March 11, 2022

During thrash metal’s 1980s heyday, it was the United States and Europe that made the biggest international splash. The US had San Francisco’s Bay Area and the “Big 4”, whereas Europe – in particular Germany – had their own Teutonic titans with bands such as Kreator, Sodom and Destruction. The UK did not make as much of an impact on the world stage as it should have done but it was not for the lack of trying. Britain had a considerable amount of thrash bands – and some unique ones at that and in terms of contenders for international greatness, there is no question that Xentrix should have been counted in that number. Formed in Leyland in the north west of England of the United Kingdom, the quartet was the school band of vocalist/guitarist Christ Astley and went by the name of Sweet Vengeance. Filling the ranks were Kristian Harvard on guitar, drummer Dennis Gasser and bassist Paul MacKenzie and they gigged the local area initially covering Metallica tunes. Following the recording of a demo, the band’s manager invited A&R from powerhouse independent metal label Roadrunner who signed the band – with one caveat – they had to lose the name and so Sweet Vengeance became Xentrix.

Xentrix’s debut album Shattered Existence was released in September 1989 and was not a record that went unnoticed with the album hit the UK top 40 album charts peaking at no. 31. The album was well regarded at the time and it is not difficult to hear why with it still packing a serious punch more than three decades later. There is something of an elephant in the room though and Xentrix did get lumbered with Metallica comparisons. The press did not help by dubbing Xentrix as “the British Metallica” – although in fairness, the same was said of Paradise Lost on their 1995 Draconian Times album. It was undeniable that vocalist Chris Astley did have a slight Hetfield-like timbre to his voice but it was more the odd word and vocal line than simly trying to be Hetfield. What Xentrix did do was harness that Bay Area thrash sound and added a British spin to it which was captured by producer John Cuniberti who already had Bay Area thrash recording credits with Vio-Lence and Forbidden. Shattered Existence has all of the elements, incisor like guitar, different drum tempos, a thumping bass – all crystal clear – and with Astley’s gritty but melodic voice, everything remains well placed. The album does herald a young band that had ideas, most of the album was written before being signed and the practice pays off in spades based on the performances alone but rather than being thrash by numbers, there was a desire to experiment and there are flickers of bright ideas throughout. Opener No Compromise became a live staple and a serious pit starter, the helix guitar sound wrapped around the opening riffs and pummeling drums, which ups the heart rate somewhat. It is second track Balance Of Power where Xentrix breaks cover, though. Sure, it sounded like another thrash song at first, a gnarly opening before settling into another riff but it is the Iron Maiden like short duelling solo mid track and the tempo changes that comes out of nowhere . Crimes is not short of heft with the rolling guitar on the intro but it is the memorable chorus that is the real throat grabber. Shattered Existence is one of those records that just still sounds fresh, it is young, it is hungry, not short of ambition and performed by a well practiced band and is not short of song writing talent, either. With the resurgence in thrash metal, Shattered Existence fits into the landscape and remains one of those landmark albums that rightly deserves to be termed “classic”. This edition adds the Ghostbusters EP that was released in 1990, the song itself was a practice room jam, a joke that made it out as a single and the band did generate some attention from it. Ghostbusters is quirky but still sounds good to this day – who ever thought that “I ain’t afraid of no ghost?” could sound so good with the thrash treatment? It would have been easy to have a couple of throwaway numbers fill out the EP but both Nobody’s Perfect and Interrogate are great songs that again showed that Xentrix had no plans to stand still and were looking to develop.

