Thrash ‘Til Death #21: Epidemic (United States) 1987-1994

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 band appearance is arbitrarily chosen. E-mail me if you want to suggest any relevant bands!


Thanks to several intrepid postmortem interviews in more recent years we have a very detailed history of San Francisco, California death-thrashers Epidemic as they’d rise from high school talent show thrash band towards Metal Blade signed death/thrashers on the cusp of the groove metal movement. Though the band are generally revered in the greater classic thrash metal fandom they’re traditionally lumped in with groups like Demolition Hammer, Gammacide, and Devastation (Texas) thanks to their ‘classic in hindsight’ second full-length ‘Decameron’. It is surely a mighty peak, and in my Top 50 favorite thrash metal records of all time, but the full picture of Epidemic’s discography is just as exciting and rewarding a listen. Thankfully the year have been kind to the music the band left behind when they disbanded in 1994 and all of their recordings have been lovingly restored, remastered and collected respectfully. There aren’t a ton of side-projects or offshoots to really get into this week so it’ll be an all-killer no-filler kind of entry as we witness the rise and fall of these Slayer-loving teenaged headbangers.


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Artist Epidemic
Title [Type/Year] Immortal Minority [Demo/1988]
Rating [3.25/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp: Tracks 15-19

After a lukewarm talent show appearance featuring S.O.D. and Metallica covers and before Epidemic was anything more than some fun between teenaged metal heads they would enter a ‘battle of the bands’ where the first prize was to open for (the then shit hot) Death Angel in a local show. Their punkish Slayer influenced thrash would win over the crowds in the competition and on stage opening for the legendary thrashers. From there it seems the’d begun to take the whole thing seriously along the way and a demo was ready to go by the end of 1987. Their style could have been passable as late 80’s crossover thrash where you could hear echoes of (again) Slayer, D.R.I., the Exploited, that would generally resemble some of the harder-edged crossover out of Germany at the time (Erosion, Mottek) and I’d say a hit of Suicidal Tendencies for good measure. I’m not saying the demo is worthless but they weren’t anywhere near their own musical goals and it sounded like they could barely keep up.


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Artist Epidemic
Title [Type/Year] Demo ’89 [Demo/1989]
Rating [4.0/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp: Tracks 1-9

This would be the big breakthrough for Epidemic in terms of skill, songwriting and professional sound and that standard would never drop beyond this point. This 1989 demo had gotten them signed to the small (somewhat influential) and short-lived Metalcore Records for their debut album. This saw the band replacing drummer Geoff Bruce with Bob Cochran. Bruce wouldn’t show up on the metal radar beyond that point apart form a stint in San Jose industrial/groove metal band Spitkiss in the late 90’s. Cochran was a talented player who could absolutely destroy the kit and adapted to the emerging crossover between hardcore punk influenced thrash and brutal thrash metal. Apart from the part where the vocalist girlishly says “Cheeseburger” it is one of the finer brutal thrash demos of the late 80’s thanks to Erik Moggridge‘s sharpened guitar work and vocalist Carl Fulli stepping up to the front with a more abrupt and angered tone that seemed influenced by Orange Country hardcore and Mystic Records type of deranged crossover. It rips from front to back and more or less sets the framework/tracklist for their debut album which would release that same year.


 

Artist Epidemic
Title [Type/Year] The Truth of What Will Be… [Full-length/1989]
Rating [4.25/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

If you weren’t keyed into Bay Area thrash, crossover thrash, and only came to Epidemic‘s back catalog through their death metal focused records it’d be easy to see ‘The Truth of What Will Be…’ in a fuzzy light. The often maniacal hardcore punk/Slayer-esque vocals and the d-beat / heavy thrash hybridization has lead many a fool to consider this a ‘grindcore’ record or a proto-death metal album but don’t poop in the pool on this one, that is absurd. This is what it sounds like when a love for hardcore punk and thrash metal sounded like in the late 80’s. Hey, no doubt they loved death metal at this point but these songs were almost all written before they’d ever copped a Death record. That said, sure there are a few songs on here with gruff vocals a la Slaughter but the hybrid here was always pretty clear. That said, this is one of the best crossover/thrash metal records ever made and it was all the more impressive because it didn’t succumb to the bumbling funk-metal that’d already begun to work its way into the Bay Area and German scenes. If you’re a fan of 80’s hardcore, specifically the late 80’s non-straight edge stuff and the harder west coast bands at the time and also love classic thrash this’ll be the best thing in your collection since Crumbsuckers‘ ‘Beast on my Back’. I’d become obsessed with ‘The Truth of What Will Be…’ a few years before warming up to Epidemic‘s full discography so it has a lot of nostalgia and good times attached.


