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A Look Back Into The World of 1986 - 96%

MetalMegalomania, May 5th, 2019

Let’s take a dive back to 1986, where times were simpler and we didn’t have all the damn subgenres to worry about. Part of the second wave of American thrash metal, Flotsam and Jetsam are often washed up in the wake of Metallica and Slayer’s popularity. Here’s a dig at the band’s debut, with a close eye on all of the metal history going on in the background.

Here’s a little pertinent underground music history for everyone out there. As we all know and love, the “Big Four” of thrash metal (Metallica, Slayer, Megadeth, and Anthrax) popularized thrash metal along their separate career paths during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. While achieving radio time and undergoing massive tours managed to gain them a steady fan following, a set of younger kids were also corrupted, of which would become a lot of aspiring musicians. This setup is where the aforementioned “second wave” term derives from, as well as its other variations. Metallica and other bands being the first wave, of course.

Essentially, all of the pimple-faced freaks listening to the Big Four’s early output were inspired, and wanted to top the efforts of their big brothers (collective big brother?). And for the most part, they did, at least in terms of overall quality. In terms of fame and fortune, not so much.

This situation offers an outright treasure trove for the music historians of today’s age. If you’re into lesser-known thrash music (along with speed metal, death/thrash, and other similar styles), there’s an overabundance of quality albums that released somewhere between 1986 and 1992, roughly. Flotsam and Jetsam’s Doomsday for the Deceiver is one of the shiny gold coins in the proverbial treasure trove at hand.

I’ll be the first one to admit that the band’s lure is in major part due to Jason Newsted’s contributions, and his legacy which would follow. For those out of the loop, Jason Newsted replaced Metallica’s legendary bassist Cliff Burton following his death during the band’s fatal bus crash in 1986. Burton was the only member to suffer fatal injuries, and Metallica made a split decision between retiring the band in his honour, or continuing within his legacy. They ultimately chose the latter of course, with the help of Newsted who served as Metallica’s bassist from 1986 to 2001.

I actually discovered Flotsam and Jetsam through this very inter-band link, and they will almost be held near and dear to my heart, as they were the first band I ever actually “discovered” on my own. With the story now told, we’ll dig into the album and why I believe it to be so good.

Doomsday for the Deceiver is embedded within teenage angst and sexual passion. Okay, that’s my way of saying that sexual themes are fairly prevalent here as the record was made by a bunch of boys during their coming of age. Wait! Don’t leave yet. The beauty of this release is that this unorthodox thematic presence is more-so found within the undertones of the music, and thus makes it relatable to the young adult writing this article. You’re probably spinning in your seat reading this, screaming at your computer about how the opening song is unashamedly about oral sex. However, barring this fun jam (which is one of the better songs on the record, I might add), the only other remotely-sexual songs are “U.L.S.W.” and “Desecrator,” of which none are really that overt.

We move on to my second point, which coincidentally ties in to my first point. The album is fairly mature for its time, especially considering that our fine feathered friends we’re probably just in it for the chicks (go back and look at some footage from their earlier concerts, none of them were getting any chicks – man, I miss ‘80s hairstyles). In terms of track setup, the nine songs included are strategically positioned, arguably within the best order (although this is certainly subjective). Opening with the tempo-setting “Hammerhead,” Flotsam and Jetsam follow to unload two more crushing thrash metal numbers, in the form of “Iron Tears” and “Desecrator.” Positioned dead-center, forming an immovable monolith of musical progression and tasteful sonics are the title track and “Metalshock,” both of which manifest within longer song formats, delivering the essence of Flotsam and Jetsam’s unchained sound. Finally, we have a couple of cooldown numbers, then “Der Führer” closes the album with its morbidly anthemic incorporations. I’ll elaborate in a discussion regarding this track Führer below, but more on that later.

In further quest to prove the album’s maturity, I’ll outline another commentary for you. Doomsday for the Deceiver is just so well done. Like I said, the tracklist is setup to deliver a thoroughly-enjoyable ride for the listener. There’s some fast rippers here, some slightly-longer jams, and two ultimate backbone tracks that really hold the thing together. In addition, the instrumentation found is borderline exquisite, as it blends speed metal anthems, thrash-driven guitars, and phenomenal lead guitar work perfectly.

The album is also relatable from a young person’s standpoint. Now I don’t quite think that the following argument includes the idea that older individuals won’t be able to appreciate this album, I just feel like it ties more easily to life’s newcomers. There was an interesting comment made about Metallica’s Kill ‘Em All album, and how you could “hear the pimples on James Hetfield’s face.” This isn’t a proper quote of course, but I remember reading about someone’s recollection of another writer’s comment regarding this somewhere. The quote sounds funny, but you can totally get what he’s saying upon listening to the ‘Tallica debut, as Hetfield’s voice evolves for the good, starting with their second output, Ride the Lightning. I believe a comparison can be made here with Doomsday for the Deceiver.

Vocalist Eric Knutson’s signing ability is unquestioned on the band’s debut, but upon listening to their second full-length (1988’s No Place for Disgrace), you can hear how his delivery matures within the two-year gap. Now, this isn’t to say that his earlier performance is immature, but you can hear the difference. This album is just the project of a group of young dudes who don’t really know all that much about life, but they’ve put together some jams and play a show here or there. Sure, oral sex and headbanging may be included within the category of prevalent themes for the album, but I totally get it as a young adult who once used to be there (who am I kidding, we’re all still there).

On the contrary, more thought-provoking themes are also abundantly present, albeit sometimes mixed with the aforementioned pubescent inclusions. “Iron Tears” is about love, attraction, and the heart’s ability to cope with infatuation. “Doomsday for the Deceiver” (there’s such a nice ring to that title, eh?) includes lyrics about princes, power, and corruption within a leader’s hands. There are just many interesting themes to be dissected throughout, which one would think to be oddly positioned against the opposite themes mentioned above, but the combination works just because you can tell that the band is experimenting with a whole slew of sounds and themes, and this is what they came up with.

My culminating segment pertains to the public’s perceived notions about metal music. What I’ve observed over my years as a fan of heavy tunes is that newcomers to the genre (or rather close-minded people) tend to jump to conclusions regarding the genre’s themes. I’ve included this discussion as two of the songs on Doomsday for the Deceiver trigger this issue, those being “Desecrator” and “Der Führer.” The former includes commentary on lustful impulses, including the lyrics “a moment of lust destroys the bond,” which I believe aptly summarizes the song’s themes. The latter is the more offending relative piece, as it discusses Hitler and his reign during World War II, incorporating a “Sieg Hail, all hail” chant twice during the song. If someone were to come across this track, their preconceived notions about the “devil’s music” will be further confirmed through the blasphemous chanting of a Nazi salute. However, through a quick listen/read of the lyrics, it becomes obvious that the track is meant to mock Nazis and their inhuman desires of conquest, be it regarding European takeover or anti-Semitic slaughters. The band didn’t think twice about including such a track back then. Unassuming listeners may have cared, but the band freely included these themes within their music as it expressed their opinions, and to be honest the chant is a great addition from a musical perspective. No one would dare do something like this in the modern age due to political correctness and the public acting without thinking. Just a thought.

Check the album out, its an interesting piece of metal history cemented within a fairly specific time. It’s a worthwhile listen.