“But it’s been 14 years of silence, it’s been 14 years of pain, it’s been 14 years that are gone forever, and I’ll never have again,” sang Axl Rose on Use Your Illusion II in 1991. I am pretty sure he never heard of the Icelandic thrash metal band Trassar, but incidentally, since taking a break in 1991, there were exactly 14 years of silence until the band regrouped again in 2005.
Despite a prestigious following in the late eighties – early nineties, the band never managed to put out an album. Still, every music nerd with a nose for metal music knows the band to this day. They have now released their first album, Amen, on the record label Geimsteinn. The Grapevine contacted one of the two remaining founding members, guitarist Rúnar Þórarinsson, to learn more about the gathering.
“It basically started as a nostalgic trip,” Rúnar explains. “Me and Bjössi [guitarist and founding member Björn Þór Jóhannsson] always wanted to get the band working again and make an album. At first, we just did not know the right musicians to do it. Later, we were never living in the same area at the same time for long enough to do it. When Bjössi moved to Reykjavík recently, I decided to buy a house with a garage basically to be able to start jamming there.”
The band was originally contrived in Eiðar, a small boarding school on the East coast of Iceland in 1987. The name, Trassar was originally obtained from a song by Iceland’s best metal band at the time, Bootlegs. “They had this song called Thrash Attack, and I called their guitarist and asked if I could use that name for my band. He said yes and I was very excited. I was 14 at the time. Later, when we played some live shows in Egilsstaðir, the kids would yell out Trassar instead of Thrash Attack for some reason. We just decided that it would be a perfect fit for our band [Trassar essentially translates to “slackers” in English] so we decided to change the name. And it proved right. We have been slacking for 14 years making this album.”
After creating a local fan base through legendary live performances and finding receptive crowds in Reykjavík where the band was voted runner-up two years in a row in the Battle of the Bands, Trassar decided to move to Reykjavík in an attempt to take the band to the next stage in 1990. That is when the group started to break up. “It was just your typical band bullshit. Being in a band is like being married to multiple people. It is always a battle between ideas and directions. Bjössi and myself wrote basically all the material, and when we came to Reykjavík we were all living in different places and we had no practice space. Everyone was working in their own corner, heading in different directions musically and ideologically. Some people had more influence than others and people handled that differently. After a while it just dissolved in a dish of sour grapes, even though me and Bjössi always remained great friends.” In 2005, it was time for another try. At first, it was only the two guitarists. But after jamming together for three months in an unheated garage in the middle of winter, they added bassist Lúðvík Þórir Guðmundsson who had played with Bjössi in another band. Soon thereafter, Ampop drummer Jón Geir Jóhannesson joined them and along with him they added Ólafur Árni Bjarnason, who had spent the last 15 years honing his tenor voice performing operas around Europe.
With this formation, the band headed for the studio to finally record the album that was scheduled to happen 14 years ago. “When we started playing again, it was like stepping into a time machine,” Rúnar says. “And when we started rehearsing the old songs, we could hardly go through one song with out coming up with a new one.”
14 years is a long time and the world of metal has changed considerably since the heyday of thrash metal in the late eighties. When writing new songs, are Trassar still influenced by Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets?
“We have added to our influences considerably. Myself, I have been playing a lot of blues and jazz music. If you listen, you will hear some influences from Alice in Chains and Björk in the vocal sections. I don’t know. It is difficult for me to judge this myself. Bjössi and me have both become big Led Zeppelin fans over the years. Bjössi never liked them when we were young. But we are not trying to run away from our past. Our biggest influences will always be the four big groups of the thrash metal era: Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer. This is what we built on. The song Hamfarir is partially a tribute to the great Ham. We purposely “quote” the riff from Partýbær, but other than that, it is basically a very heavy blues song with lyrics stemming from Robert Johnson.”
Trassar intend to play extensively this summer in support of their long awaited release, but plans are already underway for the next album. “This album was not even finished when our creative producer, Jón Hallur Haraldsson, started talking about the next release. We still have over 20 songs in store that are almost fully prepared,” Rúnar says, determined not to spend the next 14 years in silence.