Welcome to Riffs from the Crypt! This is a new Heavy Blog installment in which we’ll be resurrecting old metal that has been long forgotten, and threatens to vanish entirely; metal interred to dusty cardboard boxes, sepulchred in a junkyard, entombed in a warehouse, or otherwise lost and underappreciated. We will generally focus on metal pre-1990. All genres are game. If it’s old, obscure, and — most importantly — it fucking rips, then the time has come for disinterment in Riffs from the Crypt!
First up in our grave-digging expedition is Rat Attack. The Hawaiian thrash metallers only released a single demo in 1983, the self-titled Rat Attack, but it must be heard. Critical to the appreciation of this album is its historical context: 1983 was the year that seminal albums like Slayer’s Show No Mercy and Metallica’s Kill ‘em All were released. This was the year that thrash finally began in earnest. Stylistically, Rat Attack falls smack in the middle of those two giants of the Big Four. They’re darker, more serious than Metallica, but they don’t have the gory, anti-Christian shock value of Slayer. The guitar isn’t as heavy or technically excellent as Slayer, and the riffs aren’t as well-composed and abundant as on Metallica’s debut. But Rat Attack do offer a production more menacing than either Big Four band could muster, and a few world-class riffs that should have catapulted them to the forefront of the burgeoning genre. Instead, for reasons unknown, the band broke up soon after the release of their demo, and Rat Attack was no more.
There is no question about the standout track on this album, the track that should have latched Rat Attack a record deal and a place in the thrash metal canon. That song is the opener, “Fast Get Away.” From the first ringing open note, the difference can be heard. There’s an abject aggression to the guitar tone. This isn’t another random NWOBHM-style band looking to cash in, or a glam guitarist looking to get laid. This is different — this is thrash.
The recurring riff is about as strong as they get. Frenzied and catchy, it perfectly foregrounds the lyrical and structural content of the song. A powerful, occasionally gruff vocal performance by Tom Azevedo legitimizes the sinister production and cements the genre as thrash. It’s a truly excellent track throughout, and should have brought Rat Attack attention on its own.
The only drawback to such a strong opener is that the rest of the album is bound to be a disappointment. This is the case with Rat Attack, even though it’s still a very good album. “Fast Get Away” seemed to have been written at a different time, or perhaps with different intent, than most of the rest of the album. Many of the following tracks only grasp at the darkness and astonishing heaviness that “Fast Get Away” achieved. The rest of the album dishes out metal that was fast and heavy for it’s time, but not groundbreakingly so. The heavier tracks on the album still contain their moments of thrash intensity, though: take the galloping riff and shredding guitar work on “Holocaust”, the frenetic pace of “Reaper’s Prey”, the blisteringly quick mammoth of a solo on “You’re an Imposter”.
One interesting note: When the demo was rereleased in 2008 by Old Metal Records, several bootleg live tracks were included. The intensity that felt lacking in the studio versions of some songs (like “Rat Attack”) is front and center in the live version, in spite of the awful recording fidelity. Their energy and intimidating thrash assault in the live atmosphere would have boded well for a follow-up, especially since new songs premiered during the concert like “As the World Burns” and especially “Diamond Dancer” sound like they would have been among the best, heaviest songs Rat Attack had ever written. If only they could have been recorded — “Diamond Dancer” really sounds like a fully-fledged thrash metal track that could have competed with anything Slayer released at the time.
The Rat Attack demo cannot measure up to the legendary albums that Slayer and Metallica released that same year. But, by Jove, they weren’t far off! It’s a tragedy that a band of such boundless potential failed to capitalize on a golden opportunity to shape the history of thrash metal. Now we’ve only got a beautiful demo to remember them by, and wonder what these riffs from the crypt might have accomplished in a separate reality.