Friday, January 23, 2009

Blacktask - "Blacktask" (LP Review)

This one goes out to my friend Scott, who was extremely well connected in the mid 80s demo tape trading scene when we were in high school. Scott turned me on to all kinds of good stuff (including this EP) back when finding out about music you did not hear on the radio required you to have knowledgeable friends. In the days before the Internet, MySpace, etc. it was all about word-of-mouth, fanzines and tape trading.

I listened to a lot of metal back then. Today some of it I enjoy for just the nostalgia, and most of it seems like just a quaint and unintentionally humorous soundtrack for 1980s white-suburban-teen-angst. However, a small percentage of it remains quite good, often for reasons that are hard to express.

Blacktask was a thrash metal band from Philadelphia. They released a 3 song demo tape in 1984 ("Spikes to the Wall") that was pretty good, but their self-titled 1984 EP (released on the tiny label Damnation Records) was the high water mark for this band. The four songs on the EP were titled "Sex and Destruction", "Kill Your Enemies", "Firestorm" and "Smash Your Face". That should pretty much tell you all you need to know.

On this EP they managed to combine the best elements of early Slayer (esp. the opening riff on "Sex and Destruction"), Venom (the opening of "Kill Your Enemies" sounds like Cronos to me), Motorhead (check out the Lemmy-esque bass on the "Smash Your Face") and hardcore punk. The punk influence is especially notable -- the entire EP is 10 minutes long with the songs clocking in at 1:28, 2:40, 2:08 and 3:47. This is in sharp contrast with most metal bands that were doing longer, more heavily-structured songs that were due to the NWOBHM influence. For most metal bands a 1:28 track is a "spooky intro", not a full song.

The production quality is typical for the era -- which is to say almost non-existent. But that's part of the appeal, of course. Sure, it sounds a lot like AM radio static, but how else would you capture the fury of these songs? Polish that out and they're just not as good. This is the same reason that 1950s era blues sounds the best -- some things are not meant to be cleaned up. Sadly, the band did not realize this and their 1986 LP "Long After Midnight" was polished and it s-u-c-k-e-d. Don't waste your $ on that LP (I have a vinyl version somewhere, played just once or twice). It's best to just pretend that Blacktask only released the demo + the EP. Add these songs to your "exercise" playlist on your iPod and if they don't help you get that last mile, set, or whatever then nothing will.

Standout tracks: all -- "Sex and Destruction", "Kill Your Enemies", "Firestorm" and "Smash Your Face"

Skip 'em tracks: none.

Final score: 9/10

P.S. Why just a 9? Two reasons: 1) I've been reserving 10/10 for genre-defining releases and while this is a nearly perfect 4 song EP it synthesizes the influences listed above; and 2) its "just" an EP; a 10 song LP in this vein would have earned a 10/10. In contrast, Slayer's "Haunting the Chapel" EP would earn a 10/10 because of its genre-defining influence.

P.P.S. The above links are to YouTube versions of the song, but an entry on "bounded by metal" has a link that ultimately leads you to MP3 versions.

P.P.P.S. Yes, I know this is an EP and I've labeled it an LP review. I've decided against separate labels for reviews of singles and EPs.


  1. Very cool review, Mike. Things haven't changed. I'm still connected to underground music, underground bands, and people who appreciate this scene like back in high school. Too funny. Always been a passion.

  2. I referenced it above, but I'll include a link here to their 1984 demo Spikes To The Wall. To borrow a phrase from Geezer Butler (again), "It's shit, but it's fucking great!"