Reviewed: February 2018
Released: 2017, Dissonance Productions
Rating: 4.5 / 5
Reviewer: Peter Atkinson
L.A.’s Holy Terror were one of the great “never wases” of the late ’80s thrash wave. They issued the back-to-back masterpieces – Terror And Submission and Mind Wars – in 1987 and ’88, but by 1989 the band had already broken up. After reforming in 2005, issuing the remix collection El Revengo in 2006, they split again for good not long after never to rise again.
Formed by ex-Agent Steel guitarist Kurt Kilfelt, the band boasted a lethal mix of careening speed, crushing heaviness, technical finesse, compelling melodies and the vocal versatility of Keith Deen, who subsequently passed away in 2012 after battling cancer. Take equal parts Slayer, Dark Angel, Megadeth, Exodus and Possessed, add a pinch of early Iron Maiden, and you had Holy Terror in a nutshell.
But the band didn’t quite catch on like so many of their contemporaries, though they did make some inroads in the underground. Add the usual label issues in the states, touring misadventures and substance abuse, and Holy Terror’s untimely demise was sadly inevitable.
Still, the band’s cult appeal remained, and their legacy lives on now with the all-encompassing, and aptly titled, box set Total Terror, which pulls together the two studio albums, El Revengo, a live album and live DVD. The CDs alone boast 46 songs (well, really more like 20, but with at least two versions of each) and more than three hours of music.
Terror And Submission and Mind Wars are two absolute gems that delivered velocity, sophistication and dexterity like few others of that ilk at the time. Tracks like “Blood Of Saints,” “Do Unto Others” or “Christian Resistance,” with the aerodynamic guitar fury of Kilfelt and Mike Alvord, were positively mind-blowing – and still impress 30 years later, even with the sonic limits of their low-budget production. The harmonized solos and tradeoffs on the less frantic, gloriously hooky “Evil Is Rising,” “The Immortal Wasteland” or “Guardians of The Netherworld” stand toe to toe with the Hanneman/Kings or Holt/Hunolts of that day – in fact, the hook line from “Mind Wars” seems to have been pinched by Megadeth for “Hangar 18,” which was recorded several years later.
But what really set Holy Terror apart was their natural sense of melody. Even at top speed, which was much of the time, there was an innate catchiness in the crafty riffing and arrangements, a testament to the band’s New Wave of British Heavy Metal influences, especially on something like “A Fool’s Gold,” which recalls Killers-era Maiden.
Keith Deen’s resonant vocals certainly helped in that regard. Though he could certainly scream and growl with the best of them, Deen was much more of “singer” than a mere “vocalist” – a hybrid of James Hetfield’s heft and Joey Belladonna’s range. His delivery was mostly clean and clear, rapid fire and breathless though it could be – as on the aforementioned “Do Unto Others” or “No Resurrection” – and really connected as he vented about religious manipulation and hypocrisy.
Holy Terror may have ended up as “no-hit wonders” and flamed out early, but they left an indelible mark nonetheless. For old schoolers, Total Terror is an essential blast from the past – especially for someone like me who had their albums on cassette and hadn’t heard them in eons. For newcomers, it provides the perfect opportunity to get acquainted with one of the formative era of thrash metal’s most impressive but underappreciated bands.