Most of you probably know, or are at least aware of, UKHC alumnus Ian Glasper. And if you’re reading this, chances are that you also have a soft spot for thrash metal and have, on rare and not so rare occasions, been known to indulge in the less than subtle art of thrashing. So when Ian’s latest book Contract In Blood: A History of UK Thrash Metal, the definitive work on the subject, started appearing in books shops the world over, it seemed like a no brainer that Mass Movement should catch up with him to chat about the book and all things thrash. This is what he had to say…
Interview by Tim Cundle
Photo by Pere Ejby (HC Photography)
MM: Having the dubious accolade of being the person most interviewed by Mass Movement, you should really need no introduction, but for the benefit of those who came in late, would you like to introduce, and tell us a little about, yourself?
Ian: Ha,ha, I never realised I was your ‘most interviewed’ person – what an honour… and thanks for all the support, mate! I started playing in punk bands in 1982, and played my first gig in early 1983 – since then I’ve played the best part of 1000 gigs and recorded a dozen studio albums with the likes of Decadence Within, Stampin’ Ground, Suicide Watch, Burnside, Freebase, Flux Of Pink Indians, Thirty Six Strategies and Betrayed By Many… although nowadays I play for Warwound, alongside members of Sacrilege, Varukers and Hellkrusher. We just released a new album, Burning The Blindfolds Of Bigots, which I think might just be the best thing I’ve ever had my name on.
As well as playing bass, I like to write, and started off doing my own fanzine in 1985, slowly progressing to writing for Terrorizer, Record Collector and Bass Guitar Magazine, and then I started writing my own books on the UK underground punk and hardcore scenes. I’ve just published my fifth book, this time about the UK thrash metal scene, from the early 80s to the present day.
MM: When did you first discover thrash metal? What was it about the genre that appealed to you and do you remember which band and which album drew you into its inescapable embrace?
Ian: Unlike most thrashers that got into it through the metal scene, I got into it through the punk and hardcore scenes. There was a lot of tape trading going on back then, and a lot of very cool bands coming up through the underground. And a lot of punk bands were crossing over to thrash metal. I remember being really excited by the English Dogs when they did their To The Ends Of The Earth 12”, but I have a feeling the bands that really got me on the crossover trip were C.O.C. (especially Animosity) and D.R.I., and from there it was a short step to Slayer and beyond…
MM: Likewise, do you recall your first thrash show? What do you remember most about it?
Ian: Well, I was at the Metallica show at the Birmingham Odeon in 1986, which was on the Master Of Puppets tour, just before Cliff got killed, and that was incredible, with Anthrax supporting, both bands for about £3. I also saw Slayer there that year, on the Reign In Blood tour, with poor old Malice opening up, which was another pivotal gig; they were so fucking fast and tight, it was unbelievable. I liked the fact that thrash bands took the energy and aggression of punk but delivered it with such relentless precision; it really kicked me up the arse as far as my own playing went.
MM: Let’s talk about Contract In Blood… Tell us a little about the book from your perspective and when did you first get the idea for the book and what made you want to write it?
Ian: After the fourth book about hardcore punk, I was scratching my head about where to go next, and I was thinking of a change of tack and doing a UK thrash book, especially as a lot of the UK thrash bands came from the punk scene… it seemed a fairly natural progression. So I started making plans, but then it came to my attention that another Terrorizer writer, Greg Moffitt, was already planning a UK thrash book, which he was going to call One Foot In The Gravy, after a big feature on UK thrash he did for the magazine a short while previous. So I backed off the project – there was no demand for TWO books on the genre – but I kept in touch with him, trying to keep abreast of the book as it developed, and eventually he declared he was unlikely to finish it, due to other commitments. Which is when I asked if I could take over the reins. I started from scratch with the writing, but Greg was gracious enough to pass me over a lot of the research he had done. As for WHY I wrote it…? We all love a good underdog story, right!
MM: It’s a huge, all-encompassing book that covers just about every aspect of the UK thrash scene’s history and a real labour of love. Is that what it was, and is for you Ian? A labour of love? Was it difficult to not become completely obsessed with, and by, the subject matter and did you ever come up for air while writing it and if so, what did you do to relax in your, no doubt few and far between breaks?
Ian: Yes, all my books have been total labours of love. I certainly haven’t made big money off them. And if I didn’t love what I was writing about, I could never dedicate myself the way I do to writing each book. Cherry Red and I could easily knock out much smaller books, in half the time, for half the cost, and make a load more money, but they support me in my endeavour to make massive books that are definitive – you know, the final word on a subject. If you’re going to do it, you may as well try and do it right. I do immerse myself in the subject matter, and embrace that total obsession, because that’s what you need to finish something this huge… and to relax I would go off to my day job and earn my keep, ha, ha! No rest for the wicked, eh? I also escaped to the gym and the swimming pool when I really needed to unwind.
MM: How long, from initial idea and start to getting the finished copies, did it take you to complete Contract In Blood? Was there ever a moment when you questioned the task in hand, doubted your sanity and thought about running away to join a monastery instead of finishing it? Where you working to a deadline, either personal or professional with it?
Ian: It was pretty much two years from inception to delivery, and I had to stay pretty focused to turn it around in that time, putting in a few hours every evening during the week, and twice that amount each day at the weekends. Having done this before, Cherry Red and myself were quite calculating when we set the deadlines, for printing and publication etc., so we built in wriggle room to allow for any issues that might arise. We had to set deadlines too, else the book would never have been finished – you need to know there’s a cut-off point and that’s it… which is unfortunately why some bands never made the book. And it’s not for lack of trying at my end – I approached some bands with over a year left to do their interviews, and a few of them only got back to me after the book came out, ha, ha!
