Was it the intention of Toxic Holocaust’s master-mind Joel Grind when he first conceived his one-man project, to create a vaudeville-like caricature of ‘80s Thrash metal? The topical elements of this year-to-date anthology would not convincingly indicate otherwise. Conceptually speaking, the obsessive exploitation of genre clichés has been the bread and butter of his endeavor since 2003’s full length debut Evil Never Dies, whether intentional or not. The string of motifs that have saturated his choices for album art in the past should be entered as exhibit A at this time. Direct your attention to the following details: the band’s name (chuckle), its sharp angular logo with inverted crosses incorporated into a Sarcofago-inspired ‘sword of Satan’ font, the comical cover depictions of apocalyptic hell brought to life in quintessential radioactive hue (especially the gas-masked storm trooper on the cover of this release,soldiering through a metropolis laid to waste by a nuclear blast). All familiar tunes, recycled shamelessly on every release that has ever been put out under the ominous banner of that jagged, hazard-sign yellow font. Lyrical themes of zombie apocalypses, militant displays of demon force and mass nuclear obliteration have also been revamped ad nauseum; causing one to plant their tongue deeper in cheek. All of these exaggerations of the thrash ethos, when served so abundantly, create a campy aura that no heavily patched, denim vested member of the jury could imaginably review the evidence provided here and remain totally straight-faced.
Not that there is any indictment being made against Mr. Grind. The truth is that in thrash metal all that needed to be done has been done twice over, and because of this, any group (or in this case musician) channeling the sound of this style will be dismissively accused of a rehash (which as an accusation falls flat, since generally speaking, all music is a rehash of something or another). As a result, musical efforts are bound to be overlooked and shelved away, particularly if written off as novelties, or “joke bands”. However, a close listening to any random selection off this compilation of rarities suggests that while there is an underlying comical tone, the ferociousness is not to be slept on.
It actually could have made just as much sense to have toted this as a greatest hits than as a collection of b-sides. Classic tremolo riffing and urgent, precise drumming are the common threads that tie this assortment of songs together. All the traditional five deadly venoms of thrash’s stylistic standards are applied in the structure of each song, but Mr. Grind seems to strictly be a teacher’s pet from the old German school. If imitation is flattery, than bands like Sodom, Destruction and Kreator should be blushing like schoolgirls. The record’s intro sounds almost as if directly lifted from Sodom’s Obsessed With Cruelty record, let alone the bestial ‘I Am Legion’ vocal snarl that wreaks of Tom Angelripper. To reference the thermal-suited death squadron character on the cover that bears a striking resemblance to Knarrenheinz—Sodom’s mascot—would probably be overkill at this point. Toxic Holocaust was clearly born in the sign of Sodom’s proto-blackened speed-metal evil (pun intended). Perhaps Joel Grind should have named the project Gomorrah… just as a goof!
Still, despite the monstrous thrash tone from days of lore that has been regurgitated here, cross-contamination is bound to occur between the music’s power and the humorous nature of some songs. The lyrics to titles such as “Metal Attack” and “Deathmaster”, for example, both from an early single, must be taken with a comedic grain of salt, lest anyone wishes to prove and confirm the existence of His Infernal Majesty’s unholy war command. An edgy, easy-going sense of humor would probably aid the appreciation of other nefarious titles such as “Nuke the Cross” and “666”, with irreverent anti-Christian sentiments that in context are actually somewhat benign when compared to some of those expressed by some of their fellow tradesmen.
As a whole, From the Ashes of Nuclear Destruction effectively outlines the trajectory of one very silly and talented man’s impressive career as creator and executioner of his musical vision. The jury is still out on whether or not the jokey nature underneath all of the mayhem is contrived or consequential. Regardless of the conclusion, the proper credit is to be given where due. And if all else, the hackneyed graphics and subject matter actually make Toxic Holocaust all the more entertaining.