1988 -1991 spread their legs and squeezed out some of the best thrash albums ever to grace the metal scene. Some band’s output was utterly impressive but, for whatever reason, slid under the birthing table and most people missed it unless they slipped on it later.
Let’s redress that. At least for one band. But first a digression. There may be more.
Friday evenings in the UK between 21:00 and 23:00 was the only time you could catch metal on the radio. Tommy Vance and the Radio1 Rock Show was required listening. Radio 1 had just received its own FM frequency in 1988 and the sound quality meant we could finally hear new rock and metal in all its luscious glory. Other than flipping through records in the always disappointingly small metal section of your local music supplier this was the only place to find out what was happening on the scene. You could go to a specialist but they were usually so clique that entering the shop felt like those two dudes going into the pub at the start of American Werewolf in London. “You’re not from around here…are ya?”
Some of us who were pretty poor used to tape the Rock Show, then use a dual cassette player to edit the best bits onto compilation tapes. My room was filled with C90’s covered in quickly-scrawled band names. That and other more disturbing substances.
The late Tommy Vance was my teenage hero. He played anything. He had band sessions from smaller artists in BBC Maida Vale studios. He had all the latest releases. Lucky bastard. And every now and again, between the old-man classic rock and the glam boys insufferable hair metal, he’d drop a thrash monster onto his turntables and slip his needle into its awaiting grooves.
And one day he played a track that blew my mind.
“This is “Time of Trouble” by Intruder,” he intoned in that mellow, baritone of his. And the next 6 minutes stretched the new Radio 1 transmitters to their load bearing capacity with an intense Thrash track the likes of which I’d never heard before. A passing taxi or something caused the second verse to have a burst of static in the broadcast which got onto my tape. Even now I can’t listen to that track and not hear the white noise, I hammered it that much.
Actually, it was “The Martyr“, not “Time of Trouble“. He had misread the sleeve. I didn’t find that out for 10 years. But it’s Tommy Vance. All is forgiven.
I never heard anything else by Intruder for years. It was like the UK had no idea who they were. They never got played at metal nights. Even later on, when I’d bring my Psycho Savant LP to get it played somewhere, the DJ’s would look at me with a “Who? What the fuck is this? And get out of my booth, asshole.”
Then I got my first ever CD (ooooh… shiny circles of delight!). A family member had been to America, dropped into the first metal shop they found and bought the first CD they saw as a gift for me. I didn’t have a CD player. I had to get one.
Why? Because the CD was Escape from Pain by Intruder. And fuck me was it worth the wait!
I’ve been in love with this band since that fateful Friday night, but most people I speak to in the UK don’t even know they exist. Time to rectify that with a dive into their main discography.
Live to Die (1987)
The first album was more speed metal than thrash. I’m not going to go into detail with it here because several of the tracks were re-issued on another release later. But what immediately stands out (other than the furious pace of the songs) was James Hamilton’s vocals. They are wonderfully distinctive, clear and powerful. In a world where all the new bands were trying to find the voice of thrash, James soared in the upper registers with determined delivery. Thrash bands were not known for their vocal hooks, but Intruder had them in spades. And on Live to Die he had cemented the two vocal idiosyncrasies that would define Intruder going forward – the inhumanly high pitched scream “whow!” and the impossibly long legato notes that dived across his entire range. Guys got balls like small moons. Not Death Stars. I’m fairly certain his weakness isn’t a small thermal exhaust port.
A Higher Form of Killing (1989)
This second album was an aural assault that blew my conceptions of thrash apart. “The Martyr” has not one but three intro riffs before we get to the meat of the piece, and each one ramps up the urgency and the expectancy like a catholic priest watching the new choir boys march in. And the pace does not let up. It’s all in Eb – one step down from concert – but it sounds so much deeper. Shit, it’s heavy, even in 2021.
Arthur Vinett and Greg Messick played their hearts out on this record. It’s all down-picked, string skipping madness played so fast your left hand will look like a Taiwanese prostitute giving a 30 second handjob. Anthrax were famous for the left-hand speed (picking, not handjobs. Well….) but this is another level. And they played all this with no click-track and no quantize. You can feel them struggling to keep up with the ferocious drums of John Pieroni.
Can’t hear the bass? Who could in 1989. That’s OK they got you covered. Todd Nelson lays down some gritty solo basslines, building on the dynamics and lush melodic choices of chromatic goodness they’ve already covered us with.
