Thrash ‘Til Death #08: Flames (Greece) 1984-1996

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!


Although Athens formed thrashers Flames are indisputably the earliest thrash/speed metal band from Greece, and generally considered the ‘best’, I’d suggest the need for a quick look at what heavy metal we’d even gotten from Greece from 1979-1985 for perspective. A quick search should reveal that Flames were in fact the first -actual- heavy metal bands from Greece, period. Their debut ‘Made in Hell’ was the third metal full-length ever released in the country that more than slightly resembled the genre; Northwind‘s ‘Northcomin’ (1982) barely counts! The only point of contention would be Vice Human‘s stellar self-titled debut which featured a heavy influence from British heavy rock of the time. Not only were Flames a true heavy metal band but they were clearly influenced by the darker progression of NWOBHM post-breakout Venom. The seeds of extreme metal the world over were planted by bands like Flames and for Greece their legacy is invaluable for bringing raw, brutal and controversial heavy metal unto the minds of the very thin Athens underground metal scene in the 80’s.

Why haven’t you heard of them? Chances are you might’ve if you regularly scour any rare thrash databases but, securing a physical copy of any of their releases is typically expensive and poorly captured digital rips of their discography are common (as you’ll find with some of my YouTube links). FM Records, best known for post-Iron Maiden Paul Di’anno‘s first solo album and Norwegian power-thrashers Artch‘s debut, have protected and respected this legacy by keeping the 12″ vinyl issues sacred and untouched outside of a few (unauthorized bootleg!) reissues from Unisound in the early 2000’s. You’ll have to decide the value of the music yourself but, I’m positive that if you can overlook some small sound quality issues due to aging vinyl transfers onto deteriorating and compressed digital formats there is a classic rise towards extremity within the story of Flames.

 

Artist Flames
Title [Type/Year] Made in Hell [Full-length/1985]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube! | LISTEN on Spotify!

Though they generated much more buzz as they transitioned towards thrash metal Flames formed in 1984 as a heavy/speed metal band taking cues from the classics of NWOBHM with material ranging from Venom-esque growlers, Sabbathian balladry, and generally boppin’ British heavy metal affect. If you are a fan of the oddities and warty forms of classic 80’s heavy metal ‘Made in Hell’ will be an exciting find if you don’t throw a fit over the obvious use of a drum machine. The brothers Kirk (Chris & Andy) and Nigel “Earring” Foxxe would hire a drummer for the second album but this one gets slightly wonky when their songs (such as “Gwendolin”) call for speed that the programming couldn’t really work with. These are generally 5-7 minute songs and ‘Made in Hell’ is relatively lengthy in making use of every centimeter of the 12″, I’d have cut out the ballad (“Isolation”) at least.


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Artist Flames
Title [Type/Year] Merciless Slaughter [Full-length/1986]
Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube! | LISTEN on Spotify!

The second full-length from Flames surely made ‘Made in Hell’ look like a demo despite the similarly self-produced quality and it’d be here that the band really found their voice as a thrash band. The easiest comparison to make at this point is early Hallow’s Eve and you’ll feel this as soon as the opener “Murder” kicks off. What quickly subverts this rabid thrashing is the late 80’s Manilla Road style “Legend”, a track that could’ve fit on the second half of ‘Mystification’ around that same time. Although folks typically see this as a transitional record I believe its disjointed feeling is due to the rising ambitions of guitarist/vocalist Nigel Foxxe, who would leave Flames that year to form Thanatos Inc. and take his hard rock influenced sensibilities along with him. It is important to look back at who else was doing anything remotely like this at the time; Kat in Poland, Sarcófago in Brazil, Bathory in Sweden, and perhaps Exorcist in the United States all appear with similar extreme mindset around this time with varying results.


