THRASH ‘TIL DEATH is a 50 week long set of features exploring the legends who crossed over between thrash and death metal between 1983-1993. The focus is primarily on under-served, unknown, and exemplar bands/releases. The selection is comprehensive but the numbering is not indicative of any type of rank or value: The order of appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!
Crammed to the hilt with striking architecture and brimming with centuries of cultural wealth the west-central Polish city of Poznań has long served as a source of great beauty and art. Though there is a wealth of picturesque inspiration throughout the city the visible history of heavy metal has only one truly grand standout, Turbo. The year is 1980 and bassist Henryk Tomczak, guitarist Wojciech Hoffmann, drummer Wojciech Anioła and vocalist Wojciech Sowula were all inspired by the sounds of NWOBHM and the increasing presence of Iron Maiden across the land. Tomczak was a hard rockin’ dude (see: Non Iron) and though the band’s line-up would shift dramatically you can hear the massive influence of British heavy rock on their first single ‘W środku tej nocy / Byłem z tobą tyle lat’ (1980). With Tomczach uninterested in exploring heavier metal Turbo would more or less be Hoffmann‘s project throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. The band had a big break two years later with “Dorosłe dzieci” (“Adult Children”) the title track from their first record in 1982. If you’re a fan of NWOBHM and you haven’t explored early 80’s Polish heavy metal, heads up! You’ve been missing out. Turbo came from an era where songwriting and melody always counted, even at their heaviest sonic transmogrification. Anyhow, the real story, for my own taste, in terms of Turbo comes within the six album run the band achieved between 1985 and 1992.
|Title [Type/Year]||Smak Ciszy [Full-length/1985]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
Each of the first three Turbo releases were a dramatic departure from the previous but ‘Smak Ciszy’ was the least surprising transition as their heroes had largely gone a bit soft by 1984 and everyone was sure the next big thing was ballad heavy Priest-rock and Maiden epics. In fact Turbo would straight up dedicate ‘Smak Cizsy’ (“Taste of Silence”) to Iron Maiden. I’ve started with this record to give a better idea of how fluid Hoffmann‘s songwriting was in terms of genre as well as to showcase what impressive range Grzegorz Kupczyk‘s vocals provided across the shift from 80’s heavy metal to thrash and unto death/thrash. Here he provides great melody and soaring balladry amidst an almost entirely not speed metal sound. Holy shit, get ready for the next one!
|Title [Type/Year]||Kawaleria Szatana [Full-length/1986]|
|Rating [4.0/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
In many ways the first attempt at speed metal proper from Turbo is transcendent of its influences but the most important is the inherent NWOBHM/heavy rock sensibility of the songwriting. The steepest parallel I could draw might be British thrashers Deathwish but even then you wouldn’t get any sense of the free-wheeling bombast of eastern European /Teutonic heavy metal that Turbo provided. ‘Kawaleria Szatana’ (“Satan’s Cavalry”) was vital to legitimizing the Polish heavy/thrash metal scene to outsiders along with releases from Kat, Dragon, and pre-Wolf Spider thrashers Wilczy Pająk; This is not just ordinary ‘fuck, fight, n’ kill’ speed metal but anthemic rock fueled prowess from two guitarists who had hit upon a magnificent stride together. Andrzej Łysów‘s technique and ear for thrash riffs would heavily inform this ‘classic’ era of the band from ’86-’90 but like vocalist Kupczyk, he’d been on board since 1982. Despite all I’ve said thus far, Kupczyk is the star here with charisma spraying from all pores as he’d learned to shout, wail, screech, and still with a sharp sense of melody. Thrash vocalists of this era were of two breeds, the fucked-up punk or the thinking man and Kupczyk appears as the latter most often. So, if your taste is anything like mine ‘Kawaleria Szatana’ was right on the verge of a classic and the band’s next step excites even more as they full attacked thrash metal.
|Title [Type/Year]||Ostatni Wojownik (1987) / Last Warrior (1988) [Full-length]|
|Rating [4.5/5.0]||LISTEN: Polish | LISTEN: English|
You might’ve discovered Turbo the same way I did, researching every thrash metal album ever released and no doubt you stopped and took a listen because of the fine cover art on both versions of ‘Ostatni Wojownik’ aka ‘Last Warrior’. Throughout their first run from ’80-’92 all Turbo releases would feature more than one version of the cover art depending on what label was licensing the release and the cassette versions would find a new variation or artwork with every release. In an attempt to appeal to a wider audience the band would produce additional English dubbed versions of this and the next Turbo record. There is a catch, of course, as ‘Last Warrior’ features a different mix, new vocals recorded in English, and new cover art. The core musical experience is the same but ‘Last Warrior’ has always felt like ‘Extreme Aggression’ compared to ‘Terrible Certainty’ in terms of sound quality. Oh, and riffs! This was a golden era of acceptance for Turbo as they’d tour with Sodom and Kreator during this time and become notable performers at Poland’s Metalmania fest.
