As Flotsam and Jetsam's Classic Debut Celebrates Its 30th, The Band Is Still Going Strong

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One of the things that hasn’t changed in the past 30 years is how much ass Flotsam and Jetsam continues to kick.

From the opening notes of “Seventh Seal” off their latest album, the self-titled Flotsam and Jetsam (AFM Records), which was released in late May, it is apparent they have lost zero steam since their debut, Doomsday For The Deceiver (Metal Blade Records), which was released on July 4, 1986, and is currently celebrating its 30th anniversary. The album is big, heavy, and metal as fuck, just like their classic first effort.

Just as “Hammerhead” begins Doomsday For The Deceiver, “Seventh Seal” is definitely a solid start to an album many metal fans will look at with a skeptical eye. The guitars knife out of the speakers, building a familiar tension reminiscent of Flotsam and Jetsam’s best work, which based on the acclaim heaped on Doomsday, is clearly the band’s best album. When the drums and bass kick in to build up to the vocals on “Seventh Seal,” even casual metal fans will have no choice but to bang their heads.

Flotsam and Jetsam singer Eric “AK” Knutson and guitar player Michael Gilbert are the only members left from the Doomsday lineup, but to be fair, there have been 13 other Flotsam and Jetsam records in the 30-year period between the band’s 1986 debut and their current release. It is a solid body of work, even if the players have changed frequently over the years.

Joining Knutson and Gilbert in the current lineup are local guitar player Steve Conley, bassist Michael Spencer, and drummer Jason Bittner. Bittner, an accomplished scene veteran who spent time in New York metal band Shadows Fall, is the shortest-term member of the band at two years, but according to Gilbert, the band did not miss a beat after original drummer Kelly Smith suggested the band move forward with his hand-picked replacement. It didn’t take long for things to click with the new guy.

“We were 10 seconds into ‘Hammerhead,’ and I thought, ‘This is going to be perfect,’” says Gilbert of the first time the band played with Bittner.

Spencer, who has rejoined the band after an almost 25-year hiatus, was the bass player who stepped in after Jason Newsted left the band to join Metallica after Doomsday came out. While it would be nice to see Newsted, drummer Kelly Smith, or guitar player Ed Carlson, all part of the Doomsday lineup, rejoin the band for their upcoming Joe’s Grotto record release party on August 6, there isn’t much chance of that happening.

“I haven’t heard from Newsted. I just saw on Blabbermouth that ‘Jason Newsted is back’ [referring to a lengthy, self-imposed exile from the internet and public eye]. It’d be nice if he showed up at the gig and did ‘Hammerhead’ with us, but I wouldn’t count on it,” Gilbert shares.

For Gilbert, it’s exciting to see people giving the band’s old album proper credit.

“It totally freaks me out that [Doomsday] is still relevant today. It’s been on a lot of the classic lists of metal and thrash metal records. I’m pretty stoked on it,” Gilbert says.

“Taser,” which is the third song on the A side, is another barn burner. The opening riff is reminiscent of classic Dimebag Darrell Abbott, late guitar player for Pantera, but the song is all Flotsam and Jetsam moving forward.

A deep cut, “Monkey Wrench,” is also a standout track on Flotsam and Jetsam. Gilbert and Conley layer some intricate guitar work over Bittner’s drums as Knudson sings about being constantly challenged by what the world has to offer.

“There’s a point that I just don’t get,” Knudson growls, but after listening to the band’s latest record, it’s clear they still have plenty of points to make.

Flotsam and Jetsam is scheduled to play Saturday, August 6, at Joe’s Grotto. 

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