TRAUMA is highly revered by those in the