Long-running thrash metal act Flotsam and Jetsam rose up in the '80s along with a wave of thrash groups that would define the genre in its earliest form.
Formed in Phoenix, Arizona, the band went through several variations before solidifying in 1985 with the release of two demo tapes that led to a 1986 debut album, Doomsday for the Deceiver. Original bassist Jason Newsted would leave the band shortly after the release of that album to join Metallica, but the band would soldier on through the '80s, '90s, and beyond, recording over a dozen albums and staying true to their thrash roots as the years burned on.
Flotsam and Jetsam was formed in 1981 by drummer Kelly David Smith and guitarists Pete Mello and Dave Goulder. For the first several years, the band existed in a larval state, changing their name multiple times (going through names like Paradox, the Dogz, and Dredlox) and shifting lineups before congealing around 1985. By that time the band consisted of vocalist Eric A-K, guitarists Michael Gilbert and Edward Carlson, and Michigan transplant Jason Newsted playing bass and writing lyrics -- only drummer David Smith remained from the earliest incarnation of the band. They played in Phoenix and on California's metal scene, sharing bills with acts like Megadeth and Mercyful Fate, and first gained attention for their 1985 demo tapes Metal Shock and Iron Tears. On the strength of those demos and an early video making the rounds, the band signed to Metal Blade Records and released their rough but ambitious 1986 debut, Doomsday for the Deceiver. Shortly after the record's release, metal giants Metallica would recruit Newsted to replace bassist Cliff Burton, who had died in a tragic tour bus crash.
In another strange twist, Flotsam and Jetsam then signed with Metallica's label Elektra, for whom they recorded their second album, 1988's No Place for Disgrace, with new bassist Troy Gregory. Despite losing their principal lyricist and an important songwriter in Newsted (who was kind enough to leave a few contributions behind), the album managed to improve slightly upon their first and featured an interesting cover of Elton John's "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting." The band toured relentlessly, switching labels to sign with MCA, and releasing 1990's When the Storm Comes Down, 1992's Cuatro, and 1995's Drift. Bassist Gregory departed to join Prong after the first of these albums and was replaced by Jason Ward. Finding themselves back on Metal Blade, the band began experimenting with different approaches to their time-tested metal style on 1997's High, the last to feature Gilbert and Kelly David Smith. 1999's Unnatural Selection featured their replacements, guitarist Mark Simpson and drummer Craig Nelson, but by the time 2001's well-received My God was released, the band had essentially gone on hiatus, taking a long break while A.K. focused on his country project the A.K. Corral. They reassembled in 2004 for a series of sold-out shows in Japan with Overkill and Death Angel, and the following year they issued Dreams of Death, their ninth studio long-player. 2006's concert DVD, Live in Japan, captured the group's 2004 performance at the Citta Club in Tokyo, and in 2010 they released a brand-new studio album, The Cold. 2012's Ugly Noise saw the band utilize the crowd-funding site PledgeMusic. It would also be the first Flotsam and Jetsam release since 1997 to feature original members Michael Gilbert (guitar) and Kelly David Smith (drums) -- Jason Newsted, though he did not appear on the LP, co-wrote some of the songs. For Smith at least, the reunion was short-lived, and by the time the band issued their eponymous 12th album in 2016, he'd once again departed, hand-picking his replacement in Jason Bittner. Bittner's tenure was equally brief and in 2017 he joined Overkill, opening the door for veteran drummer Ken Mary, who made his Flotsam and Jetsam debut on 2019's The End of Chaos. ~ Eduardo Rivadavia, Rovi