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Artist Flames
Title [Type/Year] Live in the Slaughterhouse [Live 12″ EP/1987]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube | LISTEN on Spotify

The last gasp from the original line-up of Flames would be the final recordings to feature drummer Gus Collins and guitarist/vocalist Nigel Foxxe. The recording is clear and captures Flames in good light as a tight live band playing dark heavy/speed metal songs. It might be fairly short at just four songs but these are some of the more compelling tracks the band had released up to that point. For my own taste there was no love lost in the exit of Foxxe as the heavier thrash and death/thrash that Flames would shift towards next wouldn’t have suited Foxxe’s ambitions well enough, who was much more interested in classic heavy metal and epic/power metal ideas. Also, again there were only 3-4 heavy metal bands producing full-lengths in Greece at the time, the addition of Thanatos Inc. was surely welcomed.


1987

Artist Thanatos Inc.
Title [Type/Year] Life Ltd. [Full-length/1987]
Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

That the generally small and limp Greek heavy metal scene didn’t find any notable passion for Thanatos Inc. is hugely tragic because Foxxe was in fact striking upon a fine form of 80’s power metal influenced thrash metal on the debut from his new project. If you are a fan of early Agent Steel and the speed metal influenced mid-to-late 80’s Manilla Road albums ‘Life Ltd.’ will be a crown jewel in your collection. Foxxe‘s ‘off’ epic heavy vocal affect and charging guitar work likely fell on ears deaf to the simmering genius within. He -was- as good as he thought he was and the confidence shows in his work here. If you’re a big 80’s US power metal guy, or if you love the epic/progressive heavy metal scene that’d come from that part of Europe a bit later (see: Adramelch) this is a fantastic find. The vocalist would leave after this album and it was a shame because Foxxe would take over and well, go way way over the top when the band changed their name to Nigel Foxxe’s Inc.


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Artist Flames
Title [Type/Year] Summon the Dead [Full-length/1988]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube! | LISTEN on Spotify

The moment you fire up Flames’ third full-length you’ll immediately feel a great deal of change has occurred and all of it for the better. Still very much informed by classic heavy metal but also beginning to show interest in the upsurge of extreme thrash and death metal the world over and while you should hear a bit of Possessed in the guitar work and some Slayer-isms here and there, the EP is undoubtedly just as influenced by first wave black metal in terms of adding rough edge to fine classic thrash metal. A decent analog might be Aggression‘s ‘The Full Treatment’ or Merciless ‘The Awakening’ in terms of sheer force but still somewhere in between in terms of fidelity and precision. The band had been fully restaffed since 1986 and would only retain the founding Kirk brothers along with vocalist Alex Ossek and drummer George Adrian (who also served as the recording engineer). This line-up would persist on the follow up ‘Last Prophecy’ (1989) but only ‘Summon the Dead’ includes guitarist Athan Skitsos who would soon leave the band to join heavy/power metal band Dark Nova. A slight influence from German thrash metal of the time and a resemblance of the death/thrash coming out of the United States in the late 80’s ‘Summon the Dead’ is rightfully a cult release for its obscure take on extreme thrash of the day but it’ll likely be ‘the one’ that classic thrash fans will see as the most timeless in terms of guitar work. The key tracks here are probably “Legend II (The Demon’s Mind)” and “Avenger” in terms of selling the value of this ‘Mark II’ version of Flames.


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Artist Nigel Foxxe’s Inc.
Title [Type/Year] War of the Godz [Full-length/1988]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube! | LISTEN on Spotify

With his original vocalist out and Thanatos Inc.‘s name clashing with death/thrashers Thanatos (Netherlands) Nigel Foxxe took it as an opportunity to show what he could do fully leading the trio as the lead vocalist and guitarist. Strange as it might seem at first ‘War of the Godz’ is an inspired blend of thrash metal and 80’s power metal that takes bold tangential dips into epic heavy metal whenever Foxxe saw fit. Yes, the guitar tone is a bit wimpy, even for power/speed metal in 1988, but if you consider the ambition on display versus the fidelity of it all it is easy to appreciate how much of a bold chance ‘War of the Godz’ was. I wanted to follow Foxxe‘s post-Flames material to this point because I felt it was the rare case of an artists exit from a band improving both the band he left and the one he started. It also provides a venue for whatever heavy metal interest you’d sensed on the first two Flames albums, the ‘what if…’ implications are at least interesting and somewhat original.


