Into the Pit – Iron Reagan and the Sound of Oncoming Thrash

I may have bemoaned the decline of thrash in previous columns. If you have been keeping up with me, you would think that there’s really no such thing as modern thrash. “Huh, that’s too bad. It must’ve died in 1993 or something.” Well, sorta? It would be tough to find any good thrash records past that year outside of Pantera, but that’s another story we’ll tackle later.

Thankfully thrash isn’t entirely dead yet. We’ve still got a few older bands kicking the tires and making sure everything’s alright. And we’ve got some younger bands digging into the sound more and expanding on it in ways bands haven’t before. With that, let’s talk about Iron Reagan.

For the uninitiated, Iron Reagan is a supergroup consisting of members or former members of Municipal Waste, Cannabis Corpse, Darkest Hour, and Hellbear. Most folks have a hard time distinguishing Iron Reagan from Municipal Waste due to the closeness of the sound between the two. In my experience, Iron Reagan leans far more into hardcore punk both musically and thematically with their lyrics. Municipal Waste is a bit more thrash metal than crossover and very, VERY rarely gets serious with their lyrics. It’s a lot of songs about partying, drinking beer, eating pizza, and sometimes horror/gore elements. Honestly, Municipal Waste tends to seem more fun to me, but that’s not the point today.

Getting back on topic, the boys of Reagan are also workhorses. Since forming in 2012, they have released music every year except 2016 (odd choice to take a break for an American hardcore band but oh well). This year, they have already released a split with Gatecreeper and just released a new EP, Dark Days Ahead, which we’ll get to in a second.

While it’s such a tease to get a split record from one of your favorite bands, it makes a lot of sense given the scene. With Iron Reagan, you’re talking about song lengths that probably average a minute and a half. While songwriting isn’t easy, it’s likely that it’s more feasible to crank out content when you’re writing songs that are slightly longer than your average TV ad. But these songs aren’t commercial jingles. These are raw, aggressive, angry tracks so full of piss and vinegar you’d swear you were in the pit.

Look at what Iron Reagan produced on the split. Listen to that opening riff. It’s an extremely fast palm-muted power chord so loaded with dirt it might as well be six feet under. Tony Foresta’s shouting about fraud in the justice system just makes it even heavier. This band might not be the most famous or widely known commodity in metal, but this is the signature sound of modern thrash. It’s far more punk infused and much closer to hardcore than metal. It’s a lot of attitude aggression. The songwriting is a little simpler than 80s Metallica or Megadeth but it’s not lacking for blow-you-away metal.

Now, the new record. Dark Days Ahead is a five-track EP clocking in at just shy of 8 minutes. Nothing new for the Richmond boys. The EP is really a lot more of the same: extremely fast and aggressive crossover thrash that’s both fun and brutal. It’s great that the two aren’t mutually exclusive sometimes, and Dark Days Ahead is just that.

It’s also relatively poignant given the timing of the release and how it lines up with midterm elections in the US. Iron Reagan is an obviously openly political band with music to match the anger they feel toward a society that continues to tread upon the weakest among us and ignore civil rights. It shouldn’t be too surprising where they stand given what they print on their merch, and their music matches that sentiment.

Just listen to what they do. The music is still just as wild as before. The guitars have such a sharp edge that they just cut through everything. The drums chaotically pummel you along, but take special note of that bass. There is a solid base to what they do that gives everything much more presence. That is really where the punk influence comes in, even more so than their overtly political nature. Punk tends to really rely on the bass to fill out the band’s sound, and Iron Reagan takes that idea to heart.

Along with bands like Power Trip, Toxic Holocaust, and Warbringer, Iron Reagan is forging the new sound of modern thrash. It’s almost like a new big 4 here with Iron Reagan sort of sticking out much like Anthrax before them. All four of these bands call back to thrash metal roots of completely mad riffs and overtly political riffs. They harken back in a number of ways though they’re also forging their own path with a more hardcore punk-infused sound. They also benefit from having more technology at cheaper value now, so they don’t suffer from the extreme lo-fi sound of early thrash bands.

While this whole column may seem like the drooling ravings of an epic fanboy, I just want everybody to know that thrash is gonna be okay! Metal in general is enjoying a heyday right now. Bands of all stripes are putting out incredible records, and some of them are getting well-deserved attention and praise from mainstream media sources. Hell, Pitchfork gave Nightmare Logic an 8.4! Pretty high praise from critics who think posting on Bandcamp is selling out.

The point is thrash is going to have its day again soon. The future is bright. Warbringer has announced a new record next year. Toxic Holocaust is hitting the road with Municipal Waste, so I think it’s reasonable to expect some new stuff from them soon. And Power Trip has gone 2 years with nothing new, so I think we’re due sooner than we might imagine. 4 major players on the scene are out there kicking asses. I’m excited for what’s to come.

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