Toxic Holocaust: Better Living Through Chemistry
Reviewing any Toxic Holocaust album feels a little like reviewing their entire discography, mainly because the band plays basically the same vicious, unrelenting thrash metal that mastermind Joel Grind laid down on their 2003 debut full-length Evil Never Dies. While production value, tone, and even tempo have shifted slightly in the past decade, the band’s sound has retained its scum-cum-Sodom sound and its Heavy Metal Magazine themes of 1980s-style dystopia, black magic, violent murder, and of course, nuclear war. As such, I’m not sure Toxic Holocaust’s fourth album, Chemistry of Consciousness is a massive, audience-expanding album for Portland’s fastest export. But if you’re a fan of the genre, will you like this record? Shit yeah. You’ll fucking love it.
What has always put Toxic Holocaust apart from their peers is their embracing of modern thrash’s depth. The production, especially the guitar sound, on Chemistry of Consciousness isn’t simply an imitation of that from Among The Living, but has touches of black and death metal to it, putting the band up there with darker outfits like Impaled Nazarene, Aura Noir, and Bloodbath. This album definitely doesn’t sound like it’s aspiring to the 1980s, which is a triumph for a band playing straight thrash. Grind’s vocal snarl is coated with a healthy dose of fuzz, similar to the guitars, and the drums don’t overpower the rest of the music, going for a full and primal sound rather than the harsh snare crack that many modern old-school bands overuse.
Opener “Awaken The Serpent” is a powerful and vicious blip of a song. “Rat Eater” starts with an ominous stomper of an intro before charging into a cool, nasty song. The guitars on “Acid Fuzz” are worth an evil grin or two, breaking from Toxic’s omnipresent shred-and-chug with a series of serpentine leads and a classic rock-tinged solo. “Deny The Truth” kicks in like a haymaker and gives you a solid mid-tempo beating that’s over too quickly. “Mkultra” has awesome lyrics about cool real-world government experiments (look it up). But the closing title track is the balls of the album, a song that manages to be both multi-faceted and totally merciless. There are accents and tempo changes, fun guitar-leads, kickass lyrics and vocal patterns—it’s everything you want a Toxic Holocaust song to be, every time.
While the cover art of Chemistry has a different slant and color palette from 2011’s Conjure and Command, it should be noted that the band sounds, if anything, more twisted and pissed off than ever before. There are no songs about pizza and beer or ironic eighties cartoons here; the running themes are squalor, mental slavery, betrayal, and death, all expressed at a filthy breakneck speed. And if you’re not interested, that’s fine; the rest of us don’t have time to scratch our heads at you because we’re too busy banging them.