So, here’s something I imagine most people will not be expecting: an actual thrash metal album from the mid-90s (well, 1993) by a thrash metal band.
OK, let’s be serious: thrash metal, despite popular claims, wasn’t actually dead by 1993. It was definitely not looking good, as the big names of the genre (except for Slayer, but their time would come) had, for the most part, abandoned thrash metal in favor of various other styles of music and the underground thrash metal scene was basically non-existent by then, but, with the benefit of hindsight and the advantage of the internet, it’s easy to see that there were more than a few thrash releases in the first few years of the 90s, they just weren’t promoted very heavily. Laaz Rockit’s Nothing’$ $acred and Defiance’s Beyond Recognition are two such examples, not to mention Annihilator’s Set The World On Fire.
There’s also this album, which was released independently in 1993. Now, 1993 was DEFINITELY not the time to be a new thrash metal band looking to hit the big time, despite my evidence showing thrash metal was still somewhat active at the time: the labels had moved over to the next big things of grunge (which, interestingly enough, is popularly regarded as having died off after the death of Kurt Cobain a year later, despite not actually dying off for a few years after that), groove metal and nu-metal, most of the thrash metal bands around had either broken up or would within a few years and being unable to promote an album in 1993 pretty much meant that it had a snowball’s chance in hell of being noticed by most people. That the band still put the album out anyway is actually kind of commendable in that regard, although some could view it as the band being far more optimistic of their chances than they should have been.
Normally, this would be the end of the story with this album: highly optimistic young band puts out debut album independently in a time when their music was out of fashion, it predictably goes nowhere and the band breaks up. Yet, astonishingly, the band did return in the new millennium and, in a second attempt to try to break into everyone’s attention, put the album on iTunes.
Predictably, it again failed to catch on and the band would break up again, so don’t expect to see a follow up to this album any time soon.
Yet the question remains: after over 20 years, is this album a hidden gem that should have been noticed the first time (or the second time) or is it for the best that this album didn’t get noticed?
Well…I can’t say it’s awful, but you won’t find me mourning Visitor’s fate any time soon.
Let’s start with the good: the band themselves aren’t actually that bad as musicians. They’re not going to win any points from technical thrash metal fans, but, in terms of what most thrash metal bands had put out on their debuts, Visitor actually do a fairly good job on the performance front. Nobody really pulls out any really exceptional performances by thrash metal standards, but I do have to admit that I do find the vocals to be consistently enjoyable. They might not match up to the standards of, say, Tom Araya, but he has a voice that can handle a rougher lower range and a higher range that is faintly reminiscent of Joey Belladonna’s cleaner style, all without coming across as him trying to sound like someone else or feeling like his voice doesn’t match up with the style of music he’s singing. Props to Kurt Schultz there!
I also must say that, when the band plays shorter tracks, they seem be capable of pulling off some excellent 80’s influenced thrash. “Thunderboltz” and “Johnny Law”, despite a really cheesy introductory speech (which the band tries, equally unsuccessfully, with “Innocent (Until Proven Guilty)”), are both excellent thrashers that showcase the band is capable of doing fairly decent thrash metal when they try! Also, the production is actually not too bad. I’m not sure whether the album was self-produced or whether the band had someone else produce it, but whoever did produce it clearly knew what they were doing, as the final result is a recording that is closer to modern sounding while still having a very good early thrash sound to it.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the band’s music is what really lets them down. Comparing it to the likes of, say, Kill ‘Em All, you can’t help noticing that Visitor doesn’t really write songs on the same level as the other well known names in the genre. Now, to be fair, expecting the band to write songs on the same level as Testament is really unfair, but they generally don’t produce material that’s worth writing home about. It’s practically retro thrash prior to retro thrash becoming a major thing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not particularly praiseworthy. Again, to be fair, it was the band’s first record and many bands don’t really have their own sound on their first album, so I probably should be a bit more lenient, and it was released in a time when thrash was going through a really tough time, so the fact anything came out at all does mean I can’t be too harsh, but it’s certainly fair to say that this record didn’t exactly have me all that excited. Most of the band’s songs aren’t necessarily bad, so thrashers could find this really enjoyable, but I can’t help thinking that there’s so much thrash metal out there that’s far better than this that it’s hard to really recommend this.
Ultimately, if you’re a huge thrash metal fan, you’ll probably find this worth a listen through and, for £8 on iTunes, you could certainly do far worse than this album, but, for the most part, this is more an album to pull out of your collection to leave your metal loving friends going “What on earth is that?” than an album worth actually listening to.