Last updated: 05/08/2006
A very important part of the Thrash Metal scene was and still is the Bay Area quintet known as VIO-LENCE. Even though the group disbanded in late 1993, their legacy and recorded output still appeal to Metal heads around the World. Formed in 1985, VIO-LENCE laid the foundation for one of the more controversial groups the scene had to offer while always delivering a devastating live show, their time was coming soon.
The band [Phil Demmel-Guitar, Perry Strickland-Drums, Eddie Billy-Bass, Troy Fua-Guitar and Jerry Burr-Vox] quickly took advantage of the scene surrounding them and were able to establish a name for themselves, quite a feat considering the area boasted such talent as Metallica, Death Angel, Possessed, Testament [previously known as Legacy] and more. One thing that for sure set the band apart was their choice of lyricist. Most bands' lyrics usually come from within, but VIO-LENCE took a different approach, using friends and acquaintances for the words. Often, this resulted in lyrics definitely of the tongue-in-cheek kind, and along the way the band started to gel musically.
After a few member changes, both personal and musical, the "classic" line up of VIO-LENCE was born. It was the joining of Guitarists Phil Demmel and Robb Flynn, Drummer Perry Strickland, Vocalist Sean Killian and Bassist Deen Dell that may have altered the Earth's axis when they first jammed together. One of the things that constantly set the band apart was the aforementioned live show. From cutting their teeth as a young band at infamous Bay Area "house parties" to destroying local clubs such as Ruthie's Inn, Mabuhay Gardens and the Stone, one simply couldn't find a better live band. Notably, when Sean Killian joined the band, he was able to tackle the lyric department; gone were the tongue-in-cheek lyrics as Sean replaced them with venomous epitaphs delivered at a madman's pace both in speed and conviction. It was then the young band knew they were definitely onto something. Someone who also felt the band was onto something was manager Debbie Abono. Abono, a well-respected manager and promotional machine behind some of the Bay Area's strongest bands (Possessed, as well as upstarts themselves Forbidden), was teamed up with unofficial sixth member Joey Huston to direct the career of VIO-LENCE.
With a demonstration cassette circulating in the Metal underground, the world was soon to hear about this explosive band the Bay Area had, to this point, kept to themselves. Write-ups in legendary Metal magazines such as Kerrang! and Metal Hammer had the press salivating at the thought of a full length album by the band. An offer from a German independent called Disaster Records was the first, and it was turned down in order for the band to continue writing and perfecting their sound.
While the band continued on their path to improve, a new label was dead-set on making them a priority, and in 1988 it became a reality. Mechanic, a subsidiary of the major label MCA (Music Corporation of America), struck with a deal and this time the band signed on the dotted line. First up was to introduce VIO-LENCE to every Metal fan with a set of eyes and ears. Mechanic set out on a promotional crusade by placing full-page color advertisements in every imaginable Rock/Metal publication, offering a free demo tape to anyone who wrote to the label. This resulted in somewhere between 3 and 4,000 tapes being sent out, creating a true shockwave throughout the underground as well as the industry. As this was happening the band was recording their debut, 'Eternal Nightmare’.
Their notorious live shows continued to amaze the fans and press alike whenever they hit the road. In 1988, Mechanic/MCA released their debut 'Eternal Nightmare', and in July of that same year VIO-LENCE embarked on their first tour. Supporting their Bay Area brothers Testament, VIO-LENCE tore through the U.S. bringing the fury of their hometown assault to every major market, including the infamous Milwaukee Metalfest, and when the tour hooked up with Over Kill in Houston, it resulted in the first annual Houston Thrash Fest. When the bodies retreated and the smoke cleared, they returned home victorious. That winter, a trek with futuristic Cyber Thrash heroes Voi-Vod resulted in similar results. All in all, it was a year to remember!
While the band started to write their follow-up LP, a label change was unavoidable. VIO-LENCE found a new home at Megaforce Records, a metal mecca featuring bands such as Anthrax, Testament, Over Kill, M.O.D. and more. The new record, which was due to hit the stores in Early 1990, was titled 'Oppressing The Masses', and it boasted the band's confidence and conviction as they worked side by side with Alex Perialas at Pyramid Studios in beautiful Ithaca, New York. Perialas was the man behind some of the greatest Metal LPs ever released, and his Midas touch was not lost on VIO-LENCE, as 'Oppressing...' turned out to be a sonically crushing album. Showcasing one of the tightest rhythm sections in Metal, 'Oppressing...' delivered the goods to the fans who'd witnessed their live assault a few seasons back, and it looked to be another stunning year for the band. Another noticeable strength was the flourishing writing partnership of Robb Flynn and Phil Demmel, something of a first for the band. Whereas on 'Eternal Nightmare', the majority of the writing was penned by Demmel, this team came up with soon-to-be classics such as "I Profit", "World In A World" and the title track showing a definite maturation in material. Controversy, which was always right around the corner for the band, surfaced with the initial pressing of the band's sophomore LP. A track the band had for a few years called "Torture Tactics" was set to make its own Megaforce debut, and lyrically it shook the very foundation of Atlantic Records (Megaforce's distribution network) whose upper echelon demanded the track be removed. In all, 20,000 copies of the LP which were already pressed, packaged and ready for delivery, were totally destroyed.
