Toxic Holocaust – Conjure and Command (2011)

Posted: July 23, 2011 in Music

Formed in Portland, Oregon in 1999, Toxic Holocaust have slowly crawled their way to the top of the thrash metal scene. With three full albums, a handful of EPs, and countless splits over they years, they have honed their speed metal skills to razor sharp perfection.

But using the plural here might be a bit misleading. You see, Toxic Holocaust is really the work of just one man – Joel Grind. He IS the band, taking care of all the writing, vocals and instrumental recordings on the bands catalog.

But using the word “man” here might be a bit misleading as well. You see, Joel Grind is the poster child of the pot-smoking, heavy partying youth of today. On appearance, he seems less capable of making complete albums by himself, and more likely to come stumbling out of Jeff Spiccoli’s van cloaked in a cloud of purple haze. But such is not the case.

Grind is quickly becoming revered as the torch-bearer for old-school, ass-kicking speed metal. The sound combines the elements of early punk and early thrash – and while definitely a throwback to such warriors as Kreator, Exodus, Black Flag and Venom, Grind puts just enough modern element in the writing to keep it sounding fresh.

When I heard a new album was on the horizon, my ears pricked up, but when I actually SAW the CD, the greatest of fears overcame my soul. Things seem different this time around…

Most notably, the album artwork is obvious not the work of Ed Repka, who had done the band’s previous albums (as well as covers for Megadeth and others). Grind instead opted for a far more ominous-looking black and white album cover this time through. The changes don’t stop there. The band’s original logo (seen here) has also undergone a facelift. After rubbing my eyes a few time to make sure I wasn’t seeing things, that harrowing feeling that Toxic Holocaust had converted to black metal slowly filled my mind. I figured a little research was in order before I even listened to it. If it was going to be something completely unexpected, I at least wanted to be prepared.

What I found out was that this was still a thrash album (with many calling it their strongest effort to date,) but there was one more change in store. Grind apparently ditched the “do-all/be-all” approach from previous albums, and actually recorded the new album – Conjure and Command – in studio with now permanent members Philthy Gnast (real name Phil Zeller) and Nikki Rage (Nick Bellmore) recording the bass and drum parts, respectively.

And thrash it does. The album opener “Judgement Awaits You” is speed-metal glory, and shreds away the album’s first two-minutes before you even know what hit you. “Agony of the Damned” has a slow, trudging intro – and a bit of – yes – a black metal feel, but it finds its way back to the punky, thrashy vibe the band is known for. “Bitch” is nothing short of a full-on assault of Motorhead-on-speed aggression.

A serious, deep groove takes us into “Red Winter,” one of my favorite tracks on this album. The bass and drums are simple chugga-chugga for the most part, but really find some complexity from time to time throughout. Toss in a sick guitar solo on top of it all, and it’s no surprise that this track is a standout.

Nikki Rage (if I must call him that) steals the next track “Nowhere To Run,” as he hammers away with serious enthusiasm. The song is so old-school, you’ll be hunting down your Anthrax t-shirt and starting a mosh with your pets. It’s pretty infectious, and continues the trend of above-average tracks here.

“I Am Disease” has a much more deliberate feel to it, and takes a break from the maniacal neck-snapping tempo the rest of the album has had up to this point. As the longest tune on the disc, the slower, more methodical pace was the perfect time for a smoke break. Don’t be fooled, though. It’s still heavy. But make sure to snuff out that butt before the track ends. The clue will be the long, echoing guitar sustain that finishes the track.

You’ll want to have your boots laced up and elbows sharpened when “In The Depths (Of Your Mind)” kicks in. This adrenaline overload is as fast as they come, and is sure to incite the circle pit when played live. One thing I’ve noticed so far on the album is just how completely above proficient Joel Grind has become on guitar. He’s never lacked talent, but on some of the earlier releases, his sound was a bit inconsistent due to his need to shred a million miles an hour. Nowadays, he has the technical skill to match the speed – and it’s impressive. I can’t help but being reminded of Dave Mustaine, one of metal’s other great guitarist/vocalists – and that’s a huge compliment.

“The Liars Are Burning” has a bit of a more straight-up rock and roll vibe to it, but maintains enough riffing and chugging to keep it in place. It’s a little rougher and a little nastier, but it works.

It’s fun to try new flavors now and then, but nothing beats the tried and true steak and potatoes. “Revelations” is the type of meat we’ve been sinking our teeth into for years – unadulterated thrash metal at its finest. Crash cymbals and blistering riffing from start to finish with a perfect breakdown/solo combination midway couldn’t be tastier if Slayer themselves were wearing the grill mitts.

“Sound the Charge” finishes the album with one last punch in the face, and it leaves a pretty good bruise. The drums gallop along, the bass grooves, and the vocals snarl away. The guitars however, seemed to have lost some gusto here. Even the solo seemed a bit labored, but if Grind was half as exhausted playing the album as I was listening to it, I completely understand.

For thrash metal, it really doesn’t get much better than what Toxic Holocaust has done here. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it’s fast, loud, and slick – and quite possibly the thrash album of the year


01 – Judgment Awaits You
02 – Agony of the Damned
03 – Bitch
04 – Red Winter
05 – Nowhere to Run
06 – I Am Disease
07 – In The Depths (Of Your Mind)
08 – The Liars Are Burning
09 – Revelations
10 – Sound the Charge

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