Pope (vocals) this band was to become Onslaught, the line up was to be completed a few months later by Steve Grice..
ThrashHead: After Onslaught came together, there are several releases ...demos and EPs such as "What Lies Ahead" and "Hatred Towards The System" which are, to this day, still available as vinyl recorded from early generation source tapes! There is certainly a Crust sound to them, heavy d-beat, punk rock influence...were you guys very much part of the punk scene then?
Nige: Yeah for sure, as I said before, it's where I grew up, punk was my life for my early mid teens, it's where all the inspiration for the band came from and where the band did its apprenticeship if you like.. We were a very active part of the live punk scene in Bristol and I'd like to think we were also at the very forefront of the metal / punk fusion that followed closely behind..
ThrashHead: Speaking of the early releases, the one tape I would love to hear is the mythical "Fifth Demo", which, according to legend, you guys did in 1984 between "Hatred Towards The System" and the legendary "Power From Hell". What happened in-between the Crust sound of "Hatred Towards The System" and the Thrash metal of "Power From Hell"; what changed Onslaught's approach to music?
Nige: Ha, ha me too.. I got kinda lost in all the recordings we made, I've never been one to store up old tapes / demos etc so I don't really remember exactly what we did back then..
That's a fairly straightforward answer, we learnt to play hahaha..!!! That's the truth, we always loved Motorhead as well as the punk stuff, so it was just a natural way forward for the band as we became better musicians. Our early stuff always had a slightly metallic slant to it but without the technical ability, so we worked our asses off to try and improve our skills and with that came the ' Metal'..
ThrashHead: "Power From Hell" is released, and a year later Onslaught unleashes the follow up, a veritable thrash classic, "The Force" which is regarded as one of the best thrash albums of that era. Did life change much for Onslaught, did you find yourself with a heavy tour schedule, hitting the road earning just enough for the next gig? Who were some of the bands you played with at the time?
Nige: Yeah, things were moving kinda fast back then, 'Power from Hell' really introduced us to a worldwide audience and, in turn, landed us a record contract with Music For Nations to release the 2nd album 'The Force'. Signing to MFN brought us all the huge press and lots of cool shows, We toured Europe with Motorhead on the Orgasmatron tour... played shows with Anthrax & Exciter, to name but a few, and quickly stepped up to headliner status all within a year, it was a complete whirlwind...
ThrashHead: "The Force" is when Sy comes on for the first time, how did you hook up with him?
Nige: Yeah, it was a chance meeting really. One of our roadies brought Sy along to rehearsal one evening just to have a listen as he was a big fan of the Power from Hell record.. We always used to have little jam sessions, just banging out some covers for fun and Sy asked if he could join in on one of the songs, Don't ask me which one, my memory ain't great ha,ha... it may have been a Priest song.. what I do remember is that he sounded fucking awesome, everyone just looked at each other and laughed, someone said 'Sy do you wanna job.??' and I think he joined there and then.. the rest is history..!!
ThrashHead: Between Onslaught's first demos and the release of "The Force", your guitar playing evolves incredibly fast...within a space of only two to three years you are matching chord for chord some of the best guitarists in thrashdom...who did you draw your inspiration from the most?
Nige: Thanks for saying, that's very kind :) actually as I said previously, I couldn't play guitar when we formed Onslaught, I learnt my trade as the band grew. I had 2 or 3 basic lessons from Vice Squad guitarist /Dave Bateman - rip.... the rest was pure dedication and hard work, practicing for sometimes 8 - 10 hours a day, i was so determined to succeed i just never wanted to put my guitar down...!!
ThrashHead: Let's talk about "In Search Of Sanity" which came out in '89...the album's a strong release, albeit with a different sound, to me it is more true to the band's roots than what some other thrash bands had done at the time; but, there was a lineup change which remains controversial to this day...with Sy being replaced with Grim Reaper's Steve Grimmett...could you tell us about what really went down, was it just yet another case of a label meddling in a young band's affairs?
Nige: Most of that album was actually written in 86, early 87 with Sy, so yeah at that time it was still very much true to our roots, pretty raw and aggressive..
All the majors were sniffing around us at the time and we eventually but foolishly chose to sign to London records (Polygram) from there everything went uphill and downhill at the same time, the investment into the band was incredible and the marketing was second to none but it all came at a huge price, the label assumed full control of the whole situation and we became their new shiny toy if you like..
The label wanted a very commercial product to crack the American market and it transpired that Sy was not the singer that they thought would bring this success, so why the fuck did they sign us in the first place??? It all came to a head one day in the studio, all the top guys of the label came down to hear some rough mixes and I could immediately tell something was up, at the end of listening they said they were not happy with the vocal style and wanted us to look at other options.. Some suggestions were made and Steve Grimmett was that suggestion!!
ThrashHead: The following years were tough and Onslaught disbands in '91, what was the final straw for you?
Nige: Yeah it was tough, Grimmett had quit after only 1 year in the band and we got a great new vocalist in Tony O'Hora, but then came the split from Polygram due to a lot of internal label politics and not selling a million albums in the US with ISOS, hahaha, things were not looking too bright at the time..
We were demoing new material and did a huge 32 date UK tour which was actually pretty cool considering the current state of metal in the country. Grunge had arrived in no uncertain terms and Thrash had become yesterdays news, no labels were interested in signing Onslaught or any Thrash band for that matter, so there was no real point in continuing if we could not put out any more albums... so inevitably we called it a day and moved on..
ThrashHead: What were you doing in-between then and the reunion, did you return to "civilian" life or were you still making music?
Nige: I worked on a couple of experimental projects for a couple of years after Onslaught split but nothing really came of them and I really couldn't be fucked with the disappointment any longer so the guitars went away and I went back to a 'normal' life so to speak.. it was kinda nice in a weird way after 10 years of chaos...
