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 releasing CDs at the time. The "Big Four," of course, consisted of Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth, who were the best-known, best-selling bands in the genre. Thrash's "Second Tier" included bands such as Overkill, Testament, and Exodus, who weren't selling millions of records but were still popular on a smaller, more "underground" scale. The "Third Tier" thrash bands consisted of... well.. pretty much everybody else.
Arizona's ATROPHY unfortunately fell into the "third tier" trap, though it was certainly not due to lack of talent on their part. The thrash metal scene was an extremely crowded field back then, and they were just one of many good bands that ended up falling through the cracks. Atrophy may not have become one of the underground's big names, but the Tucson-based quartet released two highly regarded studio albums on Roadrunner Records (1988's Socialized Hate and 1990's Violent By Nature) which gave them the opportunity to tour the world and share stages with such luminaries as Slayer, Sacred Reich, and Death Angel, not to mention garnering a loyal cult following that remains to this day.
I must confess here that I was aware of Atrophy's name during their brief late '80s heyday, but I didn't actually get to hear their music until 2006, when their CD catalog was reissued by the Polish record label Metal Mind Productions. Hey, it was impossible for a cash-strapped kid to keep up with every new thrash metal 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 these 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. The real stars here were definitely 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 both Metal Mind reissue CDs 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 among thrashers - Megadeth and Nuclear Assault certainly weren't singing about sunshine and daffodils, y'know!
Lest you think that Atrophy were high-brow snobs 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 underground thrash metal 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 is preparing material for a third studio album which is tentatively scheduled to be released sometime in 2019. 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