Originally released in 1981, The Nightcomers was highly influential on early thrash bands, most notably Metallica. Any Metallica fan who has heard their 1987 covers EP The $5.98 E.P.: Garage Days Re-Revisited or Garage Inc. have heard of Holocaust from Metallica’s rendition of “The Small Hours.” The Nightcomers is not as grim as that tune, having more of a carefree, hard-rocking mantra to it. There are a few darker songs scattered on it, but nowhere near the soul-crushing level of “The Small Hours.”
The whole connection that can be made between Metallica and Holocaust is almost single-handedly due to vocalist Gary Lettice. Lettice’s tone and delivery is a dead-ringer for what James Hetfield sings like on Kill ‘Em All. The first track from The Nightcomers, “Smokin’ Valves,” would have a casual Metallica fan fooled if their iPod was on random. There’s also the opening riff to the title track, which has a striking similarity to the main riff used on “Seek & Destroy.”
With an album cover foreshadowing imminent destruction, and a name like Holocaust, it could be interpreted that bleak music would be present. For most of The Nightcomers, that isn’t the case; these guys love women and heavy metal, and that’s what the lyrics express. The line that best describes these feelings is the chorus from “Smokin’ Valves,” which states, “I love to rock, I love to get down low/I love to rock...rock 'n' roll.” The music is bouncy, with dual guitar harmonies and trade-off solos making this recognizable as NWOBHM.
Tucked in with anthems like “Heavy Metal Mania” and “Cryin’ Shame” are songs with murkier themes. “Mavrock” is stylized in early doom metal, evident by a thunderous riff that is much heavier than anything else on the album. The title track dives into the heart of darkness with aplomb, as warriors of ice descend to wipe away the world. These songs are more in line with what a metal fan may expect from a band that wrote “The Small Hours,” and the roots of songs like that can be traced to “Mavrock” and the title track.
The lineup that recorded The Nightcomers was shaken up a few years after its release, as every member departed except for guitarist John Mortimer. He continued on with the band, taking over the vocals as well as the guitar. The band went away from a heavy metal/NWOBHM sound and embraced more progressive styles throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s. They are still holding together, with Mortimer as the constant. As of this writing, it’s been a decade since they released Primal, their last album of new material.
Elements of what made Kill ‘Em All so special can be heard in its raw beginnings on The Nightcomers. This album is hard to come by, being out-of-print for years and rounding up high prices on eBay and Amazon. Sadly, it seems that nefarious means are the only way to get The Nightcomers, unless you’re lucky enough to find a used copy at a local record store.
For providing a component of the blueprint of early thrash metal to one of the most prominent bands in the genre, The Nightcomers gets the nod for this week’s Retro Recommendation.