Timing can be everything for a band, as the members of Gammacide know all too well. They hit the North Texas metal scene in the late ’80s, when thrash metal peaked in popularity, and the band disappeared into legend shortly thereafter.
The Arlington five-piece left behind a couple of demo cassette tapes and 1989’s Victims of Science, an underrated metal album loaded with highly skilled guitar riffs and schizophrenic solos. “We put out (the first) demo that became pretty popular in the underground tape-trading scene at the time,” says founder and guitarist Rick Perry, who was joined by guitarist Scott Shelby, drummer Jamey Milford, bassist Eric Roy and vocalist Varnam Ponville to create metal magic in the late ’80s.
Now, nearly three decades later, they’ve dusted off the first demo and included it as part of Gammacide, Contamination: Complete, a discography boxset. It’s a set that also includes ’89’s Victims of Science, a ’91 demo, a DVD of rare footage from live concerts in ’89 at Joe’s Garage and ’92 at Dallas City Limits, and an assortment of other goodies to slack your inner thrasher.
Perry says the boxset is a limited collection, offered by FOAD, an Italian record label that focuses on releasing old thrash metal collections with a lavish production. “What they put together is definitely an impressive package,” he says. “I can’t believe it. I’m really pretty blown away that Gammacide is getting this kind of treatment so many years after the fact.”
Perry and Shelby first bumped into each other in the local metal scene in the mid-’80s. Perry was well known for his guitar talent. He’d spent some time slinging guitar in Warlock before the singer’s ego drove him away. Shelby didn’t look like the guitar beast he’d later become. Instead, the small town Mansfield native had an affinity for acid-wash jeans, cowboy boots and Ocean Pacific T-shirts. But he did show promise on the guitar.
Perry’s bandmates in Gammacide hired Shelby, and Perry began teaching him how to harness his guitar talent and write songs. “I was just a loose gun, spewing loads on the guitar,” Shelby says. “He taught me how to wheel it in where I was in control.”
Perry’s and Shelby’s styles complemented each other. They began playing all over Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and finally California. Shortly after he joined the band, Shelby found himself opening for some of the metal bands he worshiped as a metal fan such as Exodus, Morbid Angel and Slayer. They began appearing in magazines all over the world.
“I still have boxes full of fan mail from countries all over the world, places like Italy, Pakistan, Yugoslavia,” Perry says. “People were heavily into Gammacide. Someone would write you a letter and send you five or six bucks in the mail, and you would send them a tape. They would tape it for their friends and share it. It was the same as the internet but slower. You appreciated it more. It was also cool to have a tape that none of your friends have heard.”
Their rock ’n’ roll heaven ended soon after it began. Perry says death metal ended the dream, and grunge continued kicking it while it was down. Bands such as Exodus and Vio-lence became “old hat” and, though they were a fairly young metal band, Gammacide also found themselves part of the old school crowd.
In 2005, Perry decided to release 1,000 copies of old Gammacide material online. It sold out fairly quickly. Then he licensed the material to a Brazilian label and proceeded to sell out of 2,000 copies. He says he realized then that a whole new generation of thrash metal fans existed online.
“Gammacide got a second lease on life with the internet,” he says. “They treat it as some kind of rare holy grail of thrash.”
So it wasn’t a surprise when FOAD reached out in 2014 to see if Gammacide would be open to the idea of a boxset. Shelby was a little reluctant at first to put their coveted thrasher material in the hands of an unfamiliar label. But then he saw some of the other boxsets the label had created for other thrash metal bands. He contacted Perry who, in turn, checked out their other releases. He noticed the label was putting together some cool packages for metal bands such as Raw Power and agreed with Shelby who told him, “This is a good deal.”
They spent the next two years searching through old VHS tapes for concert footage, tracking down old photos, fliers and other Gammacide memorabilia to create a 32-page booklet to include with the box set. He says it’s the ultimate Gammacide package for a cool $45 price tag.
“It’s amazing how metal stands the test of time,” Perry says. “If you wait long enough, everything becomes classic.”
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Christian McPhate is an award-winning journalist who specializes in investigative reporting. He covers crime, the environment, business, government and social justice. His work has appeared in several publications, including the Dallas Morning News, the Fort Worth Star Telegram, the Miami Herald, San Antonio Express News and The Washington Times.