People cannot deny the influence that thrash metal had on the scene in the mid- to late 80s and being of the age where I appreciated thrash, I got fully immersed in it myself. I think the last time I was ever moved by thrash metal was at the Clash of the Titans tour in 1990 and it has been a long, long time since I have bought a thrash metal record. Death metal at this time took over my taste in music but fast forward to today, there is still a healthy thrash metal scene.
What’s even more pleasing is that the UK over the years have produced some top quality thrash bands and while they may have never got the recognition that the Bay Area or our German counterparts did, you cannot deny the influence UK thrash metal had on the scene. One such band who always recognise their roots are Norwich based band Shrapnel who have gathered quite a fanbase with both their discography and their live performances. Having recently released their single “Might of Cygnus” from new album Palace of the Insane (review here), I thought it would be a good time to catch up with the band. Guitarist Nathan Sadd took the reins…
Simple things first – where are you guys from?
The fine city of Norwich, UK. It’s only accessible via two really bad roads. [This is true, especially when you’re driving along one of them for bloody hours having watched your team lose to the Canaries by a single, admittedly impressive, goal – Mosh, who’s honestly still not bitter after all these years]
How long have you been playing together as a band?
Chris M and I started playing together in 2008, and shortly after Chris W joined for our first two EPs in 2009 and 2010. We’ve had a few line-up changes since then though! Our new frontman/bass player Aarran joined us last year and jumped straight into the new album with us.
Describe your music. What makes you unique?
We’re a thrash band, and we love it. However, I think there are definitely some different elements in each album we’ve made. I think it’s hard to pin only a few influences on us. The last few albums had a definite death metal tinge to them, and the new one certainly has some traditional heavy metal elements going on.
It’s pretty hard being unique in thrash today in a general sense, although I think most bands in the genre still have their own sound to an extent. It’s a genre that can be very backwards-looking, and certainly has its sacred cows. But that’s because the old stuff is awesome! The thing we do is take those old influences and combine them with stuff outside the genre that we love too. On the new album, we certainly mix things up to a degree some thrash bands don’t. Stuff like Begin Again on this album, and old stuff like Pariah for example, clearly aren’t just straight-out thrash.
Today you released the second song “Might of Cygnus” track prelude to the album Palace for the Insane. How does it feel to get the new song out there for the masses to hear for the first time and how have the reviews been so far?
It feels great! We worked really hard on the new album so it was pretty cathartic to finally release it and get a great reaction. The reviews have been great! Dom over at Blabbermouth gave the album a 9/10, which means a lot coming from him. It’s rubbing shoulders with albums from bands like Testament, Havok and Warbringer, which is amazing.
There’s also been some criticism, which is cool too. It’s been interesting to see people have completely different takes on some parts of the album. One person’s ‘bold experimentation’ is another’s’ ‘confusion’! Definitely makes things more interesting for us. For me, the coolest thing is seeing different people listing completely different songs as their favourite tracks. Overall though, it’s been really positive!
Being active for a number of years now, how would you say the new album compares to that of your earlier material and do you think you have found the sound you strive for or will far from refuge continue to keep experimenting?
In so many ways this is our best album! I guess you’re supposed to say that, aren’t you? But we really do feel like we’ve taken a massive step up, and this is what we are hearing from the majority of fans, new listeners, and reviews too.
I don’t think we’ve ever been too excited about repeating ourselves, and we usually try to bring something new to the table. We’re always gonna broadly fit into the thrash bracket, because it’s what we collectively love. We love Slayer, Megadeth, etc etc., and it’s how we play. But we develop with each album. We injected a lot more ‘extreme’ stuff into the last one, and this one definitely has a few progressive elements, and we were trying to experiment with different ideas that you don’t generally hear in thrash. Begin Again was really good fun for us in that respect. We did something completely different, at least for us. There’s also a lot more hooks to be found here.
We’ve already started messing about with a few things for the next record, and it’s sounding pretty different already! We’re exploring ways of stepping outside the genre a bit, and looking for ways to reach non-thrash fans too because we love a lot of different stuff ourselves.