The major staff shake-up responsible for this riotous thrash metal attack comes from the kit of Tomasz Goehs of Wolf Spider who would also go on to play in Turbo‘s death metal side project Creation of Death. His double bass drumming took their sound out of the dark ages and into the world of extreme thrash, applying a thick and punched-out undercarriage for a newly revived layer of Sabbat-esque guitar attack. The raw new school of extremity collides with their heavy rock past and the result is somewhere in between ‘Darkness Descends’ and mid-80’s Megadeth. Some of the quest for riffs comes across muddy thanks to a focus on extreme speed but you’ll likely have a different impression of the album based on which version you prefer. I appreciate ‘Ostatni Wojownik’ for its raw attack, as I am prone to its ‘Terrible Certainty’ sense of attack but ‘Last Warrior’ has a preferable mix in general. How does vocalist Kupczyk adapt? He is practically another person with shrieks, snarls and howls that land near Hellwitch and early Kreator. This record has everything an early 80’s heavy metal fan would want from a raging late 80’s thrasher, no doubt. Where I’ll ease up is that the guitar work is slightly jumbled at points so tech-thrash fans might scoff at the occasional bouts of flustered performance. I personally love this album (‘Last Warrior’ version) and consider it a massive gem in my own personal collection.
|Title [Type/Year]||Epidemie (1989) / Epidemic (1990) [Full-length]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||LISTEN Polish! | LISTEN English|
In developing a friendship and songwriting relationship with musician Robert “Litza” Friedrich Turbo would actually set guitarist Andrzej Łysów in the bass guitar position and essentially let Friedrich loose as he wrote a good portion of ‘Epidemie’ in terms of composition and lyrics. Folks refer to this as the first Acid Drinkers record because of his tandem involvement with both projects and Friedrich would take all of the lessons learned in Turbo and apply them to his other main project. If you could hear the technical thrash ambitions on ‘Last Warrior’ they’re a bit more clear on ‘Epidemie’ with a cleaner vocal style and major parity on both versions. The production is terrible and invokes a cross between late 80’s/early 90’s funk metal, Acid Drinkers‘ ‘Are You a Rebel?’ has a similar issue. The funkish sound, ranting true metal vocal, etc. It all adds up to a weird mixture that didn’t fit well for the previous trajectory of the band. What was once a raw Kreator blasted heavy metal band was now seemingly approaching Suicidal Tendencies stadium metal sounds in the blandest fashion.
|Title [Type/Year]||Dead End [Full-length/1990]|
|Rating [4.5/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube [Vinyl] | LISTEN on YouTube [CD]|
Turbo hit critical mass in 1990 as the English version of ‘Epidemie’ saw smaller release their second album with Robert “Litza” Friedrich (Acid Drinkers) would put him in the main vocal position. It’d be the first Turbo album since 1982 to not feature guitarist/bassist Andrzej Łysów or vocalist Grzegorz Kupczyk, who left the band after their performance at Metalmania 1990. So, what did we get this time? Well, a different band with a very different sound. ‘Dead End’ is essentially a death/thrash metal album that was heavily inspired by breakthrough records from Pestilence, Sepultura and Morbid Angel. Frequent use of keyboards gives ‘Dead End’ an incredibly unique sound that I’d otherwise compare to Protector‘s own transition into death metal around this same time with hints of Nocturnus and ‘Leave Scars’ era Dark Angel. It is a fantastic brutal thrash metal record that easily makes my all time Top 50 thrash metal releases. Wojciech Hoffmann successfully moved his band towards death metal with ‘Dead End’ but at the same time public (crowd) interest in thrash metal had waned far more than folks might realize and despite support from Music For Nations imprint Under One Flag, this would not be a great point of success for Turbo.
