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When you look at my comparatively high rating, you will not be surprised that "Handle with Care" was significantly better than its predecessor, at least from my point of view. Well, Nuclear Assault´s third strike over the full distance did not mark a milestone in terms of slightly crossover influenced thrash metal. Nevertheless, it was intensive and highly entertaining. Due to the energetic approach of the whole band, the compact album scored with liveliness and intensity. Rapid tunes characterised this output, but Nuclear Assault also understood how to vary their compositional pattern. For example, the almost elegiac final track led to an unexpectedly calm end. Especially its last segment built a bridge to the melancholic title track of their "The Plague" EP. But I do not want to put the cart before the horse. Thus, let´s have a look at the opener and the following songs.
Of course, Danny Lilker and the rest of the nuclear crew started with a typical thrasher. The riffing combined simplicity with efficiency and the drums set the pace so that the programmatically titled "New Song" did not lack of velocity. It was swift as an arrow and did not fail to have the desired effect. Lead vocalist John Connelly seemed to be at risk to go mad. His vocals expressed a kind of combative desperation. While fulminating against all social obstacles, his voice marked one of the key factors of the band´s energizing aura. Apart from the musical explosion, the four-piece preserved its tradition of more or less carefully worded lyrics. "Closed books is what some people´s minds are like" was the first line of the opener. Irrespective of my ignorant musical taste, I did not feel the wish to contradict. However, the beginning had been made in a very exciting manner.
Fortunately, the band had written many songs with intelligent lyrics. "Search & Seizure" dealt with repressive measures by the police, "When Freedom Dies" was about the charged relationship between security and freedom. I did not share every point of view, but I appreciated the fact that the band had a message without falling into the trap of appearing to be a mere preacher. "Inherited Hell" broached the issue of environmental pollution. An important theme, but it fell by the wayside in view of the outstanding rapidness of the composition. Connelly articulated his disgust wrathfully and the musical inferno matched with the frightening lyrical content. In my opinion, this tune represented the climax of "Handle with Care". It was closely followed by the aforementioned "New Song" and the sweaty and mid-paced "Search & Seizure". The latter one fascinated with its captivating chorus, in particular the elongated "seizure"-screams of Connelly. Not to mention the unappetizing belch at the beginning.
The remaining songs also demonstrated that the band was still full of energy. With very few exceptions, each and every one of them enriched the album. It was questionable whether it was necessary to showcase two further miniature tracks. Anyway, the blasting "Mother´s Day" seemed to be "Hang the Pope Part II" and delivered another example of Nuclear Assault´s special humour. But generally speaking, the guys had to be taken seriously, in terms of music and with regard to their lyrical statements as well. Just have a short look at the simple front cover. While paying tribute to the then still fairly new CD format, the message of the band was clear.
There is no real reason to compare the thrash scene in the end of the wonderful 80s, and today's metal/deathcore scene. No reason whatsoever. But if you really insist on doing that, it's not hard to see certain things that could be judged equal in the big picture. Both musical styles are connected to the aggressive popular scenes of somewhat similar social backgrounds and target audiences, and both scenes have bloomed within a span of half a decade, eventually turning a bit stale in the process. But that's pretty much where the equalities end. And the old thrash begins whooping the ass of today's tough-kid scene. One of the main problems the youthful core suffers from today is the incredibly formulaic execution and worship of the breakdown template, the limited armoury of vocal styles, and the minimal differences between the bands, either style-wise or musically.
Not so with the late 80s thrash. Noo, siiiir. The thrash bands of those days, while perhaps sharing a similar visual style and attitude, had individual sounds and songwriting. Perhaps it was the lack of internet, perhaps something else, and that certainly isn't the subject of this rant. But if you look as objectively as you can, maybe the best works of every scene are always created in the fleeting moments just before the plummet and death, when the experimenting has been done, and the crowd knows what works and what burdens should be offloaded; there are innovative or accidental successes in the early stages of a genre's development, and refined and progressive masterpieces created after the forge has already cooled a bit. But Handle with Care was released on the top of the thrash wave, and should be considered the apex of one of the branches in the family tree of thrash. It surfed on the crest of a perfect crashing surge, and managed to condense everything essential from its surroundings onto a single CD.
Nuclear Assault's 80s sound always had a special kind of relentless character, despite the fact that there are rather slowish songs on Survive and Game over. The combination of Lilker's moderately distorted, echoing bass gallops with Conelly's dentist drill vocals and the driving riffing, made even the lower RPM songs feel like what Orgasmatron's cover art looks like: a runaway piece of wicked machinery, uncaring and devilishly crushing. Sure, the sound and production would be different today, but it's about the music, not the wall of sound. And they always were easy tell apart from the other bands. They had something of their own, even outside the specific vocal style. And maybe that something is due to the New York thrash scene's connection with the hardcore scene, and the crossover-ish influence from there.
