Metal Redux: Nuclear Assault – Survive (1988) (Thrash Metal)

The Band – Nuclear Assault
The Album – Survive (1988)
Lineup: John Connelly, Guitars, Vocals | Anthony Bramante, Guitars | Dan Lilker, Bass, Vocals (backing) | Glenn Evans, Drums
Country of Origin – United States
Genre – Thrash Metal (Crossover)
Other albums from 1988 for context: …And Justice for All, Metallica | South of Heaven, Slayer | Leprosy, Death | Them, King Diamond

In the late 80s, the first song I ever heard by Nuclear Assault was Rise from the Ashes.  It was a game changer for me in terms of Metal.  Grooving riff after riff, before going into an intense Hardcore style melody, and a story about humanity’s journey of destroying itself through nuclear war, in a repeated cycle of madness.  Not only was the music brilliant, but the vocals were insane.  No one else sounded like this! Luckily I managed to record the song off the radio onto a cassette, and the track quickly made its way onto a mix tape, and then heavy rotation.

After getting my hands on a copy of the VHS Series Hard’N’Heavy, I was properly introduced to the band via the following (and highly entertaining) interview.  This also introduced me to the song, Brainwashed, a song about not simply believing what is shoved down your throat by the mass media, and thinking for yourself.

So here were a bunch of guys who had genuine personality, played a wicked brand of catchy thrash with a singer who screamed like an absolute banshee, whilst also delivering on some very noteworthy political messaging.  From an interview (Voices from the Darkside) a few years back, Dan Lilker said “Well, ever since John and I got into hardcore punk, we realized you could use lyrics to speak your mind about things instead of just writing about fictional stuff. So we started doing that. It was John’s lyrics, so I can’t answer completely, but basically we figured you might as well use lyrics to speak your opinion, which is more intellectually satisfying than just copying other bands or writing about stuff you don’t really care about but sounds good.”

For teenagers angry at the world, this band was a genuine voice for the metalheads of my generation.  Sadly, based on current world events, their messages are still just as relevant.

I finally acquired the band’s 2nd full length release, Survive on cassette, and it immediately lived up to my expectations.  An absolutely timeless blistering piece of late 80s Thrash that is arguably their best work.  Now, a lot of people will say that Game Over is better, and of course if you discovered the band with Game Over, it’s hard to topple, cos it is also a masterpiece.  However, in my mind Survive sounds better, and the band had matured somewhat, and were really on point musically, and lyrically.

My original Survive cassette j-card. Unfortunately the cassette itself is long lost

From the previous interview, Dan has said, “”I’m very proud of this one. Good production, and good songwriting resulting from years of jamming together. We also tried to write songs we’d have to play 100 times on tour, so the songs had slow parts too, unlike “Game Over” where most songs were all fast and tiring to play live.”

I knew that Dan Lilker had been in an early incarnation of Anthrax, but I’ve only just learnt that John Connelly was also involved as well for a short time very early on.  One thing is pretty obvious, and that is that early Nuclear Assault definitely had that New York Hardcore edge.  They also had a sense of humour, and enjoyed their music, with Dan even staying mates with a few of the guys from Anthrax, despite being kicked out (over a conflict with the original Anthrax singer, Neil Turban), through the side project band SOD.  With SOD, (and the same can also be said for some of Nuclear Assault’s less serious songs, such as Lesbians and Hang the Pope), there was an intention to be as brazenly offensive and obnoxious, (but with humour, not malice) as possible.  These were different times and the band acknowledges that some of these songs would be not tolerated today, but were taken as tongue in cheek back in the day.

In the band’s music, you can also pick up references to Grindcore, with Dan openly admitting he was influenced by Napalm Death and early Carcass.  And of course, post early 90s Nuclear Assault, Dan went on to form Brutal Truth who released arguably the greatest ever Death Grind album of all time … see my write up on that album here.

On Survive, I love the fact they have song called F#.  The story behind this is in that Hard’n Heavy video, but it is cool that they had these little in jokes about song names pre-lyrics, and that this one was “The song in G” … now, for those who know music, there is actually no sharp note for F, but the next note along is G, so hence a  joke within a joke!  Plus the song absolutely slays.

Other songs worthy of a mention include Equal Rights (how the fark does he sing that fast?)  Fight to be Free (what a sick blend of musical ideas, with a killer clean intro riff and solo) and again really powerful lyrics, and Technology, which is a really cool song about ignorance through being slave to technology. The album closes with a bit of a ‘love it or hate it track’, being a cover of Led Zeppelin’s Good Times Bad Times, which I don’t mind at all.

I read an interview with John Connelly, (read full interview here on The Plague) in which he answered the following question:

Seems within the last decade, the metal scene has grown quite a bit and become a lot more diverse, yet the individual bands seem to be a lot more limited in their scope.  Would you agree?  What do you see as metal’s future?

There was a time when a thrash metal band could walk on stage and do a speed metal song, do a ballady type of song that was still heavy, do something technical and nobody batted an eye.  After a while though, bands tried to chase down that heaviest sound.  There’s nothing wrong with that for one or two songs out of three or four, but when you had bands walking on stage and tuning down to D or C# and doing the fast flurry drum beats through an entire ten-song set, there’s absolutely no variation in texture to what you’re doing.  You’re slamming the throttle to the firewall from the moment you start to the moment you end.  I don’t remember who started doing that but other bands started doing it also and it was like a dog chasing its own tail.  There’s a limit to how far you can take that before:
(1) you realize that every song sounds the same as the rest of the stuff that you’re doing and
(2) every band in that genre sounds virtually like every other band in that genre.  
So it has a very homogenizing effect on the music, much in the same way that with mainstream pop music, you have one band hitting big for a record label, so the other labels go out and hire people to do the same type of music …  As far as heavy metal is concerned, there was a time when you had Anthrax, you had Overkill, you had Slayer, you had Megadeth, you had Metallica, us, all these classic bands, and it was no problem telling one from the others.  They had their own sound, even if the writing style on given songs was similar, the way that they handled that particular style was totally different from the others.  That diversity started to go away and personally I think that’s when the scene started to die.”

I think this to a degree sums up their music, in that they wrote songs that sounded like Nuclear Assault (they had their own unique sound), that represented a bunch of guys from New York City, mixing thrash metal and hardcore and speaking their mind, whilst having fun doing it.  If you don’t know this band, or this album, look them up, and give it a spin … and read the lyrics whilst your at it!

Check out this Spotify Playlist with all the albums so far featured in Noob Heavy Metal Redux

About Steven - Aeons Abyss 42 Articles
I do the music for the band Aeons Abyss, and also co-host The Metal Podcast on Spotify. I have been into Metal since the mid-80s, growing up in country Victoria, Australia. Some of my favourite bands from back in the day include Morbid Angel, Slayer, Obituary, Bolt Thrower, King Diamond, Megadeth, Sabbat and Iron Maiden. I am a massive fan of Aussie Metal, and underground metal in general, and for me, nowadays the scene is very much akin to the tape trading days when metal first started; but instead of tapes we have Bandcamp, websites like Noob Heavy, and Social Media platforms. These are the tools to network with other underground metal bands and metal fans from all over the world. A little about my band: Aeons Abyss formed in 2017 and we play our own brand of Death Thrash Metal. Our music is on all streaming platforms and Bandcamp, where we also sell our merch directly to fans. Also, our lyrics are a very important component of our music, so much so that our vocalist is known as "Death Metal Poet".