posted on 7/2009 By:
Generally speaking, in the overall scheme of things, live albums are little more than stop-gap releases. In some instances, I’ll concede that they're a grand example of a band's power (see: Made In Japan, Live After Death), and occasionally they’re an example of a power never before captured on record (see: At Budokan, Kick Out The Jams). More often, a live album is just a ragged greatest-hits package with awkward talking between tracks, and more often even than that, a live album is some combination of a best-of and said band's most recent record. Regardless of which of those scenarios it may be, most live albums fall between the cracks of perfection, almost always suffer wholly from the lack of studio-quality production and/or the lack of concert-in-the-flesh energy. I can count on ten fingers the amount of live recordings I find to be truly necessary for anyone beyond the already converted fans. Though it is entertaining, Live Damnation isn’t one of those ten.
I missed out on Onslaught in the mid-80s—my arrival on the metal scene roughly coincided with their addition of former Grim Reaper vocalist Steve Grimmett on the mic, a label-propelled move that pretty much signaled the band’s demise. (I’ve heard some of their earlier hardcore-punk-inflected sloppy thrash, and I neither loved nor hated it.) So I missed ‘em the first time around, but I jumped on board with their comeback record, 2007’s Killing Peace. That reunion disc was a solid and angry slice of stout modern thrash, akin to Exodus' Shovel-Headed Killing Machine or Overkill’s Killbox 13, and two years later, I still find myself spinning it fairly often.
But yet, what of Live Damnation?
Well, here we have live recordings of many of Peace's best moments ("Killing Peace," "Destroyer Of Worlds") along with a few of Onslaught’s best pre-reformation moments ("Let There Be Death," "Metal Forces"). Not surprisingly, there are no songs from the Grimmett era, although one does surface from the Paul Mahoney-fronted debut LP (closing track "Power From Hell"). The band’s performance is rock-solid, particularly that of vocalist Sy Keeler, who growls and screams and occasionally even sings. His vocals fit somewhere between Overkill’s Blitz and Kreator’s Petrozza, raw and throaty and feral. Hence the title, Live Damnation was recorded during the band’s performance at the 2008 Damnation Festival, and the production on hand is good, pretty much what you’d expect from a professional live show. The guitars are thick and loud; the vocals are prominent and powerful. (At present, Onslaught still includes founding members in guitarist Nige Rockett and drummer Steve Grice, as well as the returning Keeler, who was the voice on both Peace and 1986’s The Force.) I can imagine that, had I been in the audience that day, I’d have been impressed.
As well-performed and recorded as Damnation may be, there are no surprises here, and none of the newer songs gain anything extra from the stripped-down live environment, so I can’t see myself spinning these versions regularly in favor of the punchier, shinier ones on Killing Peace. Die-hard Onslaught fans will likely be thoroughly sated, and serious thrashers could do far worse, but overall, this is a live album and exactly what you’d expect, no less and certainly no more.
And now it’s time for Onslaught to get down to writing a proper next record…
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