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Of all the places where crossover thrash would find a very welcoming home, Ireland would be on the top of the list. The general tendency towards embracing punk and hardcore music meshed with the cultural tendency of sticking it to the man (England in this case) is almost like the fertilizer that grows up an undead lawn after Motorhead finished killing off the conventional one upon moving next door. Enter Gama Bomb, a then independent act out of the northern part of the good old country still under UK rule, with all the attitude and irreverence to fit the part to a tee. But ironically enough, these lads are about as fun loving a group of jokesters as Billy Milano’s various projects, but with the musical ability to cut heads with the more technically advanced yet still punk influenced Nuclear Assault.
The riff work on the roughly produced yet solid as a ball of steel debut “Survival Of The Fastest” is about as much inspired by the mid 80s German speed/thrash scene as it is by the New York scene, featuring the usual mixture of rapidly picked single notes with a few rapid chord changes to complement the somewhat more common riffs built out of 3 or 4 chords pun style. The first impression that it gives with such blazing cookers as “Zombie Creeping Flesh”, “Zombie Kommand” and “Scientists” is something along the lines of Tankard’s “Zombie Attack”, but with wild lead guitar breaks reminiscent of what Slayer was doing at the time and with song lengths that only occasionally break past the 3 minute mark. Vocalist Philly Byrne does a pretty solid job of balancing that typical Discharge inspired punk yell with a screechy wail more in line with Tom Araya, but the collective effort of the whole band makes this thing work as well as it does.
To anyone with any level of understanding of crossover history, the subjects covered on such albums were pretty well played out circa 1988. But this band does a decent job of carrying the obligatory clichés of denouncing racism (though I personally found it funnier when Milano did it in an ironic fashion with the rather eloquent lyrics of “Fuck The Middle East”) and making jokes about old sci-fi themes. In fact, the rather brief “Nuke The Skeets”, which sounds pretty similar to Nuclear Assault’s well remembered ditty “Hang The Pope”, managed to inspire a few chuckles out of me, though staying power is rarely a factor in a 14 second song built out of 2 riffs. But the band actually tends to be at their best when they go the conventional speed metal route and put together songs that are a bit drawn out and allow the riffs to play themselves out, though this band’s definition of drawn out is a sub-4 minute cooker called “Bullet Belt” that sounds like an Iron Angel song apart from the vocals.
Despite the less than stellar production job that renders the bass barely audible and puts a bit too much emphasis on drums and vocals, this is a pretty solid album from a band that has since become a readily recognized name in the recent thrash revival, not to mention one that predates many of the other names. They pretty well carve out an interesting niche for themselves by mixing a generally crossover format with an archaic version of German speed/thrash that sort of fell out of prominence a few years before thrash metal started to go the way of the groove. Nostalgia isn’t the only weapon at this band’s disposal, but it is arguably the most effective.
The debut album of Gama Bomb shows that the band has come along way since their first demo. They have improved in virtually every aspect and aided by a very healthy production. The songs are fast and catchy being quite memorable. The riffing reminds me of Agent Steel meets Nuclear Assault and each track has its own charm. The vocals are still in falsetto form not to dissimilar to Lemmy. They can take some time getting used to but they sing along to the riffs very well and vary in pitch. The gang vocals are to be found in nice form and it’s hard not to shout along to. More twists and hooks are used than in the demos and it is enough to keep my attention all the way through.
29 minutes for an album is quite short and constitutes more of an EP but there is no filler here so it is forgivable. Survival of the Fastest sets the bar high for the British Thrash scene and is certainly one of the top thrash releases of 2006. Gama Bomb is already working on the sophomore release and I highly look forward to it.
Best tracks are: Fortified Zone, Zombie Creeping Flesh