The albums would become legendary, but the collectible coolness of EPs from Big-4-related bands is sadly an oft-forgotten blur in the grand halls of thrash history. Typically they fell into one of these categories:
- Don’t forget about us live cuts
- Check out our new band with lineup changes playing the old songs
- Wacky covers you’d never expect
- A hybrid of all of the above.
Of course, these weren’t hard-and-fast rules. Nuclear Assault’s “The Plague,” for example, didn’t offer any of the above scenarios, instead offering six freshly minted tracks. At any rate, here are a few fulgid flares of greatness from days long gone for your neck snapping pleasure:
- Overkill – “Fuck You” (1987): We all get tired of Gene Simmons blathering on about the power of his brand and putting his band’s logo in the unholiest of places, but there are kernels of wisdom in the man’s diatribes. Consider the impact of this lowly 12” EP Overkill released several months after Taking Over. The image of that totemic neon-green logo with the middle finger would become imprinted on the consciousness of the metal-obsessed kids flipping through record racks for years. In a like manner, Anthrax would become forever associated with that Mad Magazine cartoon on the flipside of their State of Euphoria record a year later. Of course, both bands have had their ups and downs over the years, but I’ve always thought of Overkill as a gang of bird-flipping post-nuclear-holocaust surviving anarchist cockroaches and Anthrax as a bunch of NYC goofballs. They’re fuckin’ with me, subliminally. Powerful images, people. Beyond the fulgid flash of the (Canadian) Subhumans cover (which sounds like a leftover from the ‘Taking Over’ sessions), the band offers four live tracks from Cleveland Rock City. The band rips through old warhorses “Rotten to the Core” and “Hammerhead,” these versions a little punchier and even clearer than the originals blurred by the hand of Carl Canedy. Despite the brevity of the record, it packs in hints live shtick from our raspy MC complaining about the heat several times. The live versions of brandy new fare like “Use Your Head” and “Electro-Violence” ripping and churning like mad, particularly the former due to Gustafson’s cannon-like riff tone against that dry snare. Twenty minutes of sheer bliss.
- TT Quick – “TT Quick,” 1984: Not exactly thrash, but a red-hot flash metal document from the early days of Megaforce, TT Quick would become a farm-team of sorts for Nuclear Assault (this EP features both drummer Glen Evans and guitarist Dave DiPetro – he would join the apocalyptic ones much later). Still, this snapshot of these NYC metal club hopefuls is remarkable in its rawness, striking in its primeval power. It’s a perfect example of not overthinking this business of heavy metal, just sticking some mikes in front of cabinets and letting the band ram it through the barroom window. It’s an oft-forgotten piece, the Quick ones catching lightning in a bottle in a way that would never be fully rekindled. The blustery, chug-tastic opener “Go for the Throat” sets the tone, cleverly chaotic percussion from the book of Priest and frontman Mark Tornillo letting the goat-scrotum hollers rip like nobody’s business. The slow-percolating riff in “Child of Sin” is even better with guitars inching along and Tornillo crooning magnificently while setting up delicate tunefulness against the gun-like riffing. Dave Depietro’s solo in “Metal Man” sings almost as flawlessly – a textbook example of unapologetic guitar hedonism, taking off at just the right time, tension rising as howling and speeding licks flash like fireworks for a few brief seconds, returning to earth without overplaying – magnificent. The Creedence cover is kinda dopey, but it’s literally the shortest song on the EP, over with quickly and not the worst cover on this page by any stretch. The lineup would splinter a little for the follow-up, Metal of Honor – a good record, but nothing like this fiery little nugget from the glory days of L’Amours. Not thrash, but a must-hear for fans of classic metal like Riot, Culprit, Raven, etc.
- Anthrax – “Armed and Dangerous” (1985) Anthrax can hardly wait to get new vocalist Joey Belladonna into a studio to get the dust from their heel, the stars from their brow. The message is a simple one – we have a new singer, and he’s on fiiiiyaaa! Well, just paraphrasing and using the lyrics from “Raise Hell” as a cheat sheet. Joey’s muscled melodic tonsils are on full display for the duration of this quick ‘n dirty EP consisting of a couple of new tracks, a cover, and some live-in-the-studio versions of familiar steel cruisers. Later versions threw in a couple of tracks from the first record, despite the fact that the entire purpose of this EP is to celebrate Anthrax’s emancipation from Neil Turbin. The title track is the crown jewel of the collection. Despite the nails-on-a-chalkboard sheet of treble-haunted clean guitars that kick it off (Carl Canedy is still turning the knobs in the studio), it’s a convincing stab at trad/speed metal, lyrics written by the rest of the band and stuck in front of Joey to ka-roon to his little heart’s content. Charlie’s snare and double-bass razor-sharp as usual, Maiden-esqe guitar melodies steamrolling along in the background. The aforementioned “Raise Hell” is a bit dull, Belladonna wailing away like a banshee, doing his darndest to light a fire under the back-of-a-napkin lyrics (the song didn’t make it to the full-length). Elsewhere, it’s a remarkably straight cover of the Pistols “God Save the Queen,” and Joey’s official road test with a couple of signature songs. To no one’s surprise, “Metal Thrashing Mad” and “Panic” are fortified with as many throaty wails as six minutes will allow. Fantastic songs that Anthrax won’t let us forget, because they seem to include them on every release at this stage.Such a fascinating Polaroid of the band at this stage, dues-earning, black-clad, young and ugly, and ready to bleed for metal. No big tours yet, just hammering it out at L’Amours or any other dive in Jersey or Connecticut that would pack in 50 people (bartenders included). Of course, you were barely a speck of romance in your father’s boxer shorts back then, but crazy as it seems – the idea that this music would catch on in any way, shape, or form beyond meager sales to tape-traders and local diehards was a laughable notion. As it stands, the EP is a great collectible for speed hunters and gatherers. Still, not essential fare as most of this material would become available again on “Spreading the Disease” the following year. The EP serves its purpose in keeping the NY/NJ hordes informed of their heroes’ latest addition to the ranks.