It’s fair to say that with the new album, the songs are much more catchy, groovy but never leaving the thrash undertones. Whilst you will never leave your thrash roots did it feel like a lot of pressure was released when structuring the songs having much more artistic freedom?
Chris W had just returned to the band on drums, and we were hanging and listening to a ton of Priest, Saxon, Metallica, 90s Megadeth, etc, I guess the more traditional stuff that we both love. So that kinda thing was definitely influencing us, and a lot of the early writing led to a lot of mid-paced, heavy, stompy heavy metal stuff. A bit later we re-introduced some more speed, but I think we were still guided by wanting to write really hooky stuff. It was great getting Aarran in too, because he is happy to try out anything we throw at him, so in that respect we are able to have a lot more freedom. It’s nice to be able to write anything we want as an experiment, and see what works.
Thrash metal in the UK have had mixed results in terms of success over the years. Where would you say Shrapnel come in and while success is maybe not a motivator for the band, what are your goals for the band?
I’m not sure too sure why British thrash didn’t kick off more than it did to be honest. I find the quality argument pretty unsatisfactory because there are a ton of British records that are superior to some of the US and German stuff. I’d put Xentrix’s first two up against anything. I think there’s the benefit of being a first-mover on something in the case of the US. But also, it arrived here a little later I guess.
I don’t really think we’ve ever fit into the whole rebirth of thrash here in the UK. We came a little later than the 2006 wave, so we never felt like we properly fit in. I don’t think we were exactly welcomed with open arms either, except by a few people who were great to us. Although we’re still here, so that’s good. Obviously we’d love more ‘success’. We want to become more well-known, and that’s what we’ve started working on with this album. We’re really eager to get a bit more of a name for ourselves in Europe, so we’re really focusing on that, and will be over there as much as possible as soon as we can. We have a big bucket list of things we want to do, like playing some of our favourite festivals and touring new places.
How good would you say the current UK thrash metal scene is? Is there a good wave of thrash metal coming out of the UK in your opinion?
There’s definitely been a bit of a resurgence in the last few years. We have some really good newish bands coming through, and some great more established ones. Obviously, Evile are looking at getting the fifth album out, and Gama Bomb are still amazing. But we have some other bands like Thrashist Regime and Ifreann up in Scotland, and a few really good young bands like Riptide and Unburier coming through. I try to keep track haha. We also have some amazing thrash-influenced bands like Cryptic Shift and Divine Chaos who have just released two amazing records recently too.
It’s also great seeing Acid Reign and Xentrix come back with great records and of course, Onslaught remain busy, even with their new line-up changes. So yeah, it’s a pretty healthy scene I think!
Before this fucking virus, how often were the band able to get together and rehearse in the studio? Where do you get together and record?
Fairly often. We tend to rehearse pretty hard before going in the studio, and we did a lot of pre-production work on vocals and arrangements before we went in to track the record. I’m living away from the other guys at the moment, which can be a pain. I’m in Oxford, so I would travel back to Norwich every few weeks to rehearse for a weekend. Or I’d go stay there for a week, and we’d get a bunch of writing and rehearsing done for the record.
We recorded the drums last August up in Darlington with Samuel Turbitt of Ritual Sound Studios, and then he came back to stay with us in Norwich for 4-5 days at a time to track everything else. It was great! We had such a good time recording this one. We were in and out of this little cabin for days at a time just hanging out and bringing everything together.
How are the songs constructed in the studio? Are there the main songwriters of songs that take care of everything or is Shrapnel a band where all members contribute to the songs?
Most of the songs start as demos on my home set up. This time around, there were a few that Chris W and I had jammed out in the rehearsal space which ended up as they were written. I think it has given the album a bit more of a live feel. Usually, I’ll pitch ideas and we’ll all pull them apart and critique them. This time around especially, there was way more collaboration. Chris M brought a couple of killer songs in, one of which turned into “Future Sight”. Then he and Aarran would work on lyric ideas, which we would all then pull apart in the studio.
Is there a main lyricist within the band? What are the lyrics for Palace for the Insane based on?