Being able to look back upon the history of the band up to this point it was an incredible progression of interests from 1980-1990 for Turbo as they’d gone from heavy rock balladeers to this equally catchy form of riff-cranking death/thrash metal. Before they would put out their final album in that initial (admittedly inconsistent) run, the staff of ‘Dead End’ would detour those ideas into Creation of Death.
|Title [Type/Year]||Purify Your Soul [Full-length/1991]|
|Rating [3.5/5.0]||BUY/LISTEN on Bandcamp!|
There is a ton of false and assumed information surrounding this release and I’ll do my best to not add to the pile of misinformation when writing about it. Creation of Death was not created as a side-project of Turbo but rather was created as an outlet for the death metal ideas of Robert “Litza” Friedrich (Acid Drinkers) after he’d been deeply involved with two Turbo releases, ‘Epidemie’ (1989) and ‘Dead End’ (1990). ‘Purify Your Soul’ was written and concieved by Litza who would then recruit the bassist from ‘Dead End’ and drummer Tomasz Goehs who I believe had exited Turbo‘s ‘One Way’ album mid-production. To confuse things even more this album also features guitar work from Radosław Kaczmarek who played bass on ‘One Way’. Creation of Death appears to be the direction Litza wanted for Turbo going forward and it also appears to have been created to fulfill their contract with Under One Flag. So, why was it a well-hidden side note for Turbo‘s history? Nobody liked it at the time.
I can’t be sure that crowds were offended by the overtly stupid Christian lyrics of ‘Purify Your Soul’ or if they were just simply bored by the dull death/thrash riffs throughout. You can hear clear nods to ‘Altars of Madness’ throughout along with similar aping of Pestilence‘s first record. You can listen to the riffs and read the lyrics (see: “Psalm 69”) to decide for yourself if this is a pile of crap or an underrated death metal gem. Without Hoffmann‘s input I don’t think there was any hope for this guitar work to be more than passable.
|Title [Type/Year]||One Way [Full-album/1992]|
|Rating [4.25/5.0]||LISTEN on YouTube!|
Turbo had broken up in 1991 due to Hoffmann‘s dissatisfaction with the direction Litza had taken the band in and I’m almost sure that he heard the demos of the Creation of Death material, the Christian lyrics, and had to just laugh them all out of the group. Of course, I don’t know the particulars of how that all happened… The important thing is that Hoffmann would soon hit the reset button on Turbo and record ‘One Way’ in 1991. Released only on cassette in 1992 ‘One Way’ was a continuation of the death/thrash style of ‘Dead End’ but the extras (keyboards, etc.) all gave way for a stripped down, focused brutal thrasher. Drummer Sławomir Bryłka (Alastor) fills in where former skinsman Tomasz Goehs only appears on a few tracks, which I figure was because he’d worked on the album before leaving the reformed band. Unknown guitarist Marcin Białożyk and bassist Radosław Kaczmarek both provide vocals that are largely indistinguishable from Litza‘s hardcorish bark on ‘Dead End’. All of the right elements were there as a solid follow-up to ‘Dead End’. ‘One Way’ was more traditional in some ways but, also far more extreme in others. Of course without committing to progressive thrash or pure death metal ‘One Way’ was doomed for its somewhat archaic approach to balladry (see: The weird missteps of “Refuse to Live”) and even moreso thanks to a cassette only release.
The band would split up and reform several times throughout the 90’s until finding the right members for festival appearances near the end of the decade. This would lead to several more albums and their official comeback record, ‘Awatar’ (2001), would help boost their old discography being reissued on Metal Mind Productions. This made great sense as Metal Mind founder Tomasz Dziubiński (R.I.P.) had produced much of their early discography. So, there is no sad story for Turbo, the key members are still releasing albums every 3-5 years and their early legacy has been recognized through high quality remasters/reissues. I do think ‘One Way’ gets shafted in this regard, only seeing one digipak release in 2009, but overall Turbo are recognized as one of the earliest and heaviest metal bands out of Poland. It is a wild discography to spin through and I feel that their classic period and core line-up from 1985-1992 shows adaptive and creative musicianship throughout. Hoffmann‘s fine guitar work ties together an otherwise stylistically inconsistent discography with an open mind and an undying metal spirit. Check them out on Facebook in 2019, they’re touring with Uriah Heep into the new year and a ‘Last Warrior’ tour through Poland is coming up quick, too.
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