ONSLAUGHT – In Search of Sanity (1989)
Review by Estelle on the 15th of January 2014
- In Search of Sanity
- Lightning War
- Let There Be Rock
- Blood Upon the Ice
- Welcome to Dying
- Power Play
Genre: Thrash Metal
Label: London Records
Country: United Kingdom
Date: August 22, 1989
Steve Grimmett – Vocals
Rob Trotman – Guitars
Nige Rockett – Guitars
James Hinder – Bass
Steve Grice – Drums
As one of the biggest representatives of British thrash metal, the five-piece band Onslaught has never given up if it came to trying to find themselves. Firstly they were searching for some hardcore punk tunes, later they shifted for their successful and more effective thrash metal approach, and here they are again, in one of the – in principle – still popular and productive years of thrash metal, searching for sanity.
I don’t think I should explain why thrash metal isn’t about sanity. Thrash metal is about speed, thrash metal is about rawness, thrash metal is about violence. The more insane, the better; and even though Onslaught knows this really well, in 1989 they came up with an outstanding album that was obviously against the idea of what they did before, of what all the other thrash metal bands did before, and that the fans of their first two albums didn’t welcome very well.
In Search of Sanity is a longer, slower and more melodic approach of the genre, the music they play is more like a mix of power, thrash and speed metal. The crystalline production of the album creates the sound of polished thrash, and the vocals even deepen this effect: the amazing high voice of Grim Reaper’s Steve Grimmett matches the melodic sections, but unfortunately it misses the thrashy parts; at some places when the music becomes fast and the riffs get real intense, the vocals take from our energy and from the feeling the album gives us as a whole.
Rockett and Trotman play their guitars skillfully, although the songs could use more interesting and more diverse riffs, I could also say more riffs in general. Hinder’s bass line follows hard upon the guitars which gives a strong and heavy base sound to the album; Grice’s drumming is also solid and real tight sometimes, but his skills don’t really stand out from the other band members’.
The first mistake on the album that is completely inexplicable is the pointlessly five minutes long, boring intro full of random noises with the failing intention of terrifying, which has nothing to do with the music they play on the album at all. When we finally get to the first actual song, the title track, the pounding drumming, the powerful riff and the short energic guitar play work refreshingly and suggests us a massive album, and apart from the firstly quite weird vocals the song until the end of the strong solo is well-written and enjoyable. Then after bringing out the sound of the fairly technical guitars the track is getting dull – 7 and a half minutes are simply too long if we’re talking about thrash songs, and this is a typical returning problem on the album.
The third track is the rhythmical ‘Shellshock’ with basically almost the same riffing as the title track, which gives us the feeling of some kind of everlasting continuation of the sections which are too long anyway – even though the song contains clever and interesting parts such as the solo or the beautiful second riff after it, Onslaught can’t manage to hold our attention for as long as their songs would require.
The same problem again and again: ‘Lightning War’ starts off powerfully, some tight drumming and an energetic riff, after ‘Power Play’ this is probably the second fastest song on the album. Intense solo, the sudden drum beating right after and the fast continuation gives us some great energy… for a few moments – then we gradually get the usual “this is not enough” feeling.
The next one is a quite solid speed metal version of AC/DC’s ‘Let There Be Rock’, it isn’t a bad cover but it still doesn’t add anything to the album, if I wanted to be mean I’d say the album would be too long even if they simply cut this one out of it. ‘Blood Upon the Ice’ starts beautifully with the fierce drumming and the also dynamic riffs, the vocals take a bit from the feeling, though. Even longer than usual part before the solo, also too long after it, the riffs become generic and the vocals don’t help us to get a better impression either; here comes the slowly descending dullness.
If we still don’t feel bored enough, no need to worry, the band helps us out of this trouble as well – the next song, the longest ‘Welcome to Dying’ which is or which was supposed to be a slowly evolving ballad fails the point: after all the mediocrity they have been showing for the whole time, the leisurely slow and cheesy song instead of making us feel relaxed and comfortable makes us rather impatient and hungry for some heaviness. When it starts as if it was a soundtrack from a full-of-cliches romantic film we could ask ourselves: do we really need this on a thrash album?
Although the track has great moments, in general I can’t say it is well-written. Even the beautiful and technical solo where we can finally remember some ‘Metal Forces’ and shout “now this is Onslaught!” can’t help the fact that when we are already at 5 minutes we still feel like nothing happened, and when it’s over it doesn’t give us the feeling of something complete or whole because of its ‘slipperiness’.
After we got through the drawn-out ballad here comes some refreshment and at the same time probably the highlight of the album, ironically with the title ‘Power Play’. The thrashiest song of the record starts intensely, the tight drumming which keeps the pace up until the end and the lively riff work as some kind of salvation. The song with the emphasizable guitar playing and the spiritful vocals that we already got used to make a really strong ending for the album, although on the CD version we can also hear the quite decent but a bit also needless 2 minutes long cover of the song ‘Confused’ by Angel Witch as a bonus.
Summarized, the main problem is with the construction of the songs and of the album as a whole. While listening to the record, we continuously get the feeling of the lack of something and in most cases we can even say what it is – they could have created such a beast with this album if they just cut those real strong worthy parts out of the songs that they do contain but that get lost in the dullness and put them together as nine 4-5 minutes long tracks with kickass riffs and solos, instead of making the same mistakes while playing the pointlessly way too long repetitive tracks with lots of unnessessary filler parts. The song order could have been changed as well: Shellshock’s similar riffs to ‘In Search of Sanity’ wouldn’t be that disturbing if they put it 2–3 songs away from the title track; and I’m sure some hardcore thrashers would have more likely forgiven Onslaught for ‘Welcome to Dying’ if it was a winding-down closing track after ‘Power Play’.
Outstanding tracks: In Search of Sanity, Shellshock, Power Play