Review Summary: As rough and dirty as they come.
Man, just look at that album cover. Sometimes that’s just all you need to be convinced and say: “Yeah, I’m gonna jam the *** out of that!” Suffice to say, Belgian speed/thrash metal group Warhead weren’t playing around but made a statement from the cover, to the band name and the album title, right to the very first notes. They’re gonna play fast, heavy and take no prisoners. The type of attitude that carried heavy metal into the higher echelons in the 1980’s.
Warhead was among the countless bands all around the world that unleashed full frontal sonic assault with high-tempo riffs, crushing drums and piercing vocals screaming about death, blood and evil. Like many local groups they enjoy a cult status in their own country but didn’t made an international breakout thus leaving them to be discovered by genre fanatics whom imported albums by the dozens. Thankfully nowadays we have the internet, and thanks to the Youtube, it only takes a few clicks before that cover catches your eye and thrust you into a glorious time-travel right into the birthing days of the genre.
While most Europan thrash bands were trying to get a steady foot, Warhead was among the very first who cut out a decently sized, hard-hitting piece with 1984’s Speedway, a surprisingly short burst of NWOBHM-influenced but impactful and enjoyable thrash. The eight songs and 26 minutes only seem deceitful for the outsiders, but anyone who had run-ins with records like Slayer’s Reign in Blood or Morbid Saint’s Spectrum of Death knows that you don’t have to go 70’s prog length to make an impact. Warhead of course, doesn’t even come close to reach the heights of those two records, but their obscure debut is a solid note in thrash history.
One solid minute of build-up and the opening title track soars like the aforementioned skull-faced biker, speeding on the highways of hell. As expected from an early thrash record, the production is rough but not muddled, the guitars bite and tear, the bass is like a black hole of heaviness and the vocals of Patrick Van Londerzele have that combination of the classic heavy metal soaring and the dirty street like-edge that characterizes early thrash. The riffs are fast-paced, the solos are well-developed, the songs are simple but coherent, energetic and full of catchiness. It has that special lo-fi charm, where you can feel the burning passion stemming from the people playing their songs from heart and soul.
A special mention has to go to guitarist Didier Kapelle who puts just enough variety and effort to his six-stringed skills to make Speedway’s songs one step ahead of its competitors. Unlike some of the painfully repetitive first steps of some other thrash bands, he develops fluid tempo changes, influences from Iron Maiden and punk, twin-guitar tapping passages (in the song “Driver”), and even some more atmospheric accords. From the total fury of “Attack of the Shark” to the dynamic galloping and shredding leads of “Attack and Kill”, Speedway never lets up its intensity for a single minute before ending on a high note.
Not gonna lie, I had a huge grin on my face while blasting this record. It brought back those older days, while I was digging through the internet, getting my hands as many obscure but quality metal albums as possible. My passion for this has remained (but with much less activity), but Warhead’s Speedway is a perfect example why. Nowhere near as known, technical or accomplished like the other classics of the genre but when it comes to the purest, most honest distillation of speed-driven early heavy metal it’s a shining, rough diamond ready to be discovered.