Glasper, Ian- Contract In Blood – A History of UK Thrash (Book Review)

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Author: Ian Glasper
Title: Contract In Blood-A History Of UK Thrash
Year: 2018
Publisher: Cherry Red
Reviewed:  November 2018
Rating:  4.5/5
Reviewed by : JP


Last month I reviewed a cool little box-set called CONTRACT IN BLOOD. It is the companion piece to the book of the same name.  I was going to review both at the same time but due to a delay from our national postal service the book didn’t arrive in time. The book finally arrived and it was well worth the wait.  go read m review of the box-set!

CONTRACT IN BLOOD is the results of the good efforts of Ian Glasper of England.   According to the introduction another author had started writing a history of UK thrash back in the day.  The project dragged on until Glasper, also author of four books about Punk rock, took over the project and brought it to fruition.  If you wonder what a punk rocker might want to do with thrash, he addresses that question in his introduction, saying that while punk is his first love, he held a love for thrash as well and that the two cousins, at times are not that far apart.

CONTRACT IN BLOOD is a monstrosity, in a good way.  This oversized paperback is over 700 pages long!  There are tons of black and white photos, live shots, candid shots, flyers, gig posters, memorabilia and so on.  There are a couple of neat bonus features as well, such as an Appendix listing selected, thrash-related, discographies from various UK labels and a long interview with the esteemed Bernard Doe of Metal Forces magazine.  The structure of the book is a combination of part oral history and part encyclopedia.   For you trivia hounds, the name of the book is not named after the song by the Catholicon, the obscure, defunct Black Metal band from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but in fact named after the song by UK thrashers, Onslaught from their second album, THE FORCE! …but you probably knew that…  In all honesty I didn’t make the song/book title connection until my friend Evil Dave pointed it out and then again when I read it in the introduction.  I guess I need to go back and listen to more Onslaught!

To crunch the raw numbers, the book documents the history of 100 thrash bands from the UK.  The UK part is important because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all get attention as well, it is not just England.  Glasper says that the book is not 100% comprehensive because some bands could not or would not participate, but these types of projects can never be truly 100% comprehensive.  Really there are no notable omissions.  If you wanted to get technical, there are over 1000 thrash bands in the UK and Glasper covers 10% of them, but that is not really the point of the book.  If you want a list of every UK Thrash band ever, you can go on-line or, as Glasper says in his introduction, “write your own book!”   Besides if he did cover EVERY band, the book would be 7000-pages long, ten times longer than it is now!  It is a history of the genre, not a pure encyclopedia that tries to clinically capture every detail.  Frankly, this is far more interesting to me to have the oral history component, instead of dry lists of bands and albums.

CONTRACT IN BLOOD is also further organized on two levels. Each section is based on a region, North-East, the Midlands, South-West and so on.

Just as a side-note: This regional division seems a bit odd to me in my Canadian perspective, that a tiny country like England has so many regional scenes that are only a few kilometers apart and there are true distinctions between each region!    We just don’t have the population like England does, it is all just kind of ‘Canadian Metal’ with, perhaps Quebec standing apart with a slightly different infrastructure, industry and so on.  I had to look on a map to distinguish the areas and boundaries of the South-East, the South and the South-West for example.  England has a geographic area of only 131,000 sq. km, where as my province alone is 660,000 sq. km…meaning all of England could fit in my province about five times, but with 52 million more people, crammed in one-fifth of the space.  This is my theory why regional differences are so amplified in England; huge diverse populations in a small space. It is not important, just an observation.

The second level of organization is roughly chronological with older bands starting first and then traveling through time.   Lastly there is a bit of a theme or undercurrent in the book.  Why has UK thrash been so criminally under-rated? Glasper speaks eloquently about this in the Foreword and introduction and it is a bit of a theme you see recurring across the book. He also spends time investigating why some UK bands lacked a distinct identity compared to some of their global counterparts in Germany, Brazil or America.

Into the meat of the book, each band is afforded ample space of history, interviews and more. Each band has a selected discography and a sub-section called ‘At A Glance’ which is a neat personal commentary about seminal release, cool reissues, box-sets and so on to further help guide readers and listeners with recommendations to get started. I really appreciated the fact that this is not just a love letter to the old bigger bands of Slammer, Xentrix and so forth but all areas, eras and bands are given equally consideration. Of course a band like Venom is going to have a bit more history than a newer band like Sylosis for example, but everyone gets treated fairly.

I felt I had a good handle on UK thrash, until read CONTRACT IN BLOOD. I have albums from about 40 of the bands listed, which is sort of entry-level at best!  I learned an incredible amount and it was all very entertaining.  It certainly not a book to perhaps sit and read cover to cover, again it is a monster to tackle but it is more of an omnibus to enjoy one band at a time.  You could just skip around and read various entries at random but you might miss some of the subtleties talking about the evolution of the regional scenes and industry developments.

Any thrash fan is going to be amazed and delighted at the detail and the stories, and the enthusiasm of Glasper. CONTRACT IN BLOOD is a truly significant work that adds to the history of the genre, not only a great reading for fans, it is an important historical document as well.  Don’t forget to check out the companion box-set to listen to while reading the book!  Buy or die!

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