This week, the YouTube algorithm recommended that Classic Metal Hawk should listen to ‘Something Wicked (This Way Comes)’ by 1980s thrashers Nuclear Assault. This was somewhat of a surprise choice – The Hawk is no long-standing fan of Nuclear Assault, and indeed, couldn’t remember ever listening to them at all before that point.
But, taking the recommendation as a sign from heaven (or maybe from Google Heaven, who are the Gods of all of us in the blogging business), The Hawk is running with it – extending his own horizons and inviting readers to do the same.
First things first, then, here’s the suggested video.
Not bad, right? There’s crunchy riffing, some melody, decent guitar solos. The vocals maybe lack a bit of depth (though they’re no worse that Dave Mustaine’s). Anyway, it’s plenty good enough to dig in and listen to some more, especially as it turns out that this track, released in 1993, had something of a makeshift line-up, and the album from which it was the title track didn’t get fantastic reviews upon release. The song itself did make it into a horror movie soundtrack though, with ‘Warlock: The Armageddon’ (no, me neither).
‘Something Wicked this way Comes‘ is itself the title of a horror movie from 1983. The Hawk couldn’t confirm whether Nuclear Assault got their album name from that source, but the film is about an evil carnival, so judging by the evil looking clown on the album cover, it’s a strong possibility.
More Nuclear Assault Please
First off, it’s no surprise that there were bad reviews for an unapologetic thrash band in 1993, when the genre was seen to be going out of fashion following the arrival of grunge as the new anti-establishment vibe. As said, listening to the title track just on its merits some years later, Classic Metal Hawk liked it fine. That being said, as far as The Hawk can tell, the band’s first 3 albums are widely regarded as their best. So that’s ‘Game Over’ in 1986, ‘Survive’ in 1988 and 1989s ‘Handle With Care’.
Those were certainly the ones that did the best in terms of sales, and opened doors for the band to mix in major league thrash circles for a time. For example, they toured as support for thrash royalty Slayer in 1988 following the release of ‘Survive’, and opened for Testament on the tour for ‘Handle with Care’. Nuclear Assault founder and bass player Dan Lilker anyway had connections as an early member of Anthrax, who’d appeared on their first album, ‘Fistful of Metal’.
‘Survive’ is a great example of the thrash genre at the time. It chugs along at a satisfying pace, packing 12 tracks into only a little over half an hour. The final track, ‘Good Times, Bad Times’ is a little quirky, being a cover of Led Zeppelin. It’s a major departure from the preceding thrash numbers, but the album is no worse for that note of diversity.
‘Handle with Care’ has a similar vibe, but for the Hawks money, better compositions, and nicer production. You suspect this is much closer to the sound the band were looking for all the way through. The opener, ‘New Song’, kicks things off as they mean to go on. Favourite here has got to be ‘Inherited Hell’ – a more melodic opening gives way to a furiously paced verse / chorus section, before changing up again through the first solo, new riffs and a discordant second solo.
Throughout everything, the musicianship is tight, even on the up-tempo numbers, and there’s space to hear all the instruments.
East Coast Scene
You can’t help wondering if bands like Nuclear Assault, coming from the US East Coast thrash scene had a harder time starting out than the west coast bands in an area widely credited with giving birth to thrash in the first place. Wikipedia gives Nuclear Assault’s contemporaries as Overkill, Whiplash, Toxik and Carnivore. Anthrax were also an east coast band who went on to make it as part of the thrash ‘big 4’, but otherwise, these bands were to stay in the second division. But, as the Hawk has now discovered, that does not mean they’re not worth listening to. So, let’s play out with a new favourite.
Nuclear Assault – criminally underrated? Or deserving of only the second tier of thrash stardom? What other tracks of their’s should The Hawk have thought of including?
Share your thoughts in the comments below, or send feedback direct to The Hawk.