Saturday, May 16, 2009

Holy Terror: The best bay area thrash band you've never heard of.

Ok, so the title may be a tiny bit overstated. I'm sure there are a few hardcores out there who know ALL about Holy Terror, but the fact remains that no one talks about them much at all. Only staying together for about three years in the late 80's and releasing only two full lengths, it's no wonder they melted into obscurity. Nevertheless I think their small output is up there with some of the best thrash bands of the decade.

Holy Terror was formed in 1985/6 in Los Angeles by ex-Agent Steel guitarist Kurt Kilfelt (Colfelt). The line-up was rounded out by Joe Mitchel on drums, Mike Alvord on second guitar, Floyd Flanary on bass, and Keith Deen on vocals. From all I can figure out, none of these guys, with the exception of Kilfelt, really did anything of note before or after this band. Another reason why no one talks about these guys.

They had a fair run, opening for bands like Kreator, DRI, and even Motorhead for four shows. Drugs, money issues, label problems, and the waning LA metal scene contributed to their demise in 1989. You can get the not so complete, outstandingly difficult to read story here. But on to the music.

As stated above, they released two full lengths, Terror and Submission (1987) and Mind Wars (1988) (now packaged together) as well as a live bootleg that can be downloaded here (it is extremely good quality and a great introduction to the band).  Stylistically they were similar to thrash bands of the day. I can hear Metal Church, Anthrax, Nuclear Assault, Exodus or Slayer on their record. On top of it all, however, is Holy Terror's completely unique style. The songs and riffs are brutally fast and disjointed in a way that holds tension throughout the entire record. The guitar work is surprisingly good. The riffs are as fast and rhythmically varied as anything Megadeth released. The solos, more on the skill level of a Michael Denner or Kirk Hammet, are completely appropriate. These guys should have shown Slayer how to put a real solo into a thrash song.

Keith Deen's vocals, however, are the biggest contributor to Holy Terror's style. I have never heard anyone like him, and I flipped my shit the first time I listened to the band. Deen switches maniacally between screams, proto-growls, and spoken word, somehow stumbling his way into a righteously belted chorus.  Rhythmically he never quite fits to the music and a conventional vocal melody only peeks through on select refrains.  Deen's vocals are rather like riding on an airplane that is being quickly shot away by enemy fighters.  The plane rips apart in the middle and you slip out into the open air with a few miles between you and the ground.  Just as you reach the peak of panic, Falcor sweeps in and snatches you up, helping you defeat the enemy fighters.

Maybe that's just me...

In any case, the unpredictability of the vocals only adds to the killer thrash on these records.  His make-shift vocal style reminds me a little of the stumbling verses of Phil Lynott.  As far as recent bands, Nathan Winneke of HORSE the band gives me the same kind of feeling.  His spoken word style is definitely an influence from bands like Suicidal Tendencies, DRI and hardcore bands less on the fringe of thrash. But I like to think of it more in the terms of classical melodrama (step up your musical vocab here).  Who says heavy metal can only be compared to baroque sequencing and romantic virtuosos?   Maybe that's just me as well...

Anyway, Holy Terror is a band whose immense talent is juxtaposed by their complete lack of legacy.  They're the cassette you find under your older brother's bed that you listen to until the tape breaks.  Then you live the rest of your days wishing you still had that Holy Terror record.  Now that Blackened Records has reissued their albums they no longer must be relegated to the used record stores that don't exist anymore.

Oh yeah, and apparently Kilfelt/Colfelt tried to reunite the band in 2005.  I think they actually played a few shows, but plans for a new record in 2006 never materialized.  I mention this in passing because the new lineup didn't include Keith Deen.  What the fuck?