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Artist Epidemic
Title [Type/Year] Extremities [Demo/1991]
Rating [3.75/5.0] LISTEN on Bandcamp: Tracks 10-14

By 1991 death metal had arrived worldwide and without a strong legacy it’d probably have been difficult to get signed to a bigger US metal label without leaning towards some kind of extreme metal angle. With a few runs of touring and a full-length under their belt Epidemic hunkered down and their shared influences ramped up towards a Sepultura, Death, and Bay Area thrash influenced professional demo tape that’d get them signed to a two album death with Metal Blade Records. Today that might seem like the big leagues and a sure shot towards some kind of step-up but that label absolutely had a pay-to-play policy in terms of how much attention you’d get in the long run. I only say this after reading interviews with several bands who’d mention their struggle for advancement in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Take that as you will, but I doubt the deal was great. Either way, this is the point where Epidemic were officially a death/thrash metal band and as a polished precursor to ‘Decameron’ it is not surprising that anyone saw great potential in this brutally savage tape.


 

Artist Epidemic
Title [Type/Year] Decameron [Full-length/1992]
Rating [4.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

Consider this second Epidemic album a stylistic companion to Demolition Hammer‘s ‘Epidemic of Violence’ from that same year. Heavily influenced by the fast rise of death metal but still carrying an obscene tunnel vision for their thrash metal influences ‘Decameron’ had one step in the past and one in the future. The trouble was that the folks who were buying metal albums at the time had death metal fever and Epidemic were merely a thrash metal band. This’ll seem kind of hilarious in hindsight because this is a massively brutal death/thrash album with harsh vocals but hey, let’s not forget what death metal had become in 1992. It’d seem like they were the bastard child band with their label, who couldn’t have had an easy time pushing a well-worn style even on tour with a comparable band like Malevolent Creation. They’d had big chances to hit it with audiences on the road for two key tours, the first with Suffocation Malevolent Creation and the second with Cannibal Corpse / Unleashed but ‘Decameron’ wouldn’t have much of a chance to catch onto the audiences in the United States and unfortunately the never made it to Europe because it’d been a gamble to send a band with an album that wasn’t selling on an expensive spin through the unknown. That all seems stupid as fuck in hindsight as this record felt like Epidemic had taken classic thrash as heavy as it could get before it became death metal and really, it is still pretty fuckin’ heavy today. Does it top records like Sepultura‘s ‘Arise’ and Devastation‘s ‘Idolatry’, no not quite but it does deserve the revere it gets for being one of the most brutal thrash records ever recorded. They were just one step behind several massive (and similar) albums and the death metal path forward and it didn’t help that none of them were happy with the production sound on ‘Decameron’ to begin with.


 

Artist Epidemic
Title [Type/Year] Lament [EP/1994]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube

Fast forward to 1994 and Epidemic were a full-fledged death metal band with some groove metal influences creeping into their style. This short EP a few months prior to their third album would re-record some old songs in their new style as well as include covers of songs by Dead Brain Cells and Ozzy Osbourne. You might think that rip sounds like shit but what I’ve linked is taken from a vinyl transfer that wasn’t particularly well done. You’ll get a sense of how harsh the bands sound had become at this point. Second guitarist Guy Higbey had decided to leave prior to the recordings for ‘Lament’ and ‘Exit Paradise’ perhaps due to the darker turn towards death metal and from creative tensions within the band. A drastic change was coming and you could absolutely feel it with the release of ‘Lament’.


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Artist Epidemic
Title [Type/Year] Exit Paradise [Full-length/1994]
Rating [3.5/5.0] LISTEN on YouTube!

Epidemic weren’t happy with their second album as they’d describe it as ‘muddy’ and jumbled within the fast parts so they’d gone in another direction entirely after Higby left, focusing on an Obituary-esque punch of riff that was focused on a strong groove without relying on actual groove metal tropes. It does read hardcorish at face value but ends up going full-bore groove metal here and there. The best comparison would be something like the last album from Num Skull combined with the groove metal of Demolition Hammer‘s ‘Time Bomb’. If you’re allergic to the bombastic style of groove metal that took over the Bay Area beyond 1993 (ugh, even Forbidden…) this is probably one of the heavier records in that style and it isn’t tasteless or immature, just a bit simple and plain in terms of attack. I have never gotten the urge to buy it but I’m always happy to flip through it to remember where the band went. “Institution of Ignorance” is brilliant (well, but not timeless at all!) so at least hit play on that song if nothing else.

Where they’d go after the release of ‘Exit Paradise’ was almost prophesied by the terminal message of the album. They split up after a couple of local shows to support it. No tour or anything just, click and boom. Most of the members would continue to mess with music on some level and I’d say the most visible has been guitarist Erik Moggridge who would form a sort of stoner/groove metal band Old Grandad afterwards and then go on to mastermind the impressive dark naturalist folk project Aerial Ruin since about 2010. Moggridge is a fine vocalist and has been prominently featured on each full-length from Seattle based funeral doom band Bell Witch. While it might suck that Epidemic had lost interest in themselves seemingly because their label and the deciding public hadn’t engaged their ‘one step behind’ style of extreme metal it is no less valuable today as these documents persist in the hands of fans. There is great youthful fire and powerful performances in each of their three full-lengths. Every piece has some small (or larger) flaw but that is the joy of discovering a band that slipped through the cracks in their quick rise from the underground. If nothing else, give each of their three full-lengths a preview and appreciate their struggle and achievements in glorious hindsight. For my money the first two records are pure gold.


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