Thoughts, words, and images compiled by Kevin Stewart-Panko
For some of you a certain amount of what’s about to follow is going to sound like an archaeological dig transposed into words, but the present isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, and the future isn’t so bright that you gotta wear shades. I think back to the concept of self-driving cars; it’s all neat and well and good in a Jetsons sort of way, but the Silicon Valley high foreheads can’t even prevent my laptop from crashing every other day. What makes anyone think getting into a car powered by the same sort of technology is a good idea? Some of us Luddite mo-fos still enjoy the old ways and the way things used to be. Heck, I remember the furor amongst some of my fellow cavemen back in the later 80s/early 90s when CDs shifted the physical music market away from vinyl and cassettes. Thinking back, the industry’s move to new technology was mostly a ploy to boost a somewhat flagging industry by forcing fans to re-purchase their music collections on a new format that promised to sound better (debatable), be more compact and convenient (true), and would exist forever without a degradation in quality (false).
Like most people, CDs were eventually embraced by yours truly. Despite them supposedly being the next great thing, the one thing that the CD experience truly and tragically did away with was what I refer to as The Thrash Collage™.* While not exclusively the domain of thrash metal, bands throughout the 80s of that genre perfected the inner sleeve photo collage. It was a landscape where photos of bands and band members in their everyday environment were haphazardly thrown together on the inner sleeve of an album. A place in which fans could pay witness to photos of bands performing, hanging with friends, mugging for the camera, and partying like it was 1999.
You have to remember that back then, extreme music was under a much broader cloak of mystery. Unlike today, the general public and fans didn’t have instant access to most aspects of their favorite band’s personal lives. As well, the heavier sounds that are everywhere today just weren’t way back when. The thrash collage allowed fans to see what the band looked like beyond record company sanctioned promo photos or whatever ran alongside a magazine/fanzine interview. Plus, they were fun! You got to see a lot of dumb shit and infer your own dumb shit onto the photos slapped together. Thrash collages were an unpolished glimpse behind the scenes of the metal scene, one that further eschewed polished mainstream appearances in which hairspray kept every hair in place and makeup covered all skin blemishes. It was the underground’s way of further separating its ugly self from the prim and proper world of MTV—a further salvo in the battle of image unconscious, blue-collar ugliness versus pretty boy posers.
In salutation of this long gone and sorely missed art form, the decision was made to throw this listicle together, chronicling some of my favorite thrash collages from the golden age. Please note a few things:
1) This is not designed to be an authoritative history lesson on thrash collages. I don’t know who did the first one, though I’m sure someone smarter than I and with a bigger record collection will have no problem telling you, and me.
2) The records mentioned below come from my personal collection. Obviously, there will be gaps because, unlike you, I don’t own every album ever released.
3) To the previous point, I had many cassettes in my collection back in the day and logically, an album’s inner sleeve was not always reproduced in the tape’s J-card. I’ve probably never seen some of the greatest collages because I own the album on a format other than vinyl.
4) Also contributing to any gaps is the fact that I was born, raised, and live in Canada. This means that many of the versions of albums I own aren’t the original American or European pressings. While I do own some imported/official versions, many of what I do have are licenses by Canadian labels and distributors that would often replace a finely curated inner sleeve with clear plastic to save money on printing costs. I’m sure there are plenty of other albums outside of the ones below that have equally as worthy if not more impressive collages that were omitted to save a few pennies.
5) And finally, a point I’m constantly reiterating: I call them thrash collages, but I know the practice wasn’t exclusive to thrash bands.
As it turns out, when I sat down to do this, I ended up writing a lot more on each record than originally intended. Because people today have the attention span of goldfish, this piece chronicling some of best collages out there has been divided into two parts. I’ll be the first to admit this list isn’t perfect and that of course there are oversights and outright misses, but you can always use the Outburn Facebook comments section or whatever interactive feature we use around here to do something constructive like post photos of other classic collages instead of talking shit about how shitty my selections are.
11) ONSLAUGHT – The Force (1986)
Back in the early and mid 80s, I was obsessed with Britain and the United Kingdom. At that time in my life there was a collision of cultural artifacts in the form of the local airing of TV shows like Coronation Street, On the Buses, Doctor Who, Monty Python, and The Benny Hill Show, and comedians like Dave Allen, Ronnie Barker, and so on. Combine all this with the fact I had relatives coming and going from ‘oop north’ on a regular basis and Our Home and Native Land still having ties to the Commonwealth—the phrase “God Save the Queen” was still regularly part of the Canadian vernacular—and this explains my exposure to the nation’s mainstream elements. My real exposure, however, came through the NWOBHM, glorious UK punk/hardcore, and magazines like Kerrang! and the almighty Metal Forces. I devoured stories about the working men’s club circuit, shows in the backs of pubs, the growth and exportation of metal to the rest of the world after its invention in Birmingham. I had all sorts of long distance “mates” I traded tapes with from the UK. My record and tape collection was littered with British bands, including Bristol’s Onslaught. I’ve seen a couple different version of their second album, The Force and the Canadian licensed version I own features a roomier version of the inner sleeve’s neat collage, but it was the pictures of the band, looking like a young biker gang—with tattoos!—hanging out in very British looking streets and around very British looking autos that drew my anglophile metal loving ass. One of the photos was also the first time I’d seen a TV monitor attached to a recording console, so with that sort of technological genius emerging from the nation that invented the music I was already foreseeing being a lifer for and cars with steering wheels on the right side, some next level shit was definitely at work.
