C O L U M N S
Flotsam & Jetsam - No Place For DisgracePhoenix, Arizona act Flotsam & Jetsam can be a hard pill to swallow sometimes. They have never quite made that one record to propel them to megastardom, in fact this band have never really made that classic album that would gain even a small representation of the metal community. F&J are really a puzzling group of musicians who go down in history with only one proverbial claim to fame; Ex-Metallica bassist Jason Newsted was once a member, many considering him the founding member of the group. With that being said I have never, ever heard anyone talk about the group without at least acknowledging that Newsted was on board before jumping ship to money maker Metallica and then the critically acclaimed Voivod.
Don't be led astray however, Flotsam has put out some good albums, one masterpiece, and a few average crafts during their twenty year career. Twenty years. It is just amazing to think that this band has had that long of a recording career without one single nugget of positive press to shoot record sales into the sky. They have always sold records, but they never broke any of the ground that other acts like Anthrax, Overkill, and Megadeth did. They certainly fit into that same thrash and bash category, but for some reason nobody cared. I find that a bit disheartening to be honest with you.
This issue of Rusted Metal is dedicated to A.K. and the boys. It is really the least that I can do considering the amount of bad business and bad luck going on in this camp. I really don't consider myself a huge fan. Let me say that again, I'm not a huge fan of this group. Sure I own just about every album on some format, but really just find myself ignoring their records in my collection. When the mood strikes me to play this style or genre, I am too pre-occupied playing the likes of Metal Church, Nasty Savage, and early Metallica. If those don't do the trick I move on to Overkill, Anthrax, and Death Angel. I guess you could say F&J are about third tier in my stacking order. Not bad considering the depth and length of my overall collection. I do however highly favor two of the band's offerings, the first being "Doomsday For The Deceiver" and the second being this column's focus, "No Place For Disgrace".
F&J cut their teeth in Arizona, playing some local shows and honing their craft. The early recording lineup of the band was Jason Newsted on bass, Eric A.K. on vocals, guitarists Ed Carlson and Michael Gilbert, and drummer Kelly David Smith. Originally Newsted was handling all writing for the band, forging most of the material on their debut completely on his own. I think his writing style is interesting, mostly just immature themes based on love gone bad, the love of heavy metal, or fantasy occult. The band's first two efforts are actually my favorite of the group and I hold both in high regard when looking at their overall discography.
The debut album from the group was found on Brian Slagel's Metal Blade Records, who by this point were really in their prime releasing just about everything under the sun. In 1986 the group released "Doomsday For The Deceiver" to the buying public. This was a tremendous first start and one that found the band obviously in their very early stages of development. The album was influenced by what Bay Area superstars like Metallica was doing, with fast, choppy riffs, complex song structures, and an amazing knack to be completely over the top musically. They threw a lot at the listener just hoping for something to work. It did with strong cuts like "Iron Tears", "Hammerhead", and the epic title track. The twin guitar attack was blazing, really just scorching through timing changes, with thrash riffs abundant and in full force through ten tracks of hellfire. Singer Eric A.K. was sort of like Nasty Ronnie (Nasty Savage) in the way that he mixed his big bravado voice with the sinister, high pitched screams of new wave's finest. His vocals are really the perfect combo here, doing the same sort of thing made famous by Neil Turbin and Bobby "The Blitz". The record created a bit of underground buzz, but nothing major with the metal community. It DID however interest the suits and ties, mainly the executives at Elektra.
During the mid-80s Elektra records were buying up a lot of top tier metal acts, the ones that come to mind most often are Metal Church and Metallica. By 1988 the label had a good understanding of what worked and what didn't. Metal Church was working for Elektra and everyone's favorite metal band at that point, Metallica, was selling, and selling, and selling for the label. That driving buying force is probably what led the company to look towards Flotsam & Jetsam, a band that could have easily followed in the same footsteps as those two prior giants. Was it the plan? Most definitely. Did it work out? Absolutely not. But what it did create was the only F&J release for Elektra in "No Place For Disgrace", a thrash monument that to this day is still yearning for more respect from the headbangers. Unfortunately the album just came and went, but in most ears including this pair, this album is nothing short of phenomenal.
Everyone on this album just stepped up, from the joint production by the band and Bill Metoyer, to the fantastic vocal display put on the top shelf here. Eric A.K. is just a madman, hitting huge highs on the likes of "Hard On You" and "No Place For Disgrace". The "group" chants do wonders with some of this material, really gathering that strong "union" or "pack" that seemed to fit perfectly for this sort of macho, in your face bravado. The bay area thrash scene is obviously a huge influence here but I can almost here a German extreme thrash aspect thrown in the mix. The title track as well as "Dreams Of Death" both create a wall of sound feel, a massive speed campaign built on the lightning quick riffs and fast double-bass.
The songwriting here is really a mixed bag, from the obvious "middle finger to the critics" on "Hard On You" to the gladiator epic "I Live You Die". The band fit in a cover tune as well, making a knock down-drag out affair out of "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting". Production wise this is may be one of the tightest albums of the 80s, which is saying a lot considering the hi-octane stuff that Terry Date was working on at the time. For me, personally, this record would have been the perfect follow-up to "Ride The Lightning" IF Metallica were the one releasing this. Honestly I find this record much more enjoyable than Metallica's "...And Justice For All" which was released the same year. The bass here is much more evident, the vocals are more sinister, and in all regards the songwriting is much more offensive and stripped down. This was the major difference in what Metallica was doing commercially by this point and what the raw underground groups were doing. There is obviously a major difference in the output of Metallica and Slayer (and Megadeth to an extent) to what bands like Heretic, Metal Church, and Flotsam & Jetsam were doing. I guess it would be different tiers, but really, in all reality it could be that this record is just made with more metal attitude and undeniable rage.
Either way this was THE record for Flotsam & Jetsam and should have been the album to at least propel them further than the likes of Metal Church, Vicious Rumors, etc. It didn't quite work out that well but at least this record carried enough steam to allow the band to sign another major label contract, a deal with MCA that would last from 1990 until 1995. With albums like this all through the 80s, well...there simply was no place for disgrace.
Note - I will never understand why famed Canadian metal author Martin Popoff speaks so poorly of this record in his treasured "The Collector's Guide To Heavy Metal". He goes so far as to call this band's material "poverty metal". Wonders never cease.
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