Crossover, in the shape chosen by M.O.D. and S.O.D. and their kind, is not what holds Handle with Care together. The album is a different beast, and the crossover in its most traditional form has little footprint on it. But it's evident in the sound, the attitude, the lyrics, and many aspects of the songs, even perhaps on the cover art and the message. There is something unavoidably hardcorish and even perhaps crusty about the whole deal, even if any sort of tabulation or other musical notation would unavoidably fail to deliver that elusive something. In a thorough, fact-based analysis, Handle with Care is pretty much a pure-bred tharsh album, and yet, there's a nagging feeling of something awesomely punkish in the back of the head once the album is over. With the exception of a few crude joke tracks, it lacks the comedy factor found in Bay Area bands, and while the 35 minutes of music is a virtually perfect mosh soundtrack, it's a void of comedy. However, the seriousness contrasts beautifully with the apparent ease and flow of the songs, and the seriousness is perhaps not quite as serious as it first seems. Yes, this makes little sense, but that's the case anyway.
It should be noted that the 1989-90 Nuclear Assault was the perfect live band as well. They easily crushed the nuts of most foreign bands that played in Finland at the time, including the stoned-off-thier-collective-asses Megadeth, and only the Arise-era Sepultura, and perhaps Sodom, could really challenge Nuclear Assault's assault. What wouldn't a man pay to be able to see them again in the 1989 NY clubs!
In any case, Handle with Care's contribution was both perfectly and badly timed. The scene was withering, and while they successfully incorporated most of their scene's good things, the best of crossover's characteristics, their own musical development, and the fury of the the aggressive end of the thrash spectrum, it came way too late, and the waning interest in thrash perhaps cost this wonderful album its place in the Sun. And perhaps the crappy timing also meant that instead of this masterpiece, the retro-thrash movement... if it can indeed be called that... focuses on other brands of thrash, and finds the overdone return to certain cartoonish and beer-and-moshing kind of fun more palatable than this direction of potential development.
Surely, thrash still had some ammo left when it bled to death. There was the interesting, and perhaps the most potential possibility, the progressive edge: listen to, say, ...and Justice for All, Mekong Delta's whole discography up to 1992, Stone's Emotional Playground and Colours, and find the wonderfully surging and abundantly changing but stealthy songwriting excellence found on such staples as Megadeth's Rust in Peace, and think about it for a while. Hadn't the interest dried up, there would have been plenty of room to expand the realm of thrash. On the other, almost opposite edge, the dirtier thrash perhaps lost ground to the new flood of death metal. Yeah, Handle with Care does not contain much in the way of death metal's different kind of anger, but it certainly has an attitude that could have appealed to the same crowd, and at the same time, it could well have been the bud that might even have blossomed into the beginnings of a new trend.
This album contains the distilled wisdom from a pizza slice from the whole thrash scene of the late 80s. It certainly has a character of its own, and it's easy to see that it's unlikely to be liked by all thrashheads. But at the very least, it was a creature that can be told apart from the rest of the shrubbery on the thrash landscape. And it kicks ass, so unless you've already heard it and made up your mind about it, skip a few spins of Evile or Gama Bomb or whatever you youngsters are listening to today, and spend an hour hearing this twice. Your eyes might open to a new manifold of possibilities.
Handle with Care is a remarkable forgotten album with potential to become a true classic, but it turned into an unfortunate victim of changing times and bad luck. And it's worth your time. Guaranteed.
Handle With Care was about the time Nuclear Assault broke out from the underground to that tier of bands primed to be the next big thing (along with Testament, Death Angel, Forbidden, Exodus, Suicidal Tendencies and so forth). They had transferred over to the newly established In-Effect records alongside several of their New York contemporaries, and this was a huge album for both that imprint and the band, charting about 20 slots higher than Survive, and to date, probably their highest selling. They had gone from buzzed about to fawned over, and had solid video support for songs like "Trail of Tears" and "Critical Mass", the latter of which featured 80s scandal 'starlet' Jessica Hahn reclining seductively in a chair while the band thrashed about her in an oil field, occasionally flashing over to shots of landfill heaps. Hey, it WAS still the 80s...