10) POSSESSED – Beyond the Gates (1986)
In part two of this piece, you’re going to be made aware of the thrash collage majesty of Possessed’s debut album, Seven Churches. Beyond the Gates is an album that resonated with me, even if hardcore fans thought it inferior because it wasn’t nearly as musically raucous as the debut. In these eyes, Possessed was maturing and changing and growing and progressing and all that stuff that crotchety original and ex-guitarist, Mike Torrao has been publicly railing against since. One thing that became clearly evident via Beyond the Gates’ collage was that behind all the leather, fire, blood, and inverted crosses, Possessed was comprised of a bunch of regular, not-so-evil dudes. Sure, they probably shocked the squares as any army of leather jacketed long hairs did in the mid 80s when the fear mongering of metal being equated with Satanism and moral turpitude was at its peak—cue the fedora sporting couple nervously eyeballing the band as they appear to stroll en masse through what is either a carnival or state fair—but the guys who wrote “Burning in Hell” and hit the stage bogged down in twice their weight in studs and bullet belts were just normal goofballs who apparently drove Camaros, used fur hats to keep warm, and wore tube socks like the rest of us. This collage is far sparser than Seven Churches and many others for that matter, but is notable for photos of the band with manager, the legendary and late Debbie Abono, photos of the band hanging with European metal royalty (specifically, Tom Warrior and Destruction) at 1985’s WWIII Festival, and a young Larry Lalonde holding hands with his then girlfriend, who happened to be Debbie Abono’s daughter. Note, her placing the Russian fur hat on Torrao in the top right photo.
9) RAW POWER – After Your Brain (1986)
This one is a bit of an outlier to the thrust of this piece as the inner sleeve to the second (or third, depending on how you look at it) album by Italy’s Raw Power isn’t technically a photo collage, but it is random and revealing enough to warrant mention here. They also aren’t technically a thrash band, but for an album that’s a hardcore punk/crossover high water mark, it’s become influential beyond all imaginations—yours, mine, and the band’s themselves—and their influence on the genre has been incalculable (listen to Death Angel’s “Why You Do This” and tell me it’s not a direct steal of “You Are Fired”). It’s a record that has been bootlegged and re-issued umpteen times since its initial 1986 release date, so I couldn’t tell you what the original looks like in comparison to the version/pressing I had. I say had because it was long ago stolen from my place by one of my so-called friends. And my wife wonders why I stopped having people over to the house! Anyway, when I was a kid I would constantly pour over the pictures of this rambunctious band from a mysterious and far away small town in Italy while the album spun in the background, and it was spun a lot. It still spins a lot, just on different formats. The CD reissue by F.O.A.D. Records a couple years back recreated the original art, layout, and the way photos were weaved in and between the poignant lyrics of Mauro Codeluppi. Notable in these photos are some of the funniest looking mid air punk rock jumps you’ll ever see, the clashing of 80s Italian fashion, punk rock street wear, and obligatory band shirts, drummer Helder Stefanini’s awesome hair and the mysterious appearance of Fred Flintstone.
8) INDESTRUCTIBLE NOISE COMMAND – The Visitor (1988)
The Visitor is one of the most unheralded thrash metal albums of all time and for someone like myself who has been obsessed with the genre since hearing the No Life ‘til Leather demo at the tender age of 10, believe me when I say there’s no hyperbole or grandstanding involved when I talk about it being one of the top three thrash albums. Ever. Yes, the music is fucking monumentally excellent, but so is the collage within. It’s full of smaller photos that aren’t too small to actually stare at. Included are tons upon tons of stupid facial expressions and hanging out in various stages of drunkenness. A couple of hair whipping live shots and crowd photos act as an intensive foil to the pictures of the band and their future mafia runner friends—they did hail from the tri-state area—and original drummer Gary Dugay’s cop/porn star/1940’s jazz club owner mustache. Notable for the few photos of the band gathering together members of other band’s they opened for back in the day, including Nuclear Assault and former members of what look to be a young Overkill.
7) EXODUS – Bonded by Blood (1985)
Exodus played Toronto in the summer of 1985 on the Bonded by Blood tour. Due to my voracious tape trading skills and already impressive collection of live tapes procured from fellow tape traders locally and pen bangers from around the world, I knew beforehand that they were lunatics in metal dudes’ clothing. I also knew there was no way I was getting in to see them as the venue they played was 19+ and I was 13-years-old, looked 11, and didn’t even know where to start looking to get a fake ID. At the same time, the venue was in an unsavoury building in an unsavoury part of town—the attached hotel was known for hourly rentals to assist the ladies of the evening working the red light district a block or two over earn a living. Our cities’ local underground metal radio show, Aggressive Rock, aired an Exodus interview the week after and given all the talk of violence, drunken lunacy, deliberately cutting each other with knives and broken bottles, combined with a copy of the live tape of the show I scored confirmed it: Exodus wasn’t just a band, but a dangerous, travelling loony bin that just happened to play awesome thrash metal. The most mellow thing about this band was the collage that accompanied the release of their debut album. It’s about 50 percent photos of the band playing live, where senseless mayhem followed them to and from the stage, and some artful mugging and alcohol hoisting. My favorite part is the photo of the band on the right-hand side that’s either backlit or shadowed, which added to the mystique and terrifying legend that my 13-year-old brain created as everything around the band pointed to sheer unadulterated insanity. Like how could you not look at the photo of the wide eyed lunatic holding a hand drawn logo and album title sign and not think everyone in and around Exodus was certifiable?