Sunday Old School: Whiplash
Back in the mid-eighties, I first stumbled upon New Jersey trio Whiplash when I worked at Roadrunner Records. The Passaic thrash band had just unleashed its 1985 debut "Power and Pain" and was doing the interview circuit. I called the band, asking if they could do a 15 second radio ID for my station. A week later, I received a tape from the band to convert to audio cart, which went like this: "This is Tony from Whiplash....and this is Tony from Whiplash...and this is Tony from Whiplash...and you're tuned to 88.7 FM."
That's right, all three of them were named Tony. This tale of three Tonys began in the early eighties in the tri-state area. Tony Bono, Tony Portaro and Tony J. Scaglione got together and released a series of four demos, channeling that New York sound into thrash. While the three were fans of Bay area thrash from the left-coast, they were also a product of their roots and went for that immediate, pulverizing sound that was so prevalent in their surroundings. The scene was in its zenith, and these guys put that metropolitan sound front and center - along with such bands as Ludichri$t, Crumbsuckers, Rest In Pieces and others.
As a three-piece, you have to be tight. There isn't that luxury of a rhythm guitar to fall back on. "Power and Pain" was released on Roadrunner in 1985 before the band even did its first show. This album spawned those scene favorites such as "Stage Dive" and "Power Thrashing Death," and debuted that immediately recognizable ripping guitar sound of Tony Portaro. After this fine debut of jugular-gripping thrash, 1987's "Ticket to Mayhem" proved to be the band's masterpiece. This sophomore release included the classics "Snakepit" and "The Burning of Atlanta" and got heavy airplay on college radio.
Around this time, drummer T.J. Scaglione was asked to join Slayer after Dave Lombardo's departure. T.J. was chosen because he is a very skilled and unique drummer, able to do blasting segments and offbeat rhythms. Ironically, the only time I ever saw Slayer live was when T.J. Scaglione was on drums. Motorhead had opened at that Hartford show, and the level of sheer energy and chaos was unbelievable. A few of the stage divers got dumped into garbage bins by the crowd, which was something to behold.
Replacing Scaglione on drums in Whiplash was Joey Cangelosi. Joey had mentioned at the time that one of the reasons he was chosen was because his middle name was Tony. As Whiplash worked the "Ticket to Mayhem" album, a tour was spawned with Sodom, which saw the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Tony Portaro and Tom Angelripper. The tour took them all over Europe and Whiplash even performed at the Queensday Festival in their underwear. Good times.
With the dawn of the nineties came the third album, "Insult to Injury" and a change in the status quo. Tony Portaro recruited Glenn Hansen on vocals, since he never really cared much for his own voice. Portaro had stated that he only sang on the first two albums since he didn't like any of the vocalists who auditioned. Although this album was trademark Tony on guitar, the vocals took a bit of getting used to. Glenn has a nice power metal voice, but most of the fans were used to Portaro's psychotic snarl. The music was a different tempo to compliment Glenn's voice, too.
This began a long period of Tony abstaining from the mic, and signalled the first period of disbanding for Whiplash. During 1990-96 was a six year hiatus for the band, seeing the various members engage in other endeavors. Tony Portaro went to NYU to study audio production with pro-tools and music marketing. Upon completion of the curriculum, he opened his own studio Concrete Island. Meanwhile, Joe Cangelosi got involved in a jazz project and a rock band named Moondog with other brief Whiplash members Glenn Hansen and Rich Day. Joe was also in Kreator during the 1994-95 period with Frank Blackfire, releasing "Cause for Conflict." T.J. Scaglione went on to drum for New York southern rock band Raging Slab and also Sheer Terror and Cause For Alarm. Tony Bono committed himself to the New York band Into Another, which put out a few fine releases.
1996 brought the reunion of Portaro and Scaglione at - where else? The European tour of the controversial New Yorker Billy Milano's band M.O.D. in Europe. Billy needed a guitarist and Tony was suggested. After reuniting onstage with Billy, the two put together plans for a fourth Whiplash album. This time it would be a group of five musicians - Tony, T.J., Rob Gonzo on vocals, Warren Conditi of Apathy on rhythm guitar and James Preziosa on bass (as Tony Bono was busy with his current band). Like its predecessor, this album "Cult of One" wasn't the early thrash style. It was good solid metal, but different from what the core listenership was used to. Likewise, the following year brought a fifth album - "Sit Stand Kneel Prey" which shifted Warren to the vocals and brought in Bob Candella on drums.