- Metallica – “Creeping Death,” 1984: Assuming your attention span aligns with most of us (reading an entire Twitter post is just exhausting business), this tidy little EP from Metallica’s era as torn-denim, sleeveless-tee metal saviors, may be just what the doctor ordered. That is, of course, if the doctor prescribed a near-perfect document that links the hallowed era of the NWOBHM to the yank phenomenon known as Bay Area thrash. Take these three songs and call him in the morning. Side effects include banging your head against the stage as metal takes its price. Given you can sufficiently appreciate the slashing murky guitars and epochal lamb’s-blood-on-the-door magnificence of the RTL gem, “Creeping Death,” the Frisco boys version of “Am I Evil” continues the stacked-riff magnificence without resorting to speed or kid Het’s high-pitched yelps that plagued some of the KEA stuff No, this delightful revenge tale doesn’t lose a drop of venom (nor is it trimmed, length-wise) in the ‘murican version, barking rhythm tone smartly dialed up in a way that ups the somewhat opaque production of the original. The whole thing comes to a head in the cover of the impossibly obscure (at the time) Brian Ross’ baby teeth-cutting 1981 7” B-side track from the band of the same name – Blitzkrieg. It’s an ageless spiral castle from the first hard-panned riff, cymbals erupting, bass burbling, young Het in his narrow strike zone, pure head wagging delight, three and a half minutes of metallic euphorics and that solo that sounds like a keyboard. Try to keep still when that riff comes back in at the end. Day is dawning. Time is near. Aliens coming. Shit, I spilled my coffee. I recommend the picture disc – and never touch the needle to it.
- Slayer – “Haunting the Chapel” and “Live Undead” (1984): It’s just not fair the way Slayer dominated the early days – even these sparse EPs capable of eclipsing full-lengths from the rest of the pack. We offer this meager 3-song “Haunting the Chapel” EP as Exhibit A. Now, I realize it seems unlikely that a band as infamous, a household-name like Slayer needed to resort to such tactics as offering 20-minute EPs like this one to keep the fan base buzzing, but that was exactly Metal Blade’s ’84 strategy. It’s a snapshot, the band in the throes of progressing from the anthemic, perish-in-flames metal style of the debut and the echoey riff labyrinths of “Hell Awaits.” Something like “Captor of Sin” falls squarely into the first category, shrill leads biting at the onset, fine brush strokes of Lombardo’s rolls and fills easier to distinguish, Araya’s seductive rants of possession squared off by an unembellished chorus, “Behold – Captor of Sin!” The non-LP track “Haunting the Chapel” is a clear whiff of Hell Awaits’ brimstone. It pounds, it writhes, it takes off in this direction and that, no discernable chorus and several segments like raw demos for what would become “Hell Awaits’ title track, scummy haze on the proceedings like a page from Venom’s book of the damned. “Chemical Warfare” is the apogee of the thing, a future live churner for hordes of Orc-like Slayer disciples to bloody themselves to, the riff in one speaker…then the other…then Lombardo locking in like a machine operating at a quadrillion operations per second. Worth the $4.98 list price, I’d say.“Live Undead” is another example of Metal Blade not playing fair – Bill Metoyer piping in the sound of a dozen lunatics chanting the band’s name endlessly as they tear through Show No Mercy material with Hell Awaits attitude. Most of the versions here are slightly faster than the originals, an effect combined with lead and rhythm guitars gyrating back and forth, hard-panned to each speaker, adding to the anarchistic edge. Lombardo’s double bass quite well-pronounced in “The Antichrist,” the senseless hollerings of the riff-raff pushing the tension to new levels during the solos of “Captor of Sin.”No disrespect to the piped-in scuzz, but the split guitars sound slightly anemic compared to SNM when “Die by the Sword” moves into that gorgeous Priest-like wall of sound (Watch as flowers decay!) Otherwise there’s not much to complain about; our Slaytanic role models Unleashed in the Southwest (©), riffs already capable of crushing cars into ice cube-sized squares. Soon EPs and other such gimmicks would become widely unnecessary as the working class throw down their picks and power tools, choosing follow this band to Hell and beyond, but these two modest EPs still stand as twin-towers of the young band’s early promise.