Yeah, Chris M has always been our main lyricist. Him and I would discuss ideas back and forth, but now we have Aarran, he dives right into it and loves writing stuff too. We like to mix it up in terms of themes and ideas. There’s an underlying theme of mental health on the album which weaves throughout it, but there are also some sci-fi stuff, some historical stuff, and some fun Exodus worshipping thrash stuff about killing people. (laughs)
I think we like to approach each song as a bit of a self-contained story. But it has been great this time with everyone really getting involved.
Is it a strange experience with Shrapnel now just being a four-piece? Was it your intention to get a bassist/vocalist or was Shrapnel lucky to find Aarran who can cover both roles?
It’s great! It’s surprising to us how natural it all feels, to be honest. We were on tour with Aarran and then straight in the studio so quickly that it just feels kinda normal now. It feels like this line-up has been the norm for longer than it has because it has just been so busy. We’re already thinking about the next album and exchanging ideas.
I think we were just lucky. We’d been trying to convince Aarran to join on bass, so when Jae left, it seemed obvious to ask him to do both. He’s a big fan of Sodom and Destruction, so it seemed like he might be up for it. It took a bit of convincing and beer-diplomacy, but once he said yes, it just worked out really easily.
Being a four-piece band and having different musical influences within the band, is there sometimes a lot of negotiating in the studio or do you feel you are writing the music you want to for the band?
I think being in a band, especially with engaged people who all have a vision of where they want things to move, is always a continuing negotiation. We’re still figuring that out at the moment, but I think as long as you can look at yourself and say “am I listening here?” then you can make things work. There was a hell of a lot of discussion over what we were going to include on the album, the ideas we were throwing in, and things like the track-listing, but we managed to make each of us happy in the end.
How hard is it for a band like Shrapnel to survive in the current climate where bands have to tour non stop and sell merchandise in order to bring money back into the band?
We’re doing the best we ever had right now! It would be interesting to see how much better it would be if we were touring right now, but we can’t really complain. It’s given us time to think about other areas, such as our online presence, and that’s been really useful for us. The only thing we can do is think about 2021. The biggest issue is speaking with booking agents and that side of the industry, simply because no one really knows what is going to happen.
Before the internet, magazines and fanzines were the places to find out about new bands and trends. Now publications are replaced with thousands of websites catering for all genres. Do you think that some of the passion has been lost or do you think that the internet has been a good thing for music and Shrapnel?
I guess we can only gauge it through our experience. Smaller webzine and fanzines etc have been really useful to us. This album has largely been completely ignored by Metal Hammer and Kerrang! in the UK, so we rely on that grassroots stuff. It still helps generate a buzz from below, and the people involved in them are diehards.
Due to the virus situation, are you looking at new ways of getting your music out there?
Yeah definitely. We’ve been forced to think solely about our online reach. YouTube and Spotify, etc. are essential. It’s also been really helpful for us to focus on one-to-one connections with people online. In a way, it’s just an updated version of 80s tape-trading. We’ve really had to think about how we can amplify our limited voice, and cut through all of the noise. We know people have rated the album alongside the new Warbringer, Testament, and Havok records, but it’s difficult for us to increase the bubble of people who we are visible to. So our fans who interact online and the smaller webzines are essential to help us spread the word.
Being from the Norwich area, are there any other bands from your local scene that you would recommend and give a shout out?
Absolutely! We love Alpha Omega and Bastard especially. I think they have both played Bloodstock Festival now. They’re both really gritty and are both mad live.
A fun question to end this interview. If you were a DJ and were allowed to bring 5 CDs to the party, what would they be?
That’s pretty much impossible, but I’ll give it a whack. Some old greats: Megadeth – Rust In Peace; Slayer – Reign In Blood; and Black Sabbath – Master Of Reality. Something new and great: the latest Employed To Serve record from last year, Eternal Forward Motion. It’s raging. As for old, and because I’m listening to it right now, AC/DC – Flick Of The Switch!
Any last message for our readers here at Moshville Times?
Thanks for speaking with us and giving us a platform! If you haven’t checked the album out or seen the new videos, give them a blast. It’s really important for us to get people sharing our music around and reaching more people.
Palace For The Insane is out now – grab it on Amazon to help support this site!