What Whiplash needed was a good solid reunion of the three and a return to the vintage sound. This came to pass in 1998 when all three Tonys reconnected and put out the sixth album, "Thrashback," on Massacre Records. It was fabulous hearing all three of them again, with Tony singing, invoking great memories of the glory days on tracks such as "Memory Serves." It was the late nineties, though, and this album got overlooked in the vast sea of metal that was coming out. So Whiplash bowed out once again with the members scattering and Tony Portaro concentrating on his studio.
A few years passed and in 2002 Tony Portaro got a call from Tony Bono's dad. Bono had passed away at the age of 38, struck down by a heart attack. The three Tonys could have never envisioned that "Thrashback," in retrospect, was the last time they would all perform together as a collective. It is so key that they were able to put out that release.
As the decade went on, Tony Portaro concentrated on producing other artists. People he knew, and he has numerous ties in the music community, invariably came through his Concrete Studio to get their music produced. Former Whiplash member Rob Gonzo put together his eponymous group Gonzo and had Tony produce the single. By 2008, Joey Cangelosi came through as well, pitching the idea of collaborating again. 2009 would mark the 25th anniversary of Whiplash's inception, so talks began on putting out a seventh album.
This is how "Unborn Again" came to be. Joey and Tony decided to bring in ex-Primal Scream member Rich Day on bass to fill the vacancy of departed Tony Bono. That was the only way the other two felt comfortable, since he was an old friend of Bono's and had known Joey since the age of fourteen. As they put together ideas for this album, they also toyed with the idea of eventually putting out a live DVD - "25 Years of Thrash."
Whiplash even endorsed a skateboard, since the band had fans in the Phillipines who loved to carve a half-pipe while headbanging. This Canadian company, From Mild To Wild, even named a line of hot sauces after the band. The flavors were named after tunes; "Power and Pain," "Last Nail in the Coffin" and a jalapeno-based scorcher that was good on steaks titled "Swallow the Slaughter." Whiplash planned to put a photo on "Unborn Again," but settled on Pulverised Records' request of having Ed Repka throw another amusement park-themed cartoon on it, using popular characters from other albums.
"Unborn Again" was not titled as a nod to Black Sabbath. It was about a girl who gives up drugs and booze, becomes religious and then reverts back to her old ways. Whiplash were going to name it after the song "Pitbulls in the Playground," but decided that the eventual title had a "reuniting" sense to it. They had written all the songs in 2008 and chose Harris Johns out of three producers, since he is so representative of good thrash. In fact, the native American chanting on "Firewater" is actually done by Johns. He is part native American and can do Shaman rituals. The drumming is an interesting 11/4 in that track and 9/4 in some of the others. It was a fresh and highly unusual approach, and I thought the album was killer.
Frank "Blackfire" Gosdzik was the special guest on "Unborn Again." His ties go way back with the band via Kreator and Sodom, and he contributed solos to "Pitbulls in the Playground" and "Parade With Two Legs." "Unborn Again" had plenty of thrashers and enough good variety to give it some zest. Even Paul Bento from Carnivore jumped in as second guitarist on the Montrose cover "I Got the Fire." Tony Portaro is a big old school fan, and like he says - "thrash had to come from somewhere." They did cut two songs from the album in the end, the title track and "Madman at the Helm." This album was an old-school gala, garnering plenty of shows and festivals for Whiplash - from Wacken to Jalometalli. They even did a benefit show for Morgan Harrington, the missing girl from a Virginia Metallica show.
By 2010, Whiplash took its third break. T.J. Scaglione returned to the band in December, but left in January of 2011 a mere month later due to personal and legal reasons. Dan Foord of Sikth entered the band along with Ben Ward of Orange Goblin and Nathan Perrier. A new bassist by the name of Jelle De Vries entered the picture and was briefly left as the sole member during the upheaval. Tony Portaro assumed the helm once again with Dan Foord and Dank DeLong on backing vocals and bass. Whiplash played at Keep It True, Groningen, Slaughter By The Water and Barroselas Music Fest XV. Joe Cangelosi formed Brooklyn Militia with Rich Day and Glenn Hansen and T.J. Scaglione has been involved in the project Deathrash. Old school metal doesn't fade - it just changes members and bands frequently.
Whiplash - "Stage Dive" - Power and Pain
Whiplash - "Snake Pit" - Ticket to Mayhem
Whiplash - "Essence of Evil" - Insult to Injury
Whiplash - "No One's Idol" - Cult of One
Whiplash - "Cyanide Grenade" - Sit Stand Kneel Prey
Whiplash - "Killing on Monroe Street" - Thrashback
Whiplash - "Firewater" - Unborn Again
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