Arthur’s solo’s are epic and drill right down into your brain with ferocity. But never compromise melody or devolve into rampant whammy bar abuse. You can remember them. Thrash solos were usually wild flailing over a pentatonic or harmonic minor with no regard for arrangement. Arthur Vinett showed us all what could be done. Fuck me some of those solo’s are long. And yet you still want more.
The album is excellent form start to finish. Listening again in 2021 there are compositional models we still use in modern metal.
There’s humour too. “Mr Death is here!” exclaims Mr. Death on the last track (Did he get paid for his guest appearance?). And we can’t speak about AHFOK without mentioning the awesome Monkees cover “(I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone”. John Pieroni growls his way through a great Mickey Dolenz pastiche but it’s the chorus harmony vocals that make you sit up and notice. You can’t help but sing along.
Escape From Pain [EP] (1990)
Chicago’s “25 or 6 to 4” is an odd choice for an opener. But its brilliant. Utterly fucking brilliant. Escape From Pain is only an EP so it’s brave to start with a (long) cover that’s got more guitar solos than doctors would safely prescribe in one sitting, but it totally works. This is really a vehicle for James to show off his more mature and polished vocals. I swear my neighbours used to wonder why some kid was screaming “Sitting Cross Legged on the Floor!” every five minutes. It’s the vocals on this EP that made me fall in love with vocal harmonies and something I’ve put in my own music ever since. James you are a monster. You and your massive balls.
The title track, “Escape from Pain” is nearly 9 minutes of prog-thrash well ahead of its time. If released today it would still work. There are two mid-sections, all melodically beautiful, melancholy and emotional. Again, it’s the vocals that cut the Intruder sound into your skull. Which is hard to do in such a thrashing track. You can feel the suffering of the song’s protagonist. “The pain how it has grown” still makes me shiver. And sing along today as loud as I can. Different neighbours. Same shit.
The other three tracks are re-recordings of cuts from Live to Die. But with the better mixing they sound powerful, punchy and vibrant. Highlights include the intro and mid-sections from “Kiss of Death” (which sound both lush and evocative) and the pounding chug of “Cold Bloodied Killer”. They’re some of the best speed-thrash ever put to tape. Younger me knew every word and riff. Still do.
Psycho Savant (1991)
One of the bonuses about writing this article is listening back to Intruder for a couple of hours. 1991 was the last great year of the first thrash era and this 55-minute slab of prog-thrash was, for me, the highlight. Bill Metoyer did an outstanding job on the production – it wasn’t as in your face as the last albums but it was clear. So you can hear every nuance of what’s going on. Which you need to. Because there’s a lot of it.
Psycho Savant is a slower, darker and groovier album than the last three releases. It’s more thoughtful and asks difficult questions. There’s songs about insanity, abuse, society and flaws in the justice system. But never childishly addressed – always with purpose and clarity. The slower tempos and longer track lengths mean they can express these narratives to their full. Some of the concepts were lauded for confronting difficult issues.
I won’t go into detail – just listen to this monster for yourself – but there’s one point I need to talk about. The solo on album opener “Face of Hate“. Hands down it’s the best fucking metal solo I’ve ever heard. And I’ll fight you over it. It’s beautifully composed, melodic (and thus every note is memorable) and split up over two sections so we never get bored of the virtuosity. I’d argue the rhythm split is still part of the solo it flows that well. It plays out over four different grooves and builds to a stunning crescendo. If you’re a guitarist looking at how to form a solo properly then this is it. I’m not sure what Arthur felt when he finished recording it but if that had been me I would have calmly walked into an empty room and screamed “FUCKING YES!”
Sadly, despite leaving us with Psycho Savant – one of my Top Ten Metal albums of all time – Intruder did not have a happy conclusion to their story. Metal Blade dropped them in 1991 (The fuck??) in the middle of a tour (The fuckety-fuck??) just as Psycho Savant was starting to motor. They split up. In the 2000’s they’ve played a few shows and re-released Live to Die with some extra demo tracks.
Tragically, Greg Messick passed away in 2020. He was 55. Too young. Rest in Peace, Greg.
The Intruder facebook page is always active and well worth a visit: https://www.facebook.com/INTRUDEROFFICIAL. They’re still having fun. Still metal. And with the recent re-releases of the albums in now expanded Digipak format there’s no excuse to add some of the best thrash ever written to your collection.
Thanks boys. You have no idea what you inspired.
And I make no apologies for the fan-girling. I fucking love it.