Nuclear Assault’s second LP Survive hits like an arsenal of drop kicks and chokeholds. Combine brutal observations of social decay manifested into keenly written lyrical rants, the obvious and unmistakable crushing bass tones of Dan Lilker, and attitude that could only surface from out of a place like New York City, and you have yourself one of the most respected thrash groups of all time. Pulsing with the lifeblood of Glenn Evans’s frantic hardcore drumming technique, Survive is a tornado of pummeling grooves that kept this band in the convoy of thrash metal’s assault at its most potent point commercially during the late 80s.
The sense of urgency on this album is absolutely deafening, but before reflecting on what lies in wait on the album, let us consider the title and cover artwork. Could a band have a more direct and pointed statement than to survive? Caught in an atmosphere of panic in the Cold War’s twilight years and absorbing knowledge from the growing dangers of climate change, the members of Nuclear Assault grasped an apocalyptic picture that was somehow much larger than the dangers that were consuming New York’s streets during its most violent era. That picture is front and center on the cover with one very simple and absolute prime directive to take away with it.
The production on this album is strong, but it doesn’t hinder the band by robbing them of that distinguished primitive edge that is almost a necessity for the thrash metal aesthetic to maintain its underground legitimacy. What comes of it is a sound that is polished enough to emphasize the tight musicianship and grace of their frequent tempo shifts, but it still feels like the music is just barely breaking free from the rotten despair of the underground. This may have been a preferred statement from the band, as they were moving forward with a great deal of respect at the time after the release of their debut Game Over, and may have been able to stress a more marketable tone to capitalize on if it behooved them. Of course, Nuclear Assault are nothing if not peerless in regards to their level of genuineness, and that may have been the greatest strength to shine out of the recording of Survive.
At the front of this freight train is John Connelly, whose vocals may not have been the stuff of fable in terms of eloquence, but his potency is delivered above the shrapnel of noise nonetheless. There’s no shortage of strength behind each note that he carries, and as a guy who is both singing and responsible for the explosive riffs circling around Evans endless barrage of beats, one can not help but say hats off to Connelly.
Lyrically the album is grounded in much the same space as Game Over, with hopeless nihilism and the unquestionable dilemma of human ignorance taking center stage, but there are subtle hints of maturity in the way the lyrics are crafted, which will ultimately shine even brighter on their third album Handle With Care. What makes the second album considerably stronger than their first is the way they consolidated everything that made the first album great around groovier riffs. What I found was that Survive packs songs that hit the same punches, but they’re easier to enjoy and the head trauma simply just escalates from having way too much fun being hit in the head with this delicious shred show. If you take nothing else away from this article, assume that you will hurt your neck from listening to this album even one time.
The song “Brainwashed” received considerable airplay for its video on MTV, but by no means does it outshine the other tracks on this record. “Wired” is a song that moves at a slower pace than the others, but it serves as a great rallying point for middle of the album, and its one of the band’s finest mid tempo works. The Led Zeppelin cover at the end is a bit odd, but it’s merely a reflection of the industry at the time, as just about every single thrash metal band was expected to put a cover of an accessible rock classic on the B-Side. “PSA” is a song so deliberately fast and short, that you can’t help but determine this was one of Dan Lilker’s experiments with grindcore, which would evolve just a few years later on in his work with Brutal Truth. Despite being a song that is commonly dismissed as unnecessary, it deserves at least a footnote for signaling where the bass player was heading.
Nuclear Assault cemented themselves as a core unit in the thrash metal movement with this unique treasure. Defined by a never say die attitude and toxic themes wrapped around tongue-in-cheek humor, the band built a much bigger appeal than their commercial status would reflect, and in no small part due to Survive.
On a final note, the only thing this album is really missing is a surgeon general’s warning; may cause serious spinal trauma brought on by whiplash. Please consult a chiropractor before and after listening to determine the damage that may be inflicted by Survive — especially if you are old enough to remember when it first came out, 30 years ago.
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