Onslaught was formed in 1983 by Bristol punk rockers Nige Rockett (guitar) and Steve Grice (drums), who worked together at a local printing company. Joined by Jase Pope (vocals) and Paul Hill (bass), the band began rehearsals, creating tunes in a style influenced heavily by the second generation of punk bands such as Discharge, The Exploited and GBH. Hardcore in nature, the music was simple and nihilistic, picking up on the disaffected zeitgeist. The band’s earliest live performances hail from around this time and are the subject of some conjecture, although perceived wisdom records the band’s first official gig at the Summit club in Kingswood, Bristol in late 1983. The original line up recorded only a single demo at Sam studios in Bristol and featured tracks such as Rape, Overthrow the System, and the very first rendition of Thermonuclear Devastation.
Personal issues saw the band employ a new vocalist and bassist with Roge Davies and Paul “Dickie” Davies taking on the respective roles. A series of support slots thereafter saw them opening for acts such as The Exploited, The Varukers and One Way System in Bristol. In addition the band performed a series of gigs around the rest of the UK. The second line up recorded a cassette-only release, What Lies Ahead, which included tracks such as Black Horse of Famine and Stone Divider.
Power From Hell
The band’s new material began to take on a more metal edge, with the first wave of thrash releases proving influential to their songwriting style. The lineup shifted in 1984, with Paul “Mo” Mahoney joining the band on vocals and Jase Stallard taking over from Dick on bass. A deal was secured with underground label Children of the Revolution, and the band released its first album, Power From Hell, in 1985.
The album was well-received by the nascent thrash underground. Its muddy, buzzsaw guitars and Mo’s proto-death metal vocals fitted the bill perfectly and the band began to attract attention from a wider audience. Power From Hell’s material gave a more metallic edge to the band’s early sound; the album contained a number of tracks that were to grow to become considered as thrash anthems, including the eponymous Onslaught (Power From Hell), Angels of Death and Death Metal (itself the subject of some conjecture – was this tune the first usage of this term anywhere? The jury is still out on that one…).
The Keeler Years
More gigs throughout the UK followed. In late 1985 the band was introduced to charismatic vocalist Sy Keeler, who quickly became the singer. Keeler’s vocal style was much more metal than that of Mo, his trademark screams adding a new dimension to the group’s old and new material. Mo assumed Jase’s position on the bass; Jase moved to rhythm guitar.
The new songs were captured on vinyl on The Force. Recorded at Matrix studios in London by the band and Dave “Death” Pine, the album was released on Music For Nations’ subsidiary label Under One Flag to an expectant public in the spring of 1986. It quickly gathered rave reviews throughout the underground and, increasingly, the mainstream metal press. From the first expectant chords of Let There Be Death, which give way to an all-out aural assault, through the unexpectedly catchy Metal Forces and to the initially brooding, later white-hot Flame of the Antichrist, the album elevated Onslaught to a new level. On the album’s success the band were invited to play a number of prestigious support slots with Girlschool, Exciter and Anthrax; the Exciter gig warrants a mention as the band’s late soundcheck provided an ideal opportunity for the ravenous crowd to warm up their stagediving skills!
All Hail The All-Dwarf Rhythm Section
Continental gigs followed, the band generating strong interest throughout the low countries in particular. Invited to play at 1986’s Dynamo festival in Eindhoven, the band stole the show with a frantic performance in front of over 8000 thrashers.
Mo decided to leave the band in 1986 for personal reasons; bassist Jim Hinder was drafted in and joined in November. The band continued preparations for the third album and, in the intervening period, continued to play a number of shows, including The Granary in Bristol and a short tour of the Netherlands in early 1987.
In March of that year they were invited to join Motorhead as special guests on the European leg of their Orgasmatron world tour. Kicking off at the Volkshaus in Zurich, the band played with Motorhead throughout Europe; the tour included some standout performances in places such as Naples and Copenhagen before ending up at the Rockefeller in Oslo. Both bands gelled well on a personal level, the Onslaught boys learning about life on the road from the masters of the craft themselves.
Bigger Things On The Horizon
Returning to the UK, the band was asked to perform at the prestigious Colston Hall in Bristol, raising money for the local Bristol Community Festival. Despite prior warning from the