I've heard people speak of this as the 'sellout' album, or the official shark jumping, but frankly I find such a notion delusional at best. If anything, Handle With Care was a more seasoned, mature, offering that missed the memo where they tell you such a transition is suppose to be accompanied by softer tunes and sterile studio production. Nah, this is just as rambunctious as Survive, permeated with hair flailing grooves and flooded, caustic bass lines which up their distorted tone to the breaking point. The lineup had remained the same for years, so they were playing tighter than ever, and if Handle With Care could be considered the 'best' at anything, it would be its staunch sense of pacing. The tunes here flow in and out of one another as if they were borne off a brilliant blueprint for thrashing, crashing and setting a mood, and I'd at least hold up the first four cuts (and three of the final four) cuts on the record among the best they've ever set to tape. In fact, it's not really a surprise that the album was so successful, because on a tune for tune basis, there are arguably more 'catchy' chorus sequences here than on either of the earlier full-lengths...
But it wouldn't be a Nuclear Assault record of the 80s without a number of stupid little vignettes that had no rhyme or reason to the remainder of the track list. One of these, "Funky Noise" is a splendidly retarded :50 second burst of funky guitars and horns, serving no purpose whatsoever except maybe to remind us that the band's got a 'lighter side'. That they're class clowns. Or that they're setting us up for Sacred Reich's abominable "31 Flavors" off The American Way ('don't just be a metal dude!', yeah, thanks, Einstein). The other is the :30 second "Mother's Day", a high velocity grinder in the tradition of "Hang the Pope". This one's certainly got the riffs to it, and the vocal patterns, while goofy and annoying, are curiously structured, but I still don't think it has a place alongside "Trail of Tears", "Search & Seizure", "Inherited Hell" and so forth.
There are also a number of tunes which sound like partial 'also rans' of others the band had already written. For instance, "When Freedom Cries" sports a nice chorus, but the verse rhythms seem predictable and generic even for its day, only slight reconfigurations of others on Game Over, Survive or earlier on this very anthem. "New Song" and "Critical Mass" seem the richest soil for ideas here, with such enormous neck breaking grooves that were bound to get a crowd moving; it's one of the better one two knockout combos you were likely to hear in 1989. "Trail of Tears" also had a great intro rhythm, but the bluesy meandering and clean guitars here seemed to drag on. Not the first usage of such in their career, but here you get just about everything you need to hear in the first 20-30 seconds and then wish they would just stick with the heavier momentum of the pure thrashing patterns. Other, less famous cuts like the bouncing fist baller "Torture Tactics" and the escalating, atmospheric romp "Surgery" are unsung heroes, even if they're not at the level of a "Brainwashed".
Handle With Care was the second album through which Nuclear Assault had worked with producer Randy Burns, and along with the engineers, they do a pretty smash up job of drawing forth that thicker guitar tone they had manifest for Survive. Both the vocals and guitars have a strong sense for melody here, not necessarily new to their sound but showing some signs that at their, core, the New Yorkers were just as concerned with memorable songwriting as raw aggression, and fully capable of balancing the contrasts. As such, many would probably view this as their peak in terms of studio quality, an opinion I cannot disagree with due to the excellent sense of variation and bold, straight to the face tone. But even though this is only a few minutes longer than the first two albums, it somehow feels a bit fatter, and I would have trimmed it down to just the best 8-9 songs and let them speak for themselves, skipping the shorts entirely.
That said, I don't have a lot of other complaints. Lyrically, the messages in the songs tackle fascism, abuse of authority and other prevalent social and political themes which carry weight yet today. I thought the cover was a bummer after the first two albums, and yet it too is the product of a pretty blunt message. I suppose we 'survived', and now Nuclear Assault was more concerned with our environmental awareness. Granted, this impetus conjures images of ex-cons picking trash of a highway more than the radioactivity and street fighting of past works, but at least the music itself maintains the thundering, bass heavy pit savvy the band had built into a science. Sadly, despite its relative success and penetration in the American and English markets, Handle With Care would prove the last of the band's albums of import. Doesn't feel quite so vital as its predecessors, and certainly I don't feel the same level of nostalgia for this, but it's still a great time.
New York's Nuclear Assault. Less corny than Overkill and a litlle bit more socio-political than Anthrax, and with arguably more street cred. They went hand-in-hand with other '80's thrash demigods like Voivod and Dark Angel in terms of popularity but not neccesarily musical details. Nuclear Assault are also notable for the inclusion of bassist Danny Lilker, who was also in Stormtroopers of Death and later seminal grindcore merchants Brutal Truth. He is one of extreme musics primary ambassadors of the four-string.
The year was 1989.Metallica had already released '...And Justice for All', the spectre of the Seattle explosion was just around the corner but two years away and Death Metal was starting to surpass thrash as the metalheads drug of choice.It was in this enviroment of iffiness and uncertainty that 'Handle With Care' was released.