Another advantage of having done the other books before – I knew I’d hit ‘the wall’ halfway through, and was prepared for it, and knew how to get around it without panicking too much, so although it was a huge amount of work, it wasn’t a huge amount of stress this time, because I knew what to expect.
MM: What was the most difficult thrash related obstacle that you faced, and overcame, while writing Contract In Blood?
Ian: As with all the books, the most difficult thing was juggling so many bands, so many interviewees, so many photographers etc., all at once. My email inbox was total carnage… that was a fucking headache some days, to say the least. You have to be really organised and really disciplined. As for thrash-related obstacles… it’s hard to keep coming up with adjectives for metallic riffing without repeating yourself (too much)!
MM: Were there any bands that you wish you could have featured but for one reason or another, couldn’t? And despite the wide-ranging and far reaching knowledge and abilities of the thrash scene, were there any bands that you just couldn’t track down or find? Or any, that for one reason or another, didn’t want to be a part of, or featured in, Contract In Blood?
Ian: Yes, a few, mate – I couldn’t track down Pariah, Xyster or Talion for love nor money, which was a shame, and a few bands from Wales I really wanted to find to bolster that chapter a bit more, like Betrayer, Aggressor, Judgement and Warpath… I was even trying to get an interview out of Wild Pussy! And then there were a few that I did get hold of that couldn’t be arsed to appear, despite my constant prodding, like Energetic Krusher and Bastion, which was frustrating – but you can’t force people to talk about this stuff if they don’t want to.
MM: Did you make any surprising or startling thrash centric discoveries during the writing process, and if so, would you like to share them with us?
Ian: Well, I think I finally understood why UK thrash isn’t lauded around the world as much as thrash from America, Germany and Brazil etc. But you’re gonna have to read the book to find out for yourself, ha, ha!
MM: And was there anything that didn’t make the final edit? If so, what can you tell us about the material that ended up on the cutting room floor?
Ian: I had to do some harsh edits to bring it in just over the 700 page mark… my first edit was over 800 pages, and that’s just too big, unwieldy and expensive… but most of the stuff I hacked out was duplication – you know, one band saying something that another band had just said in the previous section, so I could afford to lose it. There were also a few choice comments about ex-band members and labels that people had fallen out with that I chose to just leave out if they didn’t serve the story of the band… I don’t like too much negativity to get in there as it drags the books down – they’re meant to be a celebration of a musical genre, not a collection of bitchy digs!
MM: Did writing the book give you cause to re-evaluate your own thrash fandom or alter your perspective on the genre at all? If so, how? And did it make you re-think your personal thrash favourites, the records and bands that, on a personal level, you think epitomise the genre?
Ian: Well, I’ve always loved those UK thrash bands, so it gave me a chance to revisit them all, and some of them I hadn’t listened to for years and years. I also discovered a few obscure gems that I’d never heard before, like State Of Confusion, Unholy Sacrifice and Karrion etc., who just blew me away – and it’s always nice to find you can still get excited by an old crackly demo tape.
MM: Speaking of which.. What is your UK Thrash Top Ten? Both bands and records…
Ian: Damn you! I hate this question! But shooting from the hip, in some rough semblance of order, loose favourite first… Onslaught The Force; Sabbat History Of A Time To Come; English Dogs Forward Into Battle; Slammer Nightmare Scenario; Acid Reign Obnoxious; Xentrix Shattered Existence; Virus Lunacy; Deathwish Demon Preacher; Re-Animator Condemned To Eternity; D.A.M. Inside Out… I cheated a little bit and limited myself to Eighties bands, ‘cos it was too hard otherwise!
MM: There’s also a box-set that’s been released to accompany the book isn’t there? What can you tell us about it? Was it difficult to put together? How did you choose the final line-up for it?
Ian: The original plan was to have every band in the book also in the CD box, but licensing and label complications put paid to that, and also there wasn’t space for every band on the five discs, so in the end we just kept going until we filled all the discs… a few of the bands I wanted to get on there got left off because they just didn’t get their shit together in time to appear… and a few – like Xentrix, Virus and Shrapnel – didn’t appear because we couldn’t get permission for the license (even though the bands themselves were keen to be on it).
MM: I’m guessing that after completely immersing yourself in thrash for so long that right now it’s the last thing you want to listen to or talk about and that you’re on a self-enforced thrash-cation, but… Do you have any plans for any further thrash related projects or books? If so what can you tell us about them?
Ian: Well, as it happens, I’m probably going to be editing and proof-reading a book on international crossover for a friend of mine, so watch this space… and I’ve just tracked some bass for an exciting new thrash project… you can never have too much crossover and thrash in your life.
MM: Tell all of the boy and girls in MM land something that you learned or discovered about thrash, or yourself, while writing Contract In Blood that no-one else knows…
Ian: I found out that Frazer from Sabbat’s nickname is Scit – does that count?
MM: Are there any new UK thrash bands that you stumbled across during your total thrash immersion that you can, or would like to, recommend?
Ian: I have a real soft spot for Thrashist Regime at the moment – their new album is the dog’s bollocks – and I’m looking forward to hearing Acid Age from Belfast with Adie Bailey singing for them too. Watch out for a great new band called Sun of the Endless Night as well!
MM: If there’s anything that you’d like to add, speak now or forever hold your peace…
Ian: Just thanks for the support, mate, it’s truly appreciated – and thanks to everyone who’s ever bought one of my books, it’s not taken for granted – I know money’s tight these days and I’m always humbled when someone spends their hard-earned cash on my inane ramblings.
Contract In Blood: A History of UK Thrash Metal is published by Cherry Red and is available in all good book shops now.