Fans of 80s thrash, rejoice! For we have a couple of albums coming out over the next few weeks from bands that were active in the genre’s infancy. First up is the latest from the never-let-go-of-the-dream quintet, Flotsam and Jetsam. I’ll mention the Jason Newsted–Metallica connection only because my February review will contain a similar reference,1 but everyone’s aware of this link. Most of those people haven’t really listened to the band, either then or now, which is a shame. While not as influential as their more famous counterparts in the “Big 4,” their first two albums, as well as 2016’s self-titled return to form, are well worth checking out.
The End of Chaos once again sees original members Michael Gilbert (guitar) and Eric A.K. Knutson (vocals) team up with long-time bass player Michael Spencer and second guitarist Steve Conley, who joined prior to their 2016 album. On drums, though, journeyman Ken Mary replaces Jason Bittner, who moved on to the equally-wizened thrash act Overkill. Make no mistake: A.K. and Gilbert are the driving forces in Flotsam and Jetsam, but the other three contribute mightily to this album, and all in good ways. We hear them right off the bat on “Prisoner of Time,” as the band tears into the opener with aggressive abandon, until 40 seconds in Spencer drops a killer bass riff and the song proper starts. A.K. snarls “Live your life without regret, don’t be a prisoner of time,” and that’s what it sounds like the band is doing all the way through this album.
Comparing The End of Chaos to Flotsam and Jetsam reveals the following: the band has honed its songwriting chops, and there’s a palpable improvement in chemistry. Songs are more succinct (the longest song here is shorter than the four longest songs on the last record) and refined. Mary’s drumming is an upgrade, with inventive fills and a ton of furious speed—“Chaos Control,” “Snake Eyes,” and “Good or Bad” are lightning fast. Riffs abound as well, though. “Unwelcome Surprise” and “Recover” are standouts in that regard, but every song puts a smile on this olde, wrinkled face. Topping off the great music is A.K.’s performance on the mic. Honestly, the band has no iconic musicians in it, so A.K.’s voice is their hallmark, and he hasn’t sounded this good in ages. He never leaves his comfort zone, so isn’t pushing things in any distasteful way. He really shines on album closer “The End.” In this blazer, he hits his high register in the chorus—“I can see the end is taking over, and it always brings me down”—and it’s a stellar performance.
Production is what we’ve all come to expect from modern thrash albums: a lock-tight rhythm section2 featuring a slightly-too-prominent kick drum, razor-sharp guitars cutting through the mix, and a dominant performance from A.K., well in front of the band. Oh, and the bass, which can be notoriously absent from some recordings? Loud and delicious here, with plenty of growl. The only real issue with The End of Chaos is the lack of dynamics in the arrangements. All twelve songs pummel the listener relentlessly. There are no interludes, no intros, no bridges where the band fades out, leaving only a clean guitar melody. A dozen songs of sheer balls-out thrash is what we’re served here. Some room to breathe would have been nice.
That being said, Flotsam and Jetsam have delivered an album in the top end of their discography. The band is firing on all cylinders here, and the guys really sound on top of their game. Ken Mary is a beast behind the kit, and A.K.’s pipes sound better than ever. After a massive lull in their songwriting quality (in line with Angry Metal Guy’s Law of Diminishing Recordings™), the band have turned the clocks back and delivered two solid albums in a row that are sure to put smiles on the faces of thrash fans everywhere.