It kicks off with 'New Song 'which has a catchy opening guitar riff and is a good example of the fast verse/mid-pace chorus or the opposite of which that Nuclear Assault are rather adept at. 'Critical Mass' is a superb mid-paced thrasher with a prominent bassline courtesy of the aforementioned Mr. Lilker. Other standout tracks are 'Emergency' with it's manic full-on thrashing and which also has a nice 'ambulance siren' lead in the beginning. 'F# (Wake Up)' is also highly likeable with dependable riffing and song structure.
Lyrically ,the band (along with Sacred Reichand later Agnostic Front) fancy themselves as a kind of politcal thrash band in the purest sense of the words. They address issues as diverse (and cliched) as enviromental issues, animal experimentation, personal freedoms,etc. There isn't an issue they don't want to address.At times it can seem a little ghey or come across as a little too 'bleeding heart' for my taste but overall they're alright, even inspired at times.
Production-wise it is very well done in my opinion. You can hear all the instruments clearly, making the rythm section especially realy shine on 'Critical Mass' and several others.
There are however a couple of weak moments. First is 'Funky Noise'-the song is absurd, shitty even by 'funk' standards, and ultimately pointless. Another song that maybe could have been excluded is 'Mother's Day'. I like this song and it's good for what it is but it doesn't seem like it belongs among the rest of these songs. It might have been stronger as a B-side to a single, for example. Another gripe is what seems to be an over-long outro to 'Trail of Tears', the last track on this record. They probably could have cut it in half without taking away anything fom the song.
Those three things are the only reason I took away points. Nuclear Assault and bands of their ilk were (unfortunately) soon to be overshadowed by pale pretenders to the thrash/metal throne like Pantera, Machine Head, and a watered-down version of Slayer who went by the name of...Slayer-so even if you don't like this band or recoed it is still the lesser of two evils.Get this record if ye may-it's not their best but it is a nice little introduction to a fine '80's thrash band in what might just be their last decent record.
Starting off by saying ‘Survive’ is considered by many to be their best (or at least most aggressive) album but ‘Handle with Care’ is definitely my personal favourite. It’s possible this might have been caused by ‘Handle…’ being my first Nuclear Assault album. I’ve always had difficulties trying to decide whether ‘Handle…’ or ‘Survive’ was the superior album. Ah well, they both are the core of Nuclear Assault quality.
‘Emergency’ has got to be one of their lyrically fastest thrashers ever (not counting their short grindy tunes) and a logical follow up to the earlier ‘Equal Rights’ on Survive. It’s hard to keep up with John Connelly’s words on the verses here. And over all there are plenty of speedy thrashers here, more than enough to keep any Nuclear Assault fan happy. ‘New Song’ is as powerful as it is catchy. Which goes for ‘Search and Seizure’ and ‘F#’ as well. Also a lot of hails go to ‘Trail Of Tears’. These angry thrashers managed to write a more than decent thrash metal power ballad.
But the award best song actually does NOT go to any of the fast songs. ‘Critical Mass’ which remains to this day one of the most powerful midtempo thrashers from the eighties together with their classic ‘Brainwashed’ from ‘Survive’. Even the distorted bass sound of Danny Lilker makes sense here! Superb environmentally correct lyrics by Connelly which are really catchy. The way the song progresses from the last line of the chorus (‘Bring on the acid rain’) into the second verse (‘Slightly insane, the type of greed ’) including slide on the guitar is just perfect and you can not help but bang your head to this mighty song.
Whether the songs are really fast, syncopated or pretty mid paced, they’re all remarkably catchy here and the band manages to incorporate slightly more melody compared to the previous albums without losing momentum or aggression. No song (not counting short noisy eruptions) can be considered bad or filler. The worst moments on ‘Handle With Care’ are ‘good’ at least.
Since the days of ‘Hang The Pope’ and ‘My America’ the short funny songs have become more and more grindcore instead of crossover. ‘Mother’s Day’ is quite a nice grinder (better than ‘Got Another Quarter’ and ‘PSA’ were on Survive), and it doesn’t take too long to feel out of place here. ‘Funky Noise’ however, being a short funky tune (d’oh) was rather obsolete. Also worth mentioning in the funny-department is the Nazi-sample from the classic 1980 movie ‘Blues Brothers’ at the end of ‘Torture Tactics’.
The production is dirty but never too much. Less transparent than earlier works with distorted bass guitar mixed in more prominently, making this album sound heavier and at times somewhat sloppier. Not that it’s really sloppy of course but it never gets too clean or tight. Therefore the album just breaths the thrash metal atmosphere. As a whole the album manages to combine the speed metal melodies (especially vocal lines on choruses) of ‘Game Over’ with the full on thrash assault of ‘Survive’ and therefore remains the purest and most crystallised Nuclear Assault release. And bloody brilliant as well.