Listening to Toxic Holocaust's Relapse Records debut, An Overdose of Death ..., one can't help but feel trapped inside a Mad Max movie from hell, where, to cite lyrics, "evil law desecrates a land once whole."
The mutant brainchild of Joel Grind (from Portland, Ore.), Toxic Holocaust recounts hopeless narratives of a radioactive near-future. So much so that, should Mel Gibson decide to star in a new post-apocalyptic adventure film, he'd better put Grind's number on speed dial.
The 27-year-old thrash-punk storyteller knows how to evoke the sound of a dying Earth overrun by biker gangs, hungry zombies and "demon dogs from the tomb / torn right outta the bitch's womb."
Moreover, Grind's Overdose of Death ... seems perfectly timed for two reasons: First, '80s thrash is coming back and finally getting the recognition it has long deserved (especially from snobby rock critics). Second, the United States is back in Cold War mode with Russia. Indeed, the nuke-scarred premise of Grind's music is looking more likely than ever. Is Grind a prophet, or did this all happen by unhappy accident?
"I've been doing this for a good number of years," says Grind during a recent interview. "Going all the way back to '99, I released a demo called Radiation Sickness, so I haven't changed at all to suit the times. It's great that thrash is getting more recognition, because thrash is what I've loved and played for 10 years."
Grind claims he writes songs about a "Mad Max kind of world" more influenced by science-fiction fantasy or art than today's headlines. Sure, our planet doesn't seem like such a nice place to inhabit right now, but Toxic Holocaust isn't trying to provide commentary.
"Yeah, there's a lot of political stuff people could tie in, I agree," he admits. "But I'm really not singing about current events. With my music, you can take what you want from it. I don't expect everyone to come away with the same interpretation anyhow.
"I stay far, far away from politics," he adds. However, he does reveal what he thinks evangelical, family-oriented folk will make of his hilariously titled song "Nuke the Cross." Did he write it out of conviction (i.e., Christianity should be obliterated), or did he create it for the purpose of pure fun?
"Right away, people think it's a satanic song," he says, laughing. "But it's really about doing away with religion altogether and thinking for yourself. The song's title is something I've been saying for years to people and signing on people's records. I'd been kicking around that phrase for years and finally made a song out of it."
Overdose was produced by Jack Endino (Nirvana, High on Fire), with Grind performing both guitar and bass duties. Zeke drummer Donny Paycheck, meanwhile, manned the kit, giving the album a professional punch.
"Jack was great to work with, because he let me have my own vision for the record," says Grind. "I would tell him an idea or a direction, and he would help me achieve it. It wasn't about getting the 'Endino sound.' It was about me sounding like me."
Metal bands have written about war before, of course. But Grind really digs into the post-apocalyptic end of the spectrum.
"It's war-themed, end-of-the-world-type music with plenty of battle scenes, like with my song 'Death From Above,'" says Grind, summing up his lyrical concerns. "It's not a real scenario, though obviously war is very real. But I'm not passing judgment.
"You know, metal bands aren't always making a statement," he continues. "I don't think music should tell you what to think. For me, music is storytelling. Why not sing about flowers? Because I enjoy aggressive music, and I'm not going to sing about wimpy shit."
With a new bassist and drummer (Phil Zeller and Al Chambers, respectively), Toxic Holocaust continues to play its radioactive-wasteland theme to the hilt. The previous CD's cover art was even created by Ed Repka, famous for his post-apocalyptic album covers for Megadeth. Grind got Repka's e-mail address from another label, and the infamous metal artist provided an initial quote.
"It was out of my ballpark," Grind confesses. "Ed offered a lower price (for the cover of 2005's Hell on Earth) than he usually does, which was cool of him. I grew up gazing at his Megadeth covers, so it was amazing that he helped me out like that."
This time, Grind--currently on tour with GWAR--enlisted fellow Portlander Halseycaust to fashion a stunning image of glow-in-the-dark wolves, fangs bared, surrounded by human skulls and toxic-waste barrels, as lightning rips through a blackened sky.
Speaking of Portlanders, getting Grind to say something negative about his hometown's foremost indie-rock act, the Decemberists, is also a challenge.
"I don't even know of that band," he says. "How can I criticize what I've never heard?"
On the subject of metal, though, Grind is talky: "I love having fun, but I'm not into party thrash." Or: "Give me three beers, and I can probably get down on Judas Priest's Turbo."
Finally, though, it's time for the question any music writer worth his salt must ask the leading producer of post-nuclear thrash-punk: Is Grind a secret survivalist stocking up on canned food, weapons and gold, readying for the impending apocalypse?
"No," he says, chuckling. "Now why would I need to do that?"
Paging Mel Gibson.