You know, it won't win you any friends among the back-patch-and-MALICE-button set, but it's okay once in a while to admit that some of those quasi-legendary '80s bands were… well… second-tier. Not that it should affect one's enjoyment of their classic albums — hell, I'm a huge XENTRIX fan despite my absolute certainty that they added nothing worth mention to the heavy metal gene pool. But some of these bands were, let's face it, cannon fodder at the time, and there's a reason they didn't rise through the ranks the same way the bigger acts did. We had this figured out in those days — you didn't mind ACID REIGN at all, you might buy their tape if nothing you really wanted came into the record store that week, but you knew they weren't on par with KREATOR or TESTAMENT, much less any of the hotly-contested "big four."
And as long as I'm picking on second-tier UK thrash bands, here comes ONSLAUGHT, reuniting with original vocalist Sy Keeler (their last album, 1989's "In Search of Sanity", featured former GRIM REAPER man Steve Grimmett and an ill-advised stab at a more commercial sound). Their old stuff has a place of honor on my shelf, but would anyone really take an ONSLAUGHT album with them if forced to pare down their collection for that hypothetical desert island? Eighteen years after their last recorded output hit the racks, "Killing Peace" lumbers into the spotlight, and the results, while overall enjoyable, remain as workmanlike, unremarkable, and (wait for it) second-tier as ever.
ONSLAUGHT in 2007 works in some shadowy middle ground between thrashers like EXODUS and DESTRUCTION, and more trad-metal outfits like OVERKILL and METAL CHURCH. Keeler has a vicious and charismatic snarl, though it becomes monotonous at times — and he occasionally surprises with a more gruffly melodic vocal, as on the midtempo "Prayer For the Dead". The riffing is meaty and energetic, though here too, a little goes a long way, and the band seems to have too much album left at the end of the ideas.
As negative as all this sounds, there are things to love about "Killing Peace". Any thrash fan worth his salt will respond like Pavlov's dog to some of the speedier passages in "Burn" or "Shock 'n Awe". The soloing is expressive and impressive, adding splashes of melodic color at many intervals where it's sorely needed. And the title track, which combines the thrash with a bit more meat-and-potatoes metal (again recalling OVERKILL, especially in the chorus), is a total winner, easily the most inspired song on the album. Andy Sneap's production gives the whole thing a heavy kick and a slightly more modern sensibility, although it also serves to highlight the relative lack of intensity here — it sounds like some old geezers wandered into the studio and made a 1988-era thrash album on EXODUS's gear.
At the end of the day, a band like ONSLAUGHT's stoic narrow-mindedness is both their reason to exist and their biggest handicap. Their stodgy approach has barely changed in two decades, and their songwriting skills lack that extra something to put them over the top, now or then. The end result is a decent batch of straightforward textbook metal, which will find defenders among the same people who fly the flag for MELIAH RAGE or the latter half of the OVERKILL catalog (the same people who'll consider any less-than-stellar review of a comeback album like this to be a betrayal of heavy metal). Most of the rest of the world will go on blissfully ignorant, however, leaving ONSLAUGHT where they've always been — endearing second-tier bruisers with occasional, but too infrequent, moments of brilliance.