ThrashHead: You guys get back together, with Sy back on vocals, and Onslaught releases the crushing, blast beat, mind-melter of "Killing Peace". How did the process of getting back together begin and did the end result of "Killing Peace" make you guys realize it was the right thing to do?
Nige: I was very reluctant to get Onslaught back together because of the way things had ended etc, I was really disillusioned with the music industry when we split and I didn't wanna be part of all that shit once again, but the rest of the guys finally talked me into trying out at least a few rehearsals and then take it from there... It was real cool feeling to be playing my guitar once again, all the enthusiasm came flooding back and then it was all systems go.
It took a little time to get the chops back up to speed and find the direction I wanted the writing to go in, but as soon as we got the first song fully written everything fell nicely into place.
Killing Peace had to be 110% the right thing for Onslaught to release, we could not return with anything remotely lame or it would have been a completely pointless exercise.
ThrashHead: Was there a sense of vindication when the stellar reviews started pouring in?
Nige: Yeah, for sure, it was a great feeling knowing we got it right, cos you are always apprehensive about reviews and fans reactions whenever you release a new record and Killing Peace was definitely no exception. In fact, we were probably more on edge and worried than ever before about this one, simply because it had been so long between albums and we had been away for around 14 years .
ThrashHead: With a resurgence in thrash metal, we've seen a lot of bands coming back together and, either they are just enjoying their time back by playing a few fests with no plans of putting out a new album or, the bands that do put out a new album, don't quite cut the mustard.
But last year, almost to the day, Onslaught, having already smashed all doubters with "Killing Peace", follows up with an even more critically acclaimed album "Sounds Of Violence".
Could you tell us how "Sounds Of Violence" came together; did something just click and "viola!" you had it? You guys also hooked up with German label AFM Records at this time as well?
Nige: Yeah, sadly some bands have come back this way and that to me smacks of the 'let's make a fast buck' attitude which is complete bullshit, cos metal fans ain't stupid and can see right through that crap you know..!!
Your heart has to be in this music 100% or you'll get found out, Onslaught came back cos we had a lot of shit to prove and a lot of anger to burn and that's exactly what we're doing right now... For sure something clicked when we started writing the SOV album, everything just came so naturally without forcing it. We really found our feet again with the Killing Peace album and really pushed it on to the next level with SOV, thankfully everyone, the press and fans alike have massively taken to this latest album.
ThrashHead: AFM also put out a re-mastered 25th Anniversary Edition of "Power From Hell" which includes two bonus tracks "Thermonuclear Devastation of The Planet Earth" and a 2011 version of "Power From Hell". How does it feel to know that a whole slew of young thrashers are about to "discover" Onslaught for the first time and have their minds blown away?
Nige: It's very cool, it keeps the bands early legacy very much alive and, obviously, introduces the albums like Power from Hell & The Force to a whole new generation of Metal heads.. Which in turn means that when Onslaught play live shows everyone is knowing the words to every song we play... Power From Hell is always the highlight to the set wherever we are in the world.. I aint gonna knock that.. :)
ThrashHead: Now, with your success firmly cemented with two powerful releases after getting back together, the band is on the verge of its first North American tour, dubbed "Scream For Violence". How excited are you about this and why did it take this long to get you guys over here?
Nige: Yeah, very fuckin' excited.. we have waited so long for this day to arrive.. and finally it's about to happen for us..
The US is a tough place to come and tour for a European band and if you dont get it 100% right you can be seriously fucked up financially, the visa and work permit costs are 1000's of dollars before we even start, so the deals have to be perfect in every way. We have been offered so many US tours but things never really added up, we all got bills to pay at home so its kinda impossible to come and lose 40k dollars on a tour which many bands do. We gotta hope this run works real well so that we can come back and play the cities we're missing out on this time 'round and keep the profile building up and up.
ThrashHead: Going over the entire history with Onslaught, what is your most memorable moment with the band?
Nige: It's too tough to try and define one particular moment, as fortunately for us there have been so many great things happen over the years.. But the one thing I would happily go and re-live once again would have to be the European tour with Motorhead in '87.. Motorhead were huge at the time and the whole tour was immense for Onslaught, it was the real deal in terms of Rock and Roll tour if you know what i mean... it also really broke the band in Europe which was perfect so close after the release of The Force album...
ThrashHead: Getting away from music just for a second, what brings you the most joy when you're away from the band; any hobbies?
Nige: When we're not away with the band, Football (Soccer) is my big passion, I am a season ticket holder at 'Chelsea FC' and get to as many games as the band allows me to and then also watching as many other games on tv as I can fit in.. All my boys love football too, so it's a Soccer crazy place to be... haha
Basically music and Football is my life right now, it's a real nice place to be :)
ThrashHead: If the world is to end, as some say it will, later this year...what do you want to accomplish with the time you have left?
Nige: That's a tough, but very good question! It could be a real bizarre scenario couldn't it?? I think things would descend in to complete chaos, you could seek revenge and retribution for all sorts of shit, albeit completely futile, but it would make you feel good hahaha.
Seriously tho, I would have to spend it with my family, I couldn't think of anything else I would rather do after a hard days payback!! Can't see it really happening tho, we've heard all this shit so many times before..
ThrashHead: What is the best way for fans to connect with Onslaught; where can they find you online to show their support?
ThrashHead: What are your parting words to the fans who have listened to Onslaught from the beginning and to those who are just discovering the band?
Nige: A huge, huge fucking THANK YOU!!! we meet so many fans who have been with us since the beginning and the loyalty always blows me away...It really is an honor that someone can support and follow you for that period of time.. Awesome!!!