“Nothing lasts forever” is how the saying goes but since its renaissance at the dawn of the millennium, thrash metal appears pretty much invincible right now. It is certainly outliving the lifespan that the naysayers afforded it. What is incredible – and four decades on – is that the founding bands, the originators and pioneers they are still around and not only turning out career defining albums but continue to inspire the younger acts and keeping the thrash flame alive. Flotsam and Jetsam are one of those pioneering bands, they may not have made what is considered “top table” in the thrash world but they sure as hell have persevered, riding the storm of an ever changing musical landscape. It has not always been a straight road with numerous line up changes – vocalist Eric “AK” Knutson being their only consistent member – and some label hopping but this Arizona quintet has turned out some stunning records, are a dynamite live act and are one of the hardest working bands – not just in thrash metal – but the business that we call metal.
Originally forming in 1981, the band change their name three times before settling on Flotsam And Jetsam in 1984. They released their legendary debut album Doomsday For The Deceiver in 1986 to rave reviews including the famous 6K score in Kerrang! magazine, the only band to ever receive more than the usual maximum 5K. The line up that recorded Doomsday featured one Jason Newsted who left the band to take up bass playing duties in Metallica following the tragic death of Cliff Burton. Newsted was replaced by Michael Spencer and released their equally legendary sophomore effort No Place For Disgrace in 1988 on Elektra Records. 1990 saw a further label move to MCA for When The Storm Comes Down; to this day a terrific album – albeit blighted by a thin production – it featured songs with off centre and more progressive arrangements and some seriously creative lyrics showing that Flotsam were prepared to take risks. The early 1990s produced two more excellent records in 1992’s Cuatro and 1995’s commercially tinged Drift. For the remainder of the decade and into the new millennium, Flotsam And Jetsam maintained a profile and releasing albums on indie labels before 2011’s The Cold renewed interest in the band. 2013’s crowdfunded Ugly Noise saw the return of founding drummer Kelly David Smith and Michael Spencer on bass and the arrival of guitarist Steve Conley. While Smith did leave the band again – to be replaced by Jason Bittner – in 2014, Conley and Spencer became part of the writing team going forward. Whether the self titled release in 2016 was considered a new era or not, it was a stunning returned to form. There was one more line up change in 2017 with Bittner leaving to join fellow thrashers Overkill to be replaced by former Fifth Angel/Alice Cooper man Ken Mary for their equally impressive The End Of Chaos in 2018.
Shiny new music from a beloved band can easily be seen as ‘career best’ but Blood In The Water truly is; encapsulating all of the elements of the Flotsam sound married with perfect mixing and production that makes the entire package head shaking-ly brilliant. On the back of the Flotsam And Jetsam and The End Of Chaos, Flotsam And Jetsam have something of a hot streak going on and a solidified band – with new-ish bass player Bill Boldily on board has the pieces in place. The drumming is incredible. Ken Mary is a skilled sticks-man for sure but is not necessarily known for the thrash genre, so get ready for wide eyes on opening title track. The sound is huge but Mary’s drumming is simply sublime throughout the whole record. The mixing really is tremendous, not a single element of the quintet’s efforts are wasted whether it be the sumptuous bass lines or the guitar solos that burst the seams. The pacing is absolutely spot on, even within the songs themselves with that title track, thrash on its verses and dropping the tempo on the choruses and whether this makes Flotsam more of a hard rock/power metal act – it does not matter, this is a band on fire and taking every element of their being to make an album that pummels in one moment and soothes the next. This is something that made Flotsam And Jetsam a stand out band – even in their early days, their penchant for nuances in their material, getting off of the thrash road for a detour and then coming back to fire on all cylindars – and Blood In The Water is full of such moments.
Technical proficiency has never been in question for Flotsam And Jetsam but everything feels tighter and as a result it kicks more ass. The guitar interplay between Michael Gilbert and Steve Conley is just insane, it is wound so tight that it comes across as leaner, meaner and as heavy as hell. Erik AK is in top form with that unmistakable voice of his and maybe the high pitched wails on that legendary debut are not possible but it is a voice now of grit and mixed with the tempos and terrific music, AK sounds even more deadlier than ever. Burn The Sky is a perfect example with the bam-bam-bam of the verse and then Eric practically croons on the pre-chorus “…you’re not the one to be so bold, yeah, making decisions that only God should hold” before kicking in that up-tempo chorus.
There is not a single poor track on Blood In The Water, it is just rammed packed with absolutely quality material that Flotsam And Jetsam should be well and truly proud of. There has to be special mention for Walls though which is just a masterpiece in song writing. A melodic tune that still has the hints of aggression but the melody is so addictive, the lyrics are jammed into the skull after three listens. There has been nothing wrong with the previous singles Blood In The Water, Burn The Sky or Brace For Impact but – all heavy hitters – while Walls could have shown that other side of the band where melody is king and superb song writing is its crown.
Flotsam And Jetsam has rarely disappointed in 35 years, they have adapted to changing times and delivered engaging and on some occasions challenging music. On the other hand, they have been one of those bands that the initiated knew about and never rose above that level and the truth is that anyone looking the other way has been missing out. Flotsam And Jetsam and The End Of Chaos were exceptional records but Blood In The Water trumps them hands down – it is that good. Not just a a thrash masterclass, a modern classic metal album – all hail – FLOTZ ‘TIL DEATH!.
Blood In The Water is released on 4 June, 2021 by AFM Records and is available for pre-order.