In gestation as early as 1981 but fully formed and active starting in 1983 Uster, Switzerland born heavy metal act Drifter began as the typical sort of ‘true’ metal outfit in the vicinity of early 80’s Germany. Their first claim-to-fame comes with their early PR being handled by Tom G. Warrior (Celtic Frost, Hellhammer) who also collaborated with Martin Ain on Drifter‘s logo. In this age where fantasy literature was the main inspiration for a ton of corny, slow traditional metal groups, Drifter would only follow suit for a handful of demos in the mid-80’s before their moderately speedy ‘Beyond the Burning Circles’ (1987) demo warranted greater attention from several labels. Their live show likewise impressed as they opened for Slayer on a few local shows that same year. Claim-to-fame number two comes from being signed by Teldec Records in 1987 just as it’d been bought by Warner Music Group; As such they were the first “German speaking thrash/power metal group signed to a major label” even though the label produced basically zero metal before or after (outside of Domain). So, these energetic Swiss thrashers dropped their fantasy shtick, picked up the pace, landed Destruction and Blind Guardian‘s producer (Kalle Trapp) and struck the world hard with the power-thrashing hammer of ‘Reality Turns to Dust’ (1988) and… It was critically acclaimed, the boys even toured Germany with Exodus that summer. So, why haven’t you ever heard of them?
Drifter had an immediately distinct sound thanks to the precise slap of Guido Kirschke‘s kit and their panache owed much to the vocals of Tommy Lion who could wail like Flemming Rönsdorf (Artillery) and growl like Stacy Andersen (Hallow’s Eve) yet both musicians weren’t getting what they wanted out of music by the end of 1990. The hope was that the momentum and world-class buzz generated by ‘Reality Turns to Dust’ would amount to bigger things and the result was the ambitious, ripping, catchy-ass thrasher ‘Nowhere to Hide’ (1989). The second Drifter album was driven by the demons of the late 80’s with a socially conscious lyrical focus unveiling the evils of man and as such it appears as ‘street’ thrash; The reality of ‘Nowhere to Hide’ is a mildly technical, ripping thrash metal record with Lion‘s vocals offering wild personality without going too far over the top compared to contemporaries in Target, Realm and Toxik.
Claim-to-fame number three comes with a very rare appearance from guitarist Phil Campbell (Motörhead) who plays lead guitar on two tracks and even offers companion vocals for a cover of Rose Tattoo‘s “We Can’t Be Beaten”. The cover is the low point of the album and thankfully comes at the end of Side B but the band suggests they also got Campbell to collaborate on a cover of Witchfinder General‘s “Music” which remains unreleased. The European metal scene briefly went apeshit over this album, just enough that Drifter would soon tour Scandinavia and most of Europe as support for Manowar‘s ‘Kings of Metal’ tour. Exhausted and neck deep in potential buzz that they might catch on bigger with a few more runs, Drifter were soon smashed to the rocks when Lion and Kirschke both retired to focus on their own lives. This is only a massive shame because I believe the hugely overlooked contributions of guitarists Ivano Marcon and Peter Wolff surely had 2-3 more banging albums in their blood, yet the band couldn’t continue without Lion‘s distinct voice.
There is no sense pining over crushed dreams and wasted potential as ‘Nowhere to Hide’ remains a fitting document to the energetic crusher that was Drifter. Lion‘s howling voice will immediately appeal to fans of 80’s US power metal and his melodies collide expertly with those aforementioned ‘street thrash’ aspects on tracks like “Strontium Dog” where group shouts elevate his 80’s metal snarl to an anthemic level. Likewise the stomach-punching heaviness of Marcon‘s rhythm guitar tone will keep any classic thrash fan thrilled between his bone-crunching high-speed metal antics and Wolff‘s searing lead guitars. It is a romp, a kick, a forceful and spirited hit of heavy metal pumped up on a thrash metallic high and for my tastes it should be up there with the best of Metal Church, Forbidden and Artillery. The only true fault I can find in the experience comes from Side B more or less dragging ass (outside of “The Elder”) compared to Side A. “Principle of Speed” and “Shame of a Perfect Race” feel like B-sides from ‘Battalions of Fear’ and have little of the fire of those first four tracks. That torpor at the end along with the dog-shit cover don’t add up to the perfect power-thrashing madhouse ever recorded but surely a vibrant, high-talent record that does not deserve to be so forgotten.
Stripped bare right to the bone. 4.25/5.0
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