Interview with Sy Keeler of Onslaught


With the second date of Onslaught’s Slaughterfest tour arriving in Birmingham recently, vocalist Sy Keeler and Midlands Rocks’ Chop disappeared to the pub next door for a lengthy natter.
Second night of the tour then Sy?

On the road as it should be done, proper tour bus. Comfortable, friendly, not smelly yet because it’s only been 24 hours, but as we’ve got another three weeks on it, it’s going to get a bit stinky!

How did it go in Blyth last night?

We had a good crowd in and the reaction was good. Nice to see some younger punters in there too, thrashing their stuff! We’ve prepared three songs off the new album and last night was the first time we’d played them live. When we got on stage it all seemed to click. The three new ones did feel quite a lot different; it feels quite weird doing them as they are quite different to what we’ve done before. We’ve got a brand new sound-man for this tour. The chap who’s been doing our sound for the last five years had decided to call it a day, almost at the last minute. The PA wasn’t fantastic; the sound was good, but he really didn’t have a chance to shine.




Let’s hope tonight’s spot on for him! After this show, there’s a couple more UK dates then off round Europe I believe?

Yes. Home town gig in Bristol tomorrow, then London, down the smoke, and then off to Belgium and Germany. After Europe we’re back for a week and a half, then we’re off to South America. So while you’re in your woolly hats and scarves we’ll be basking in the sun! This will be our third time over there. The first time we went we did Argentina, Chile, Brazil, and Colombia. Last time we went to Peru for the first time. This time we’re doing Peru again, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, and Ecuador as well I think. There could well be another small European excursion when we get back, and a full UK tour, rather than just four English dates. We tried to fit in Scotland, Wales, and Ireland into this one, but logistically it just didn’t work out.

It will be festival season 2014 before you know it!

We’re off to the States next year prior to the summer festivals. Obviously we’d like to play the bigger ones around Europe; hopefully Bloodstock, Wacken, Graspop, Hellfest. I’ll be totally honest I’m not at all interested in playing anything like Download, not one iota. Different audience…

Speaking of festivals – and time for one of my tenuous links – let’s back-track to Beermageddon and the album recital…

Quite a few people heard “VI” that weekend. But that was the intention. Metal festival with a lot of like-minded people. Nearly trashed my car battery I played it that many times! Good job I was parked on a hill as I needed a jump start on the Monday morning! But that’s what the metal community is, everyone gets on.

Time to discuss the new album in a bit more detail then… (At which point Sy’s smile, spread from ear to ear, was identical to the one at Beermageddon during the album playback)

I’m so proud of it. It’s another landmark album for Onslaught. With each album we seem to be getting a bigger fan-base, so with this one we hope to crank it up a few notches. I think it deserves to, not being too biased of course! There’s an awful lot of dross out there, which gets far more exposure than we ever do, which doesn’t sit with me very well. The reviews have been amazing right across the board; we haven’t had a bad one yet. If it sells more than the last album then all well and good, but if it raises our status, or as a live band, and promotes us around the world and at festivals, then we can elevate ourselves. It’s a great album, but live is what Onslaught are all about.

What was the song-writing process for the album?

Nige is still responsible for the lyrical content. His lyrics are awesome and fit the music so well. I’ve tried but I’m just not as pissed off as he is! Nige delivers the basic idea, and he’ll talk through the placement of the sections, then it’s up to me to add the melody and whatever progressions. We have very, very, brief discussions on how it should be. I’ll have an idea of where it’s at, then I’ll live with it for a while, go for walks with it on, just digesting everything, and then add my own take on things.

Were there more than the eight tracks that appeared on the finished album?

No, we wrote specifically for the album. Eight tracks is enough for an album at that speed! If you look back at the classic [thrash] albums they’re all shorter. Instead of writing another song to take it up to the 45 minute mark, we decided to stick with the eight ferocious tracks that appear on the finished album.

Presumably there are exclusive tracks for the Japanese market?

Yes. We did two songs. We re-vamped ‘Metal Forces’ and ‘Shellshock’ to reflect how we’ve been doing them live for some time. The intention is – and has been for a number of years now – to re-record ‘In Search Of Sanity’ and present it in a modern Onslaught manner. The new version of ‘Shellshock’ gives a glimpse perhaps of what it will sound like. ‘In Search Of Sanity’ was a very different sound, but it still remains Onslaught’s biggest selling album, because it is a more commercial record. When we signed to London Records that was the sound they wanted. They brought in the producer, had their own vision of what they wanted to do with it. It was the biggest selling album and they put a lot of money into advertising and promoting it.

Sounds like it’s all mapped out then. When you’ve had a breather, are there any other plans formulated?

When we heard the final mix for ‘Metal Forces’ Nige and myself looked at each other and went “think we need to re-record ‘The Force’ as well!” It’s a classic album, an album of its time, but if we can expose ourselves to a bigger market these days with the sound and aggression that Onslaught possess, then we should go for it. That’s not saying that they will come out as re-mastered editions – they’ll come out as part of a package, DVD with bonus CD for example. The re-recording of ‘In Search Of Sanity’ is first on the list though.

… last question time – a word or two about your current label, perhaps?

Overheard an interview Nige did earlier – and it didn’t occur to me until he mentioned it – this is the first time Onslaught have done consecutive albums with the same label. AFM contacted the band as they were putting together a compilation CD of classic thrash bands and asked if we’d like to submit a track. We’d signed a one album deal to Candlelight, and AFM came in and offered us a great deal. Not financially as that’s not how the industry works these days. If you’re going to make any money at all it’s through touring and merch. Merch we sell at a reasonable price anyway – it may pay for Christmas but that’s about it! AFM are a bigger label, with a great track record and we couldn’t refuse.

In the UK we’ve got Mike (Exley). We’re old friends. The very first interview I ever did was with Mike for Metal Forces. Sat in a tiny club in Belgium. I’d only been with the band for three or four months. I joined in January 1986. At the audition they were working on the last song for ‘The Force’ album which was ‘Metal Forces’ – the name came from the magazine for all that they did during the ‘Power From Hell’ days. I was given a lyric sheet, the original singer sang his version of it, I did a verse and a chorus and then it was ‘stop, stop, stop’. I though the worst but was offered the job! My first ever gig was with them at the original Marquee in London. To walk on those hallowed boards…

And with that Sy and myself drifted off into nostalgia corner and ‘off the record’ reminisced for a good while longer…

Thanks are extended to Sy for his warmth and candour throughout the interview, to Mike Exley for arranging the interview and for the hugely informative chat over a Guinness or two, and to the rest of Onslaught for their hospitality later on in the evening until the early hours.

Onslaught’s new album ‘VI’ is out now on AFM Records.