Thrash metal has never been the most forgiving genre when it comes to experimentation, and as an experiment, 'When The Storm Comes Down' is somewhat inconclusive. There are successes ("The Master Sleeps", "Suffer The Masses", "E.M.T.E.K"), failures ("Deviation", "No More Fun", "Scars") and the undecided (the rest of the album).
Let's start with the positive. Flotsam And Jetsam had a reputation of delivering clever, thoughtful thrash, with the odd trip into the land of mozzarella and parmesan. Opener "The Master Sleeps" delivers everything a fan could have hoped for. While it is instantly apparent producer Alex Perialas totally fucked up the guitar sound, the main riffs to the song are such that it does not detract from the fun. The drums are high in the mix, especially the snare. Perhaps best of all, Eric AK had toned down his shrieked vocals. The lyrics are ambiguous, ready for the listener's own interpretation.
"E.M.T.E.K" is a little tune straight out of the Twilight Zone. What is the government up to when they test medicines on citizens, and why is my skin turning green? There is excellent use of loud/soft dynamics, to emphasise the important parts of the song. Acoustic to electric and back again, this particular experiment about experiments is highly effective.
For those who are too young to remember, or weren't paying attention at the time, 1989 was a particularly turbulent year. The Berlin Wall fell, Communist regimes all over Europe were overthrown, the USSR lost its grip on Eastern Europe, and the Tianimen Square massacre occurred in China. Flotsam and Jetsam were definitely paying attention. The introduction to "Suffer The Masses" is a cut up of news clips and sound bites from that memorable year. It starts the mind racing before the music begins. Rather than a full on thrasher like "The Master Sleeps", this song rumbles along, heavier because it's slower. Thematically, the lyrics explore freedom and the lack of it in thought and action under an oppressive government, and has a chorus to die for.
Here endeth the good bits. The rest of the album is uneven and unsteady. The band seemed determined not to just turn out "No Place For Disgrace Part II", and avoided playing the thrash they did so well. At the time of recording, the beginnings of the mercifully short–lived funk metal scene were starting to emerge, so slapped bass and thin staccato guitars feature on a number of tracks. It becomes particularly annoying on "No More Fun" because it is so badly done. The songs also seem to touch base on just about every late 80s thrash cliché around. The left wing sociological opinions on "Burned Device", "Deviation", "October Thorns" and "Greed" become tiresome. The anti–Evangelist rant of "6, Six, VI" (hmm… wonder if Slipknot are Flotsam and Jetsam fans?) and the environmental rave of "Scars" are cheesy fillers. It is all topped off with the fun but silly full–on thrash out of "K.A.B.".
The awful production accentuates the negative on this album, which is a shame. There are still a lot of excellent riffs to be found, and Troy Gregory proved once and for all he was a more than worthy replacement for that other bloke, whoever he may have been, as a bass player and song writer. Some of the material has not aged well, but this is a document of a band trying something different within the confines of a restrictive genre, and failing heroically.