Sunday Old School: Flotsam And Jetsam
In the United States, the main focus on thrash metal seems to be on the states of New York and California, though anyone who knows a bit about the genre will tell you that America produced some excellent thrash from all across the country. Take for example the state of Arizona, which gave birth to an act still going strong today, Flotsam and Jetsam. The seeds of the band were sewn in 1981 in Phoenix, Arizona, where drummer Kelly David-Smith formed the group with guitarists Pete Mello and Dave Goulder under the moniker, Paradox. They were soon joined by bassist and vocalist, Jason Newsted, who was in town with his band Gangster, who broke up in the city on their way to California from Michigan. After a few members came and went, along with the new name, Dredlox, Kelly reached out to an old schoolmate named Eric A. Knutson, who was attending the same summer school class and agreed to audition for the band. The group soon changed their name once more, this time to Dogz, before rechristening themselves yet again under the moniker, Flotsam and Jetsam.
They soon established themselves in the Arizona club scene and would frequently make the trip to California, leading them to support such acts as Megadeth, Mercyful Fate and Armored Saint amongst others. They recorded their first demos in 1985, "Iron Tears" and "Metal Shock," as well as a video for "Hammerhead," which they recorded in guitarist Ed Carlson’s living room. Their efforts impressed several record companies and before long they were signed to Metal Blade Records, who had previously signed Metallica and Slayer. They released their debut album, "Doomsday for the Deceiver" in 1987 to instant critical acclaim, becoming the first album in history to be rated 6/5 in Kerrang! magazine and is still regarded today as one of, if not their strongest work and one of the best debuts in the history of thrash metal.
Despite the rewards Flotsam and Jetsam had garnered, Newsted soon left the band in order to join Metallica, who were looking for a new bass player after the death of Cliff Burton the year before. Phil Rind of Sacred Reich filled in as a deputy for a while, before Michael Spencer of Sentinel Beast became the group’s new bassist. They signed a new record deal, this time with Elektra Records, who Metallica had also signed with and embarked on their first European tour supporting Megadeth before heading home to begin work on their next album, "No Place for Disgrace," which was released in 1988. The album marked the debut of another new bass player, Troy Gregory and was met with positive reviews. It was also notable for containing a cover of the Elton John song, "Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting" and for featuring material co-written by Jason Newsted, despite his departure. They followed this effort with, "When the Storm Comes Down" in 1990 for their new label, MCA Records. They expected the album to break them into the mainstream but unfortunately, the album was not met with the broad enthusiasm they expected and Gregory left soon afterwards to join Prong.
After holding auditions in their hometown of Phoenix, the band hired bass player, Jason Ward and released their fourth album, fittingly entitled, "Cuatro" in 1992. The record included the song, "The Message," which was co-written by Soundgarden frontman, Chris Cornell, as well as the singles, "Swatting At Flies" and "Wading Through the Darkness," the latter of which received substantial airplay on MTV. The album did well enough to keep them on a major label, in spite of the waning popularity of heavy metal at the time, though their next album, "Drift" would prove to be their last for MCA. It was dedicated to Jason Ward’s brother Jeff, the former drummer of such bands as Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, who passed away in 1993. The band parted company with their label while on tour with Megadeth and Korn and would re-sign with Metal Blade once they got home for their next release, "High," which featured a more experimental tone than previous efforts.
They soon had the unenviable task of finding new members yet again when Kelly Smith and Michael Gilbert quit the group, eventually being replaced by Mark Simpson and Craig Neilsen, who made their live debuts with the group on a European tour with Anvil and Exciter, before entering the studio to record the seventh Flotsam and Jetsam album, "Unnatural Selection," which was mostly ignored. Reviews were much better for their next effort however, 2001’s, "My God," which continued the groove metal influence that had begun to seep in on previous efforts. They then decided to take a break for a while, in part due to Knutson’s desire to record country music, although the band still performed sporadically, leading to their first live DVD, "Live in Phoenix." In time, Knutson returned to the group on a permanent basis and they embarked on a sold out tour of Japan with Death Angel and Overkill. Upon their return, they began putting together ideas for their next release, which resulted in the 2005 concept album, "Dreams of Death." They also released a second live DVD in 2006 entitled, "Live in Japan," which was recorded on the aforementioned tour, as well as re-releasing "Doomsday for the Deceiver" as a special three disc edition, which included a DVD featuring rare live footage.
Three more albums, "When the Storm Comes Down," "Drift" and "Dreams of Death" were re-released in 2008, a year which also saw the band perform at the Metalmania Festival in Poland and sign a new record deal with Driven Music, the label founded by Korn guitarist Brian Welch. Despite the new deal, it would be two years before they released their next album, "The Cold," which marked their first release of new material in five years, as well as their last record with Mark Simpson, who left to be replaced by returning member, Ed Carlson, who himself quit and had his position filled by another former guitarist, Mark Gilbert. These were not the only returns the band saw, as in 2011, Kelly David-Smith rejoined the fold after the departure of Craig Nielsen. They then set about recording a new album, for which they raised the funds via Pledge Music and secured a distribution deal with Metal Blade. The album, "Ugly Noise" was released on December 21st 2012 and marked David-Smith and Gilbert’s first album with the group since 1997, as well as featuring song writing contribution from Jason Newsted, although he did not return on a full time basis. With some of their old guard now back and a solid album to promote, the future could be bright for Flotsam and Jetsam, who are currently preparing to headline the Harvest II festival following their tour with Hirax.
Flotsam and Jetsam - "Hammerhead"
Flotsam and Jetsam - "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting"
Flotsam and Jetsam - "Suffer The Masses"
Flotsam and Jetsam - "Wading Through the Darkness"
Flotsam and Jetsam - "Smoked Out"
Flotsam and Jetsam - "Monster"
Ollie Hynes has been a writer for Metal Underground.com for four years and has been a metal fan for ten years, going so far as to travel abroad for metal shows.
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