Flotsam & Jetsam: The Underworld
Another overnight stay in London with work allowed me the opportunity to pop along to the Underworld in Camden for what was apparently Flotsam & Jetsam’s first UK visit (sans last years’s BOA appearance) for 27 years. Given that the band are always going to be most famous for the Jason Newsted connection, I don’t suppose this was that surprising.
For the uninitiated amongst you, F & J first hit the metal scene in 1981 but gained popularity with their debut album, Doomsday For The Deceiver in 1986. This was a mighty slab of thrash metal which had massive potential and some killer tunes. The follow up, No Place For Disgrace in 1987 no longer contained Newsted on bass but contained a few blistering tracks (see the title track and the all-out assault of P.A.A.B); however, from here on in the Phoenix outfit kind of disappeared from the radar, struggling to maintain the momentum that bands like Metallica, Anthrax, Testament and Exodus were achieving. I have to admit that until I saw that they were playing in London, it had been a long time since I had listened to any of their stuff.
A sparsely populated Underworld were treated to two support bands. I arrived in time to catch the last track from openers Desolation; quite an apt description given the small crowd and I was not at all surprised to find pretty solid thrash metal. It would be unfair to review them on one song so I won’t. Twenty minutes later and main support Bliksem hit the stage. Now, I can name very few (okay none) thrash metal outfits from Belgium and the band from Antwerp gave it their all. Double guitars in the shape of flying Vs, thumping bass and some solid drumming all sounded okay, but the vocals of Pegg Meeussen were just not very strong. Having been treated to the superb voice of Krissie (Triaxis) three nights earlier, a shouty, screamy vocal assault just did nothing for me. The band gave their all, but their songs were not brilliant and overall they just passed me by. 5/10
Bang on 9:20, the riff for No Place For Disgrace rang out and F&J hit the stage. The band consists of original vocalist Eric A. 'A.K.' Knutson, old school guitarist Michael Gilbert, Steve Conley (guitar) Michael Spencer on bass and newest recruit drummer Jason Bittner. The slightly larger crowd of around 200 provided a rousing response which was heart-warming. The band launched into the first of six tracks from Doomsday, the all-out thrasher Desecrator which ignited a small but ferocious pit in the middle of the floor. Although the band were tight and at times provided glimpses of their obvious talent, such as the awesome Iron Tears and Swatting At Flies from 1992’s underrated Cuatro, overall F&J just don’t have the arsenal of quality tracks to have pushed them from the second division of the thrash metal league.
Despite this, Knutson remains an excellent front man, warm and engaging and still able to hit some of the notes which he screamed all the way back in the 1980s. The band were able to riff it up and the old school heavy set (12 tracks from the first two albums) certainly stirred some memories. I certainly got goose bumps when the atmospheric build-up to Doomsday For The Deceiver arrived before crashing into the monstrous riff which provoked mass head banging throughout the venue. A few of the more recent tracks balanced the set although it was the older stuff that received the most positive responses from the audience.
However, as I watched, it felt quite sad to see a band that had never pushed on in quite the way expected back in 1986 going through the motions on a UK tour 27 years in the making, and a mere three dates long; London, Nuneaton and Glasgow. It was perhaps no surprise that the crowd was pretty low. Still, they ended on a high with the brutal P.A.A.B concluding the evening with one final mosh pit swirling around the floor. It was certainly worth seeing the band in a headline capacity, and on occasion I was taken back to that 16 year old sat in the bedroom with a copy of Doomsday For The Deceiver on the record player. It was also clear why the band are the Bradford City of metal; the occasional foray towards the top but generally average lower division fare. Overall a 7/10 and a reasonably entertaining evening.