Atom Smasher, the Progressive Thrash/Death Metal trio from Jools Green’s home city of Plymouth, are a regular and rising force on the local scene. So, to mark the release of their first single, Thunberg And Lightning, I caught up with them for a quick chat. The song is taken from their upcoming debut full-length album, the title of which is undisclosed.
As a progressive-influenced band, Atom Smasher are known for their “obnoxiously long Metal songs”, as the slogan says on the back of their band shirts. Long they may be, but obnoxious, far from it. On their personal sliding scale of duration, Thunberg And Lightning comes in midway at a modest six and a half minutes.
It’s been a hugely popular inclusion in their live sets for a considerable time, with its anthemic shout-along chorus of “Thunberg And Lightning,” and it is a successful, tried-and-tested piece. However, not content with just delivering the studio version of that live staple, they’ve added an extra surprise alongside the slightly Slayer-esque driving repeat, ensuing crushing delivery and Jason’s (rather good) snarling bark of a vocal delivery.
Guest vocals from the diminutive yet mightily brutal vocalist Jamie Burton (War Shepard) add an extra dimension and texture superbly. Midway through and accompanied by Mike’s suitably long “proggy” and reflective interlude, you get a soundbite of a speech from Greta herself. Even though, as the band explains, this track is about a “space Greta”. It is a track that, for me, is not just a live winner but also a studio winner. I can’t wait to hear the full album, so watch this space.
Atom Smasher says the band name is completely stolen. “Conor and Mike love Bossk, who have a song called Atom Smasher,” Bassist and vocalist Jason Carl England says. “They’re a huge influence for them both. We hope Bossk don’t mind the plagiarism. They are actually aware that we exist and haven’t filed a cease and desist yet, so I reckon we might be alright.”
Drummer Conor McCaffrey-Johnston says the roots of the band go back to when he and Mike were kids. “We have always played music together,” Conor says. “We’ve always had that connection. I met Jason when I was about 15 while I was playing for Sludge Metal band Ishmael. His band, Frankenspliff, also played at a show. Mike [Mike Cook – guitar] and Jason ended up working together at some point and became good friends, so our paths ended up crossing naturally.
“Our first band together was Infinite Devil Machine, and it was fucking awful. We were young, not sober, to put it delicately. The band certainly had potential. But we pissed it up the wall every time we played. It was fun, not gonna lie, but it was also terrible.
“Since then, we’ve cleaned our act up (mostly), and we are fully focused as a trio now. Three best mates who have had all the best and worst times together. We’ve helped each other through a lot, so our history and chemistry throughout years and years of playing together has become the DNA of Atom Smasher.”
Atom Smasher play Progressive Thrash/Death Metal, which is a slightly less common meld of genres. “We have a joint affinity for Metallica, Gojira and Lamb Of God,” Jason says. “They’re no doubt the biggest influences of this band. Other influences include Bossk. Did I mention them? Boss Keloid (and not just because you can spell Bossk with their name).”
“Jason is, unfortunately, a fan of Trivium, comedy bands and Power Metal,” Conor says, “which you can absolutely tell if you’ve seen us live. He’s certainly the one responsible for the comedy factor at our shows, and we love him dearly for it.”
“Conor’s a weird one,” Jason retorts. “He’s a raving fan of Behemoth, Metallica, Oasis and Sophie Ellis-Bextor. We suspect he hasn’t yet grown out of his childhood, figuratively and literally.”
“Mike loves riff monsters like the aforementioned Boss Keloid,” Conor says. “He’s also a huge Lamb Of God fan, and we’re pretty sure he wants to either be Randy Blythe or inside of him or both, somehow.”
“So, all of this combined gives us our sound,” Conor says. “Progressive Thrash/Death Metal is the simplest term we can get away with. When people ask us what we do, none of us know how to answer the question properly in all honesty. But everyone has a different opinion on what we are, which is always interesting to hear.”
As for lyrical content, Conor says it usually involves space. “We like space,” he says. “Space cocaine is the topic in The Rush. Our new single, Thunberg And Lightning, is about a pissed-off Greta Thunberg from space. Unleash includes the lyrics’ cosmic’ something, so I’m assuming that’s also about space. We’re working on a new song called Space Hex, which is probably about space. Mike and Jason are the lyricists, and they like space.”
“Conor also likes space but doesn’t write lyrics,” Jason smiles, “but if he did, they’d almost certainly be about space.”
The creative process usually begins with riffs. “But if we have a concept for a new song,” Conor says, “Jason often gets a head start and starts writing lyrics beforehand and then regrets his life decisions when he or Mike has to rearrange them all when riffs start being developed.”
Atom Smasher have a reputation for having a highly developed sense of humour. “And we wear that with pride,” Conor says. “I wouldn’t say it’s the key but more of an aspect. People who know us personally know that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes we absolutely mean business with our heavier material. But we just like to have fun. We don’t see gigs as a competition or anything like that. We love to laugh at ourselves when things go wrong at live performances. It’s all part of it and to be expected. It’s about how you anticipate and deal with it that’s important.”
The band say that their permanent anxieties include whether Conor spontaneously combusts and is reduced to a globule on his drum stool. “What happens if Mike suddenly morphs into a Joe Duplantier/Randy Blythe hybrid,” Conor asks. “Will Jason go to The Nowhere again instead of The Junction? These are important things that must be considered and anticipated.”
“To answer your last question, the biggest comedian out of us three is without a doubt Jason,” Mike says, “because he’s just a cunt.”
“Thank you for giving us the opportunity to Talk Metal,” Conor says. “This has been a new experience for us, and we look forward to chatting with you again.”
Thunberg and Lightning is currently streaming on Spotify and other streaming platforms. If you are an old dinosaur like me, you can enjoy it on YouTube instead.