During this time of rollercoaster emotions, the band decided to sever ties with long-time manager Debbie Abono, a decision they would admittedly regret years later. Abono was such an important part of the VIO-LENCE machine both behind the scenes and at the front lines of business negotiations; the loss of her invaluable direction was something the band would never recover from.
Kicking off the release of 'Oppressing The Masses' were two sold out shows, played back-to-back at San Francisco's The Omni and The Stone. The latter venue also served as the setting for their first-ever video shoot for "World In A World", which found its way onto MTV's Headbanger's Ball program in the Fall of 1990. The shoot, remembered for its use of a "helmet-cam" (a fan wearing a helmet with an attached video camera), took viewers inside of a frantic pit at a VIO-LENCE show. It was well received by the public, and it was time to hit the road again.
The band toured in support of 'Oppressing...' and were able to mirror the generosity Testament showed them back in 1988 by bringing a young hometown band out on the road. That band was Defiance, and as successful as VIO-LENCE's first major headlining run was, they were unable to secure a European jaunt to help support their album, and things were starting to crack. A co-headlining tour with Alien Sex Fiend was planned, and in truth it was a mismatch of major proportions. But as with any tour, the key is to get out there and prove your Metal. The tour didn't last long as miscommunication and improper booking and scheduling pushed the band to their limits, and it was felt the best option was to return home and cancel the remainder of dates. Sadly, this poorly-planned excursion would be the last time the "classic" line up would ever tour.
Returning home to regroup, a final album was written and studio time was booked at Fantasy Studios. For reasons unknown, the pairing of VIO-LENCE and Perialas would not get a second chance to recreate the magic of 'Oppressing...' and the band worked with Michael Rosen on the album titled 'Nothing To Gain'. Recording the album was different than the previous studio experiences, as tempers and emotions flared on almost a daily basis thus making the album at times stressful. But all was not lost, as the days the band was "on" both musically and personally, they were really exclamatory of a band still able to create magic in any environment. And it was this optimism that kept them together to wait for their move since Alexis Olson was now managing them. During this time Megaforce, who weren't crazy about the final product, lost their distribution deal with Atlantic Records and shelved the album while business decisions for a new distributor were worked on. Olson kept the band informed that a new deal was always and eternally "weeks away," and soon 'Nothing To Gain' would be released and the machine would be up and working again. This never happened, as Megaforce dropped the band. In the time it took 'Nothing To Gain' to be released in Europe on the Bleeding Hearts label, nearly two years later, the band's fire had dampened. While they forged ahead with live shows and one off gigs, to the diehard fans it was never the same. Never available outside of an expensive import, 'Nothing To Gain' silently crept onto European record store shelves, a far cry from the explosive out-of-the-gate releases of both 'Eternal...' and 'Oppressing...'.
So after 8 long years history repeated itself, with no record out to support, it all came full circle as VIO-LENCE returned to the stage. In August of 2001 at the Maritime Hall in San Francisco, VIO-LENCE once again showed why they remain the best of the best with a blistering set that left the capacity crowd speechless. In true VIO-LENCE fashion they were surrounded by some of the best talent the Bay Area has ever assembled in a benefit show for Chuck Billy of Testament, yet still crushed even veteran acts like Anthrax and S.O.D. With the majority of the bands inactive for a decent amount of years, some were able to play incredibly, but it was VIO-LENCE who mastered the art of both, and with one fifty minute set they were officially back. Still reeling from the adrenaline the Thrash Of The Titans show injected into them, they followed up with a show at a hometown haunt called Slim's on December 14th, 2001. From all accounts, the August show was no retro haze as the band simply cemented their legacy as one of the most intense live Metal bands the World has ever seen. As proof of this, not only is a re-release of 'Eternal Nightmare' planned for late 2002 but a live album and accompanying DVD have been recorded/filmed, to also be released in 2002. To the masses that have waited almost an eternity to be oppressed by VIO-LENCE, once again your time is near.