Nige Rockett about his band’s 35-year-old The Force album
Great Britain has played important role in developing of hard music. There were The Beatles, Rolling Stones, then Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, punk, N.W.O.B.H.M., not the mention the hardcore, death metal/grindcore categories. But, when thrash metal reached its peak at the mid 80’s, in my opinion the British bands couldn’t compete with Metallica, Slayer, Kreator or Destruction, they remained on a cult level. When it comes British thrash metal for the first place I always mention The Force from Bristol-based outfit Onslaught. Since the album celebrates its 35th anniversary this year, guitarist Nige Rockett was so kind to share his thoughts about this classic masterpiece.
Nige, Onslaught started as a hardcore punk band and released several demos in this style before shifting to their more well-known thrash metal approach. What made you to turn into that direction? Was it a logical, conscious step or a natural progression?
It was simply a natural progression. When we formed Onslaught we could not play any instruments so we learnt all our skills as we went along and in the public eye. The more our musicianship and songwriting improved the easier it was to construct more technical material.
Was Power from Hell a thrash record? Did it help a lot to make a name for the band?
Yeah for sure it was, with punk influences, just as our newer music has the same influence in 2021. Power from Hell definitely made a name for us. It was a fully international release and sold 60,000 copies within a month of release, that was amazing for a debut album.
There were several changes after the release of Power from Hell. You had done some line up reshuffling, moving Paul Mahoney from vocals to bass and picking up vocalist Sy Keeler, Jase Stallard bassist on the album, took on rhythm guitar duties while you kept your leads. How all of these things happened?
There was never any real intention to make the changes before The Force album release until Sy Keeler came to a rehearsal. He jammed some cover songs that day with us and he sounded awesome, so we oﬀered him a job right there and then. We always liked the idea of having 2 guitars so this was the perfect chance to expand the sound of the band in many ways, luckily it was possible to do this while keeping the line up steady because Mo could also play bass and Jase Stallard could play guitar.
It seems Onslaught was the first band experience for Sy, wasn’t it?
I believe so. I think he may have done some kinda small covers band, but nothing serious.
Did you audition other singers as well or was Sy your first choice, by the way?
No, Sy was the only choice, as I said previously. There was no real plan for changes until we met Sy and heard his voice.
From C.O.R. (Children of the Revolution Records) you went to Music For Nations’ thrash metal imprint Under One Flag. What kind of a contract did they offer you? Did they promise a lot of things, such as touring support, promotion, advertisements etc.?
The MFN contract was awesome, the Power from Hell record did real good so the contract reflected the success of that release. The promotion/advertising was excellent for the new record and really boosted our profile massively. MFN were also great for tour support and they financed our European tour with Motörhead in ’87 on the Orgasmatron Tour which raised our name even higher.
The Force was the first album to be released on them, wasn’t it?
Yeah, it was Flag1 I believe, which was very cool for Onslaught.
When did you start working on the record? How long did it take you to come up with the new material?
If I remember correctly, we started writing songs for The Force album before Power from Hell had been released. There was only around 1 year max in between albums so we worked very fast. I think maybe 6 months after PFH, The Force was written.
Did the songwriting process/method change somewhat compared to its predecessor?
Not really. I was still writing at home and taking ideas to the rehearsal room so the rest of the guys could make some input. It seemed to work well that way and it was very productive so there was no need for change.
Did Sy have a hand into it?
No, not at all, most of the material was already written by the time Sy had joined the band.
Did the label ask you to hear any pre-production stuff?
No. When MFN signed us they asked how the new material was coming along, but they never asked to hear any tracks. MFN were very good in that way, we had full artistic licence on music/artwork etc. They trusted us 100% to deliver a fully professional album.
Were you prepared to record the album, when you entered the Matrix Studios during January/February 1986?
Yeah for sure. Right down to the last solo, everything was ready. We don’t fuck about in the studio, studio time costs money so we’re always totally prepared, even in the early days.
Did you get a decent budget to cut the material?
Yes, the budget was good. We used some cool studios for recording and mixing and cool people to work with. No corners were cut whatsoever.
What do you recall from the recording sessions?
Lots of weird shit going down, hahaha…!!! The studio had a break in on Day 3 and we lost some of our gear including guitars etc., which was really fucked up, so it wasn’t a great start to the sessions. Then we had so many spooky things going on with the digital equipment during recording. Every time Dave would set a delay or reverb time the numbers would change to 666! Every single time he tried, every single day, if he set it at 450 or 880 for example it would just change itself back to 666.
Was it easy to work Dave „Death” Pine with? Did you get on well with him?
Dave Pine was great, he was basically the studio Junior, who was there to assist the main engineer, but the engineer dude had some big personal problems at the time and rarely showed up and left Dave to engineer the whole album sessions. Dave did an amazing job even though he was quite inexperienced. We had a great time recording The Force and part of that was down to him, so yeah we got on real good. It all could have been fate!
Did Sy keep the evil atmosphere alive from your debut, got way higher up at times adding a new element and really inject new life into Onslaught’s growing sound?
