Published Oct 30, 2013In a span of 11 speedy songs on Chemistry of Consciousness, the latest album by Portland grinders Toxic Holocaust, band leader Joel Grind pays tribute to all of the bands he grew up on, and we're not just talking Discharge, Slayer, Motörhead, D.R.I., GBH, Metallica, Venom, Bathory, English Dogs… and the list goes on. A flurry of dizzying riffs and spewed tirades, the album, released this week on Relapse Records, is truly the work of a lifetime metal fan. As Grind tells Exclaim!, his exposure to heavier music came very early on in his life.
"A lot of it is just being a big music fan, and I've been listening to this kind of music almost my whole life," says Grind. "I definitely got turned on to the right stuff early on. I grew up listening to this kind of stuff because my mom was a music fan herself and she'd always be playing hard rock when I was growing up, and some heavy metal stuff, stuff like AC/DC and Black Sabbath. The influences in my music come from a culmination of what I've been listening to my whole life."
Charged as one of the leaders of the so-called "thrash revival" in the early 2000s, Grind has always carried around the tag, along with other thrash-obsessed bands like Municipal Waste and Bonded by Blood. With the band's fifth album (not taking into account a bevy of split releases and EPs/demos), Grind and Toxic Holocaust should finally escape from a subgenre tag he's had mixed feelings about since the outset.
"I kind of have a love/hate relationship with the whole 'thrash revival' thing, to be honest with you. It can be used in a positive way and it can used in a negative way, depending on who is using it," he says. "Personally, I don't feel like I brought anything back; it's the kind of music I like. I wasn't trying to recreate the '80s or anything like that, and I wasn't trying to be a copycat of what happened in the past, maybe I was paying tribute in a certain way, but I also feel like I'm bringing new things to the table, too. I don't think anything can move ahead without bringing new things into it."
"On this album I tried to walk the fine line of still sounding like us, but not doing the same thing again," he says. "It's not necessarily hard because I'm always listening to music and I'm always staying inspired by things I see and read, so that's what keeps it fresh. I think if you were stuck listening to the same five records and keep writing about the same shit over and over you would just end up rehashing yourself and have no other direction to go in."
Besides a really wicked, suped-up, distorto production sound by the band (with mixing by Converge's Kurt Ballou and mastering by From Ashes Rise's Brad Boatright), blender-izing the very best elements of thrash, D-beat hardcore, grindcore and death metal, the album also features lyrics that go beyond the atypical thrash resurgence baloney. In other words, Chemistry of Consciousness features absolutely no songs about driving tanks and drinking beers.
"I definitely made my own musical concoction from a lot of things, but at the same time I'm trying to write lyrics about stuff that haven't been written about in metal before," explains Grind. "The new record is dealing with all kinds of weird government conspiracies and experimenting on people with drugs… just things that go a little bit deeper than just songs about nuclear waste and sharks and shit like that. I don't have a problem with the occasional tongue-in-cheek lyrics, but I think if you're band is only that then you're kind of pigeonholing yourself."
The title Chemistry of Consciousness, according to Grind, refers to the scientific and metaphysical examination of what happens after you die, and without becoming some kind of hippy metal band, Grind was enriched by a writing process that went far beyond what he'd done in the past.
"The album title pertains to finding the key to life and to your awareness. It's really about this research they did where they found about certain chemicals you release when you die; it's like an awakening experience when you die, but it's also an end, to this world, anyway, well, possibly… the reason I chose that title is it ties everything together. I tried to do it without being hippy about it, or new age or anything like that," he laughs.
Now a full-fledged three-piece band (Toxic Holocaust was Grind's one-man band until 2008), Grind says bringing in bassist Phil Zeller and drummer Nick Bellmore has allowed him to focus more on the creative process, as well as his unhinged and constantly improving guitar playing, which fuels the album.
"It definitely took the pressure off in the studio. I don't have to focus all the time to finish up the drums, and then hurry to finish the bass, so I can focus on my parts and stay creative the whole time, instead of having to worry about getting everything done. It's more about the process now. And these guys are so much better musicians than I am, and it makes me be able to write more freely."
Featuring elaborate packaging and bonus features (see the YouTube video below), Chemistry of Consciousness is highlighted by an ultra-bright, comic book-style front cover by artist Andrei Bouzikov, who's also worked for Skeletonwitch, Municipal Waste, and many other bands. Grind describes the packaging as "exploding with colour," adding that he was pleasantly surprised with what Bouzikov came up with.
"Paintings are very creative, sometimes you tell an artist to paint something and it's exactly like you want, and sometimes you want them to bring their own thing to it, so you can say, 'Wow, I never would have thought about that,' and that's what he did this time and it turned out really cool."