I've been collecting hard rock and heavy metal CDs since the late '80s.
The Glory Days of Thrash
During the late '80s Thrash Metal explosion, music critics created three categories to sub-divide the hundreds of mosh-worthy bands that were coming out of the woodwork. The "Big Four," of course, consisted of Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth—the best-known, best-selling bands in the genre.
Thrash's "Second Tier" included bands like Overkill, Testament, and Exodus, who weren't moving millions of records, but were popular on a more "underground" scale. The "Third Tier" consisted of... well... pretty much everybody else.
Tucson, Arizona's Atrophy unfortunately fell into the "third tier" trap, though it was certainly not due to lack of talent on their part. The '80s thrash scene was extremely crowded back then, and many good bands fell through the cracks.
Atrophy may not have become one of the underground's big names, but the quartet released two highly regarded studio albums on Roadrunner Records (1988's Socialized Hate and 1990's Violent by Nature) and shared stages with such luminaries as Slayer, Sacred Reich, and Death Angel, garnering a loyal cult following that remains to this day.
I was aware of Atrophy's existence during their brief late '80s heyday, but I didn't actually get to hear their music until their catalog was reissued by Metal Mind Productions in 2006. Hey, it was impossible for a cash-strapped kid to keep up with every new thrash band that came down the pike back in the day. I'm still playing catch-up all these years later!
I may have been a latecomer to Atrophy's party, but I was immediately impressed by their potent blend of high-speed, tightly controlled musical mayhem and smart, topical lyrics. Time has been kind to these guys, and their albums have aged well.
The members of Atrophy are wearing Exodus, Dark Angel, and Flotsam & Jetsam tee-shirts on the back cover of their Socialized Hate debut, which should give you a pretty good idea of where they're coming from musically. Atrophy's secret weapon was the guitar team of Chris Lykins and Rick Skowron, who could lay down a wall of seriously pit-inducing shred. The razor-sharp riffing is topped off nicely by the throaty snarl of lead vocalist Brian Zimmerman, whose delivery reminded me of Exodus' Steve "Zetro" Sousa or Testament's Chuck Billy.
The liner notes in the Metal Mind reissues make it a point to mention Atrophy's knack for writing socially-conscious lyrics. The band's high-speed rants about such social ills as animal testing ("Puppies and Friends"), overpopulation ("Process of Elimination") and drug addiction ("Chemical Dependency") are all well done and showed that these guys were well informed and pissed off about the then-current state of the world, but such topics weren't exactly unique in thrash metal -- after all, Megadeth and Nuclear Assault weren't singing about sunshine and daffodils, either!
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Lest you think that Atrophy were high-brows who kept their noses buried in the New York Times Magazine while they were out on tour, they weren't above letting their hair down and writing a good ol' fashioned party song about getting hammered. Witness Socialized Hate's awesome "Beer Bong," an ode to power-chugging that comes complete with shout-outs to such cheap swill brews as Grain Belt, Old Milwaukee, Schaefer, and Blatz!
If I had to choose a favorite between the two albums I would probably go with Violent By Nature, whose tighter, more polished production makes an already-good band sound even better, but you can't really go wrong with either album if you are looking for a classic thrash fix.
Whatever Happened to Atrophy?
Atrophy was dropped from Roadrunner Records after the Violent By Nature concert tour, but the band tried to keep things going for a few more years before finally splitting up around 1993.
Fun fact: guitarist Chris Lykins left Atrophy in 1991 to attend medical school at Yale. He is now a practicing Ear, Nose and Throat specialist in the Scottsdale, Arizona area!
Atrophy reunited in 2015 with three members of the original lineup - Brian Zimmerman (vocals), Tim Kelly (drums) and James Gulotta (guitars). The current incarnation of Atrophy has been playing live shows around the world (including a brief tour of China in the Summer of 2018!) and have been preparing material for a long-delayed third studio album. Bring it on, fellas!
"Puppies and Friends"
Chemical Dependency (demo) - self-released, 1987
Socialized Hate - Roadrunner, 1988*
Violent By Nature - Roadrunner, 1990*
*reissued via Metal Mind Productions in 2006
© 2018 Keith Abt