Second album For Whose Advantage? is where Xentrix came of age. The approach was that if the band wanted to be in the big leagues then they had to be like Metallica and Megadeth. Again and despite the comparisons, Xentrix were not mere copyists, it was more of a show of forethought in what their approach should be to scale the same heights and this meant upping the ante in their song writing. For Whose Advantage? – originally released in 1990 – had so much going for it, that it should rightly be considered their best album and one aspect of that was song construction which was leaps and bounds over their debut album. There are constant flushes of excitement throughout and it was the mixture of material and the ebb and flow and an almost progressive nature to the album. Rather than just better songs set into a thrash template, those tempos and time changes on the debut were far more prominent which added considerable depth and texture to the songs. There are of course the thrashers, Black Embrace remains something of a rager and with bucket load of belligerence. Once again, it is the opening songs thought that are the attention grabbers, the awesome Questions played with those tempos and the drums into the chorus are just exquisite; a mid section breakdown, solos, another time change but those lyrics in the last third just hang around when the song is long finished “why ask the question when there is no answer? Why play the game when there is no way to win?” – it literally has everything. The title track is one of the best songs in Xentrix catalogue and while it is more slow burn in its approach, there is an air of menace to it which has the hairs standing up. The band managed to create an album full of songs that all own their identities, there could be no accusation of Xentrix writing the same song over and over and there is even a short acoustic interlude that breaks up the album without denting its momentum. Human Condition leaves plenty of space for the bass to shine through, the solos don’t take over and there is the one-two between thrash and heavy riff work. The only odd song out is the cover of Gillan’s Running White Faced City Boy but this was Xentrix who always said that they wanted to try something different and were never afraid to to show their hands. It is an odd inclusion, off kilter but it does work as the last track. As per Shattered Existence, For Whose Advantage? includes extra tracks in the Dilute To Taste EP from 1991 and the live tracks are a riot. On the whole, For Whose Advantage? is Xentrix at their glorious best where in terms of song writing, it was the bar not only that they were aiming for but managed to leap over.

The passage of time can add a perspective to music that was not there originally a future unknown becomes a look in the rearview mirror and this is something that really has to be applied to Xentrix’s third album. To say that Kin – originally released in 1992 – was not met with unanimous fervour is something of an understatement but there needs to be some flesh added to the bones of that perspective. It is hardly an unknown – Metallica’s 1991 self titled “Black” album changed everything. How could the granddaddy’s of thrash take a different turn, become the biggest metal band in the world and other acts do not look in their direction for inspiration? In retrospect, some of the criticism laid at Kin‘s door does come across as harsh when viewed now but read the liner notes of this reissue and the fact that the creators of the work do not like it that much is something that makes the bitterest pill difficult to sugar coat. Taken with the benefit of hindsight, at the time or now, Kin is not a bad album but it suffers from the changing times and to quote the band themselves “a step into the unknown” seeing a major influence take a particular route which created a crossroads for thrash in general Xentrix were not alone in this and Testament’s The Ritual from the same year suffers from the same affliction. What remains good about Kin is that Xentrix continued on their path in terms of song writing and the fact that some of the tracks are quite complex and intricate compositions. To an extent, it is a forced hand with the style though and such as the “ballad that turns heavy” which became something of a thrash trope. No More Time is hardly a terrible song and it is well constructed, Astley is singing, there are keys and dreamy guitar sequences that heads to a solo that then builds up to add layers to the guitar and the mid section before a juicy riffs kicks. In fairness to the band, they were trying to find their way and which direction to go in while surveying their surroundings which does leave the album feeling at odds with itself. There are some good songs such as opener The Order Of Chaos and second track A Friend To You but there are too many lumbering and mid-tempo songs that scuttles the momentum and as a whole, Kin felt like it did want to be heavy but just could not muster the energy which in turn muted the impact and a had band lost at those crossroads. As with other editions, Kin contains bonus songs and there are few albums where demos sound as good and improve the main material. Kin remains an interesting album because if ever there was an album where changing times had an impact then look no further. Viewing it now with a current perspective may change the mind of its original critics but it is a conflicted record that will remain divisive.

Beyond Kin, Xentrix did not option to re-sign with Roadrunner and instead looked to another independent label. Astley felt that the band was selling itself short but he was outvoted and accordingly left the band. Xentrix released their last album called Scourge in 1996. Xentrix reformed with Astley in 2006 and there were plans to record with him but eventually, Jay Walsh was recruited and Xentrix released Bury The Pain in 2019.

These editions have been revitalised with excellent sound on the remasters – especially For Whose Advantage? which sound immense but all three reissues have improved sound. There are excellent liner notes courtesy of Jason Arnopp and booklets include photos from the band’s archive.

UK thrash would have been a lot poorer without Xentrix and both Shattered Existence and For Whose Advantage? should be considered essential. Kin may be divisive but is still a worthwhile addition to a collection – thrash or otherwise.

Shattered Existence is out now on Cherry Red/Dissonance

For Whose Advantage? and Kin will be released on April 22