BLOW IT UP "The idea of nuclear war and stuff is pretty interesting because it's such an extreme power for a human to have," says Toxic Holocaust's Joel Grind.
Once in a while, a name can conveniently give you an accurate sketch of what a band sounds like. True to Toxic Holocaust's moniker, the Portland, Oregon, band's thrash metal is both ominous and ridiculous. Instruments move with the uninhibited efficiency and devastation-causing intentions of homing missiles, and Toxic mastermind Joel Grind employs an occasionally intelligible growl that often sounds like he's about to clear his throat. And Grind has written many a song about the implications of life before, during, and after a toxic holocaust: air raid sirens notify you of impending war, nuke-holders engage in "homicidal hatred," someone places you in a death camp where you become "another fucking corpse to add to the pit," and when all the worldly pain is over, no less than Jesus Christ himself is laughing at you for ending up in Hell. Even the benign act of playing metal leads to lightning striking and fires burning. There is just no escaping pain and ruin.
Unsurprisingly, Grind is a fan of movies that deal with post-apocalyptic visions where people employ violence for survival's sake. "The idea of nuclear war and stuff is pretty interesting because it's such an extreme power for a human to have," says former Bostonian Grind on the phone from Portland. "It's so over-the-top. It's scary, but it's also really interesting at the same time."
But even with most of Toxic Holocaust's imagery focusing on nuclear war, Grind is attempting something different with the recently released Conjure and Command (Relapse). After reading books covering occult themes and black magic (such as Robert Masello's Raising Hell), he's expanded his lyrical scope to discuss human immolations during the Salem witch trials, Greek deity of the underworld Hades, and long-ago attempts to communicate with Hecate, a Greek goddess associated with magic and witchcraft. "Conjure is definitely more of a history lesson than me summoning up demons and shit," he says. "A lot of the stuff I was writing about is based in fact, but I'm writing it like I'm the one doing it. It's not saying that I believe in the devil or anything like that, but people actually were doing necromancies and trying to bring Hecate out and shit like that." Conjure as a whole appears to signal major changes for Grind's solo-project-turned-three-piece: Toxic Holocaust's work is better produced and more determined than before, they've substituted their punky Day-Glo cover art for a black-and-white line drawing, and they have a bleak-looking new logo.
Even if the group is likely moving toward the more austere, Grind still acknowledges Toxic's more absurd touches and how his band treads the tightrope between being ironic and serious without entirely committing either way. Not everyone has been cool with Toxic Holocaust's taste for outrageous imagery. In 2009, the group was scheduled to play a Christian-leaning venue in Nashville with the Black Dahlia Murder when some folks caught wind of Holocaust's "Nuke the Cross" and their cover of Nuclear Assault's "Hang the Pope." The show ended up happening, but there were rumblings of protest, and a local ABC affiliate even devoted an alarmist piece to the hubbub.
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