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Joel Grind has devoted a long time—12 years, to be exact—to reminding the world we can all be exterminated by a nuclear bomb at any moment. Toxic Holocaust's guitarist/vocalist has acknowledged this frightening possibility not just via his thrash metal act's evocative moniker. There are also the record covers featuring disfigured humans and rabid wolves roaming dilapidated wastelands; images of him beside a glowing oil drum and a vintage Fallout Shelter sign; and wicked-fast songs with such ominous titles as "Warfare," "Atomik Destruktor," "Death Camp" and "Send Them to Hell."
"The thought of surviving after a nuclear war and scavenging and stuff is pretty cool to me," says Grind, who lives in Portland, Oregon. It's a multifaceted fascination: He explores pre-disaster hysteria, the chaos of war and detonations, and how humanity's leftovers conduct themselves in postapocalyptic terrain. "I don't see [nuclear war] happening, but who knows? I'd rather not, though," he says. "Fallout shelter or not, I don't think you can really prepare for the damage."
There's a reason behind his fascination with apocalyptic thrash: Grind felt there was a dearth in the metal scene back in '99. "Everybody was super into technical death metal, and black metal was still being hyped. I was never the hugest fan of that stuff, so I figured I'd start a band I wanted to hear," he says. Though the group are a three-piece today, Grind handled all the instrumental duties on the debut record himself and enlisted hired guns for shows. "The biggest [motivator for doing it alone] is relying on and being let down by other people. . . . When I started doing it myself, the only one holding it back would be me, and I definitely wanted to make a record."
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As they've risen in profile, Toxic Holocaust have been grouped with contemporary thrash acts such as Violator, Warbringer and Municipal Waste as "throwback thrash" or part of the "thrash revival" movement—ties Grind doesn't enjoy. "What I consider retro thrash are bands who are trying to be a rip-off of Exodus and whatever [other] thrash band from the '80s, wearing the high-tops and the fuckin' denim," he says." A lot of those bands who are just trying to mimic whatever happened in the '80s to a T are throwback to me, and I'm not trying to do that."
Grind points out punk rock's influence on Toxic Holocaust, evidenced by their concise songs, abrasive attitude and snappy style of choruses. The band's fourth and latest release, Conjure & Command, veers from the war-and-fallout fixations of the past and explores occult-related matter such as Hecate (a Greek goddess linked to witchcraft and magic) and the Salem witch trials. Its slower tempos also set the record apart. "I didn't want to make it just straight-up thrash the whole time like I have in the past," Grind says. "I'm sure, to some people, that's a negative thing, but that's fine. I don't try to please anybody."
Not that Grind is considering changing Toxic Holocaust's style. "With a name like Toxic Holocaust," he says, "you really can't play any other style of music but thrash metal."
This article appeared in print as "Waves of Mutilation: Toxic Holocaust explore death and devastation via thrash."