For a genre that had such a deep-rooted and longstanding impact, it is perhaps surprising how short thrash metal’s heyday actually was: arguably 1986 to 1991. But what a fertile time that was. Even just focusing on the thrash band’s that I enjoy, it is clear that there was something powerful afoot: Nuclear Assault (Survive 1988, Handle with Care 1989), Sacred Reich (Ignorance 1987, Surf Nicaragua 1988, The American Way 1990), Kreator (Pleasure to Kill 1986, Terrible Certainty 1987, Extreme Aggression 1989), and Megadeth (Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? 1986, So Far, So Good…So What? 1988), Mordred (Fool’s Game 1989, In This Life 1991). Albums that pushed music forward, and to my ears at least, have stood the test of time.
Looking back now, it is hard to recollect just how disruptive thrash metal was – the musical and social distortion it brought to bear. It was not a unified genre by any stretch; indeed, it was in many ways an inherently volatile one. But the aforementioned bands were defined by a heady brew of often socially aware lyrics drawn from hardcore punk and blended with an aggressively dissonant reimagining of heavy metal.
But all good things come to end, and thrash metal’s demise, can perhaps be traced back to the Clash of the Titans Tour (featuring Slayer, Megadeth, Testament, and Suicidal Tendencies) in the autumn of 1990. Metallica had broken into the mainstream, and this Wembley Arena encompassing tour proved the starter gun for the scramble to follow suit. Shows flipped from seething stage dive filled nights at The Marquee and The Astoria, to the sanitisation of the all-seater Hammersmith Odeon. Whether knowingly or not, thrash metal’s focus was now on achieving commercial success, which led to a rapid dilution in its musical creativity. Its oppositional anger and desire to confront rapidly seeped into fuelling the burgeoning hardcore and death metal scenes, leaving thrash itself an ever-more insipid and bloated shadow of its former self.
Many of these bands have continued to plough a furrow of ever-diminishing returns, and the occasional comebacks have produced little recorded output of note (though I did find much to enjoy in Mordred’s 2021 The Dark Parade). Now, of course, music is a rather cyclical organism that draws as much on reinvention as it does on invention, and there have been various attempts by new generations to reinvigorate the thrash / crossover genre. But few have set the world afire, often feeling rather inorganic – knowing the moves, but not quite feeling them.
So, I approached Pest Control’s debut full-length Don’t Test the Pest, with a certain trepidation, although Quality Control HQ have a great feel for this space. My worries were soon tossed aside. From the electric acoustic opening to its absolutely crushing final track ‘The Great Deceiver’, this is a blistering LP. Clearly it draws on many established influences, but it is not owned by them, nor is it some pale pastiche. Instead, Pest Control have vigorously refashioned them into something vibrantly their own – a dash of Ignorance, a hint of Extreme Aggression, the fluidity of Handle with Care. The musicianship throughout is superb, but it is undeniably the vocals that hold centre stage – raw, rasping, uncompromising.
Which rather poses the question, how have Pest Control managed to successfully reanimate a seemingly moribund form? The answer came to me when I caught them live supporting Dawn Ray’d at The Lexington back in March. The joy of the band as they played their set was tangible, their relish at the call backs to their inspirations palpable. They have absorbed their influences to the point where they are now instinctual, and they can be reignited into new forms. They have the technique to play, but they also love what they play – they know and feel the moves.
The original press has sold out, but we have the repress in stock now and it, perhaps, goes without saying that it is well worth checking out.