Yeah, I think so, but he also brought a very diﬀerent kind of darkness to The Force album. There was more melody for sure, but it had so much more aggression than there was on the Power from Hell record. Sy had a very dynamic approach to his vocals and as you say it brought a whole new energy to the band.
Would you say, you had obviously become aware of how Slayer, Exodus and Metallica approached things and The Force betrayed such influences?
Not necessarily. We were obviously very aware of these bands and of course we wanted to make sure we were in a position to compete with the likes of Slayer and Exodus, but I wouldn’t say they were big influences. Power from Hell was written in 1984 and The Force album was almost complete before Exodus had released their first album, but Metallica had really carved the path for thrash metal for sure with Ride the Lightning, it was an incredible record.
Is the riffing on this album really tight and much better than on the previous one?
100% better than PFH! It’s not super tight, but the overall vibe is much more controlled, the mix was good and the band performances were a great improvement. It’s amazing the diﬀerence 10 months can make if you put the hard work in.
Do you think that it’s really commendable exactly how well you keep up the momentum here with all kinds of different tempo changes, different riffs and thrash breaks you can cram into even just one song?
It’s just the direction we wanted Onslaught to take. Every song was cool and easy to write and we found a good system, when making the album. We made sure every track had a high energy and that there was a good continuity between the songs.
The songs are a lot longer containing many different twists and turns it’s leaps ahead of the debut, you interweaved them with tons of excellent traditional metal styled leads as well. How do you explain this?
It was just a natural progression in our ability to write songs and to play our instruments. We were still kids and very much learning our trade at the time, so there was always going to be a big step up in quality between the 2 records.
Are the songs epic, slightly complicated, easily accessible and 100% thrash metal?
1000% Thrash Metal!!! Yeah the songs are a little complex, but they are easily accessible with many hooks and catchy riﬀs!
Did the sinister sounding intros from tracks like Demoniac with the organ in the beginning and Flame of the Antichrist which starts with a bell ringing have a real Mercyful Fate vibe and atmosphere going on with them?
Haha, no. I was really not a fan of Mercyful Fate, so there was definitely no influence from them whatsoever. It was more of a Sabbath vibe we were looking for.
Is it correct that Metal Forces was dedicated to the legendary magazine with the same name?
Yeah, that’s correct. Metal Forces magazine was very supportive of the band in the early days and helped us massively, so we thought it would be kinda cool to write a track dedicated to them.
Was Onslaught U.K.’s version of Exodus especially with this record?
Maybe, not really sure. We have very similar attitudes in our approach and we still do even today. There are many comparisons between the 2 bands, not necessarily musically, but definitely in the ways we work.
Is The Force perfection in thrash and within a short space of time Onslaught soon became the UK’s brightest hopes on the thrash scene?
I wouldn’t say it’s perfection, haha, but yeah, we were. I guess the biggest thrash band in the UK. The fan base was great and the press were really behind us, it was good times.
Do you mind, while the intensity of The Force doesn’t pale in comparison to Power from Hell, the sound of this album is more controlled and clear? Is the production, mix here a lot more clearer from the debut?
Yes, and that was exactly the plan! The Force was massive step up from PFH, so everything had to be that much bigger and better, from the songwriting, the recordings, the production, to the record label, it was a whole new pro attitude!
What were the shows, tours in support of the album? From what I know, you appeared on the very first Dynamo Open Air in 1986…
The first shows to support The Force album were in Belgium and Holland in early ’86. We went over to play there a couple of times before the legendary Dynamo Festival show. We also did a full UK tour and then headed out into Europe for a great tour with Motörhead on the Orgasmatron album, which really broke Onslaught to the next level.
In my collection can be found a bootleg, titled Live in Copenhagen (recorded March 28th, 1987). Do you have any memories from this particular gig? Are you aware of the existence of this bootleg?
Yeah, we know of this bootleg, it was recorded on the Motörhead tour. I just mentioned and I remember the show very well. 🙂
It is a widely known fact that thrash metal peaked in the mid 80’s, with so many bands making a large impact both on the thrash and the metal scene in general, but Onslaught managed to fly directly beneath the radar. What’s your opinion about it?
If you call selling over 500.000 albums and playing in 1500-2000 capacity venues in the 80’s flying beneath the radar I find it very strange, hahaha!
How do you view that Onslaught never made a real impact, but released one outright classic album (The Force) and a string of good to great releases that showed a huge level of variety?
Hmmmmn, I find this comment a little strange also. Onslaught never made a real impact??? Onslaught have influenced so many other bands and musicians over the years, sold hundreds and hundreds of 1000’s of albums worldwide. We have played shows in over 70 diﬀerent countries around the globe and we have over 8 million track streams on Spotify alone. Not bad for making no real impact, haha!
Nige, thank you for your answers! What are your closing words for our readers?
My pleasure! I’d like to send huge thanks to all our awesome fans both new and old for the great love and support we have received from you over the years. We hope you’re thrashing out hard to the new album Generation Antichrist and we’ll see you all soon once the shitstorm of a pandemic is over! Until then please take care and be safe!