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Artist Flames
Title [Type/Year] Last Prophecy [Full-length/1989]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube | LISTEN on Spotify

Flames would use almost the exact same team, studio and everything for their follow up to ‘Summon the Dead’ (1988) but this time Chris Kirk would handle all of the guitar tracks himself. Kirk had already been responsible for the rhythm tracks before so his style is recognizable but the extra layer of leads that Athan Skitsos (Dark Nova) brought on the previous album is slightly missed. The trade off is a heavier and perhaps more complex performance overall with each musician providing tighter, twisted forms throughout. You’ll often see folks skimming through Flames‘ discography and finding less to say about their turn towards death metal but I felt even ‘Last Prophecy’ hadn’t abandoned the Bulldozer and Venom style speed metal affect (see: “Deathra”), this greatly adds to the intensity and variety throughout ‘Last Prophecy’. The Kerry King-esque leads do become tiresome beyond a bit of dive-bombing interest here and there and this is where I think the band had taken too long to transition beyond that 80’s death/thrash/speed sound. ‘Summon the Dead’ is rightfully the one to chase down and if you absolutely need this simple iteration, ‘Last Prophecy’ has most of that same death/speed metal fire.


Artist Flames
Title [Type/Year] Nomen Illi Mors [Full-length/1991]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

Flames‘ fifth album is one of those albums that I eventually accepted as an impossible or too expensive find. Around 2007 I’d come across a collector who only purchases this type of album as a monetary investment and when I’d said I wanted to hear it and rip it, he’d quickly blocked me online suggesting I was a nuisance to his investment. It isn’t such a big deal but folks are missing out on a ripping death/thrash record that’ll definitely perk the ears of Morbid Saint and early Sadus fans as it plays. I’ve specifically linked a transfer of the album that is played at the correct speed, most full album wraps available on YouTube are from a transfer done at the wrong speed.  The history of ‘Nomen Illi Mors’ is somewhat vague, some sources say it was considered a bootleg until the band had reformed beyond their initial split in the late 90’s and others suggest it was a demo without any actual facts to back that claim. The band considers it an official release today and they’ve actually got guitarist/vocalist Thomas Trampouras (ex-Riffocity, Darkest Color) back in the band on second guitar as of 2018. The sound quality is rough but if you ever fell in love with any of the insane death/thrash on labels like Wild Rags (Ripped) or Noise (Messiah) back in the day this will feel just as intense. I wouldn’t say the band had joined the realm of pure death metal on ‘Nomen Illi Mors’ but this should fit nicely into that crossover between 80’s death metal and ‘brutal’ thrash metal of that same era. It is additionally worth noting that this was the first full-length released by Molon Lave Records, and produced/recorded in the label’s own in-house studio, a hugely influential fixture in the early Greek extreme metal scene. It is also the first and only Flames release to not feature Andy Kirk on bass guitar.


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Artist Flames
Title [Type/Year] In Agony Rise [Full-length/1996]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

As compelling as the promise of a Flames record was in 1996 the actual result was a record from a project on life-support trying to maintain their composure beyond the exit of their third vocalist in 1993. Flo Gebhard‘s vocals here are less an expression of death metal or thrash but rather evocative of the even then mildly dated groove/post-thrash movement. ‘In Agony Rise’ is surely still (sonically speaking) a death/thrash metal record but the overstated, muffling bass guitar tone and a lack of compelling performances would be a failing point for the last gasp of Flames. A few things are worth noting here as some tracks originally heard on ‘Nomen Illi Mors’ (1991) are included here (see: “Pollution Attack”), further fueling the suggestion that the previous album was a demo or unofficial release on some level. Also, original Obsecration and Phantom Lord drummer Angelos Tsoukalas performs on ‘In Agony Rise’. I don’t see this record as such a desperate attempt to ‘come back’ after 1991, when they’d reduce general band activity to nil, but rather a regrouping of the project after a hiatus to test the waters. Flames would split up officially in 1998 and then reform in 2001. They’ve remained somewhat active since then but not in any serious capacity (festivals and such) until they announced a seventh album was in the works May 28, 2018. They’ve suggested it’ll be out mid-2019 so catch up with this list and follow them on Facebook [Click/Tap Here] to see what develops. Also, check out Floga Records for reissues of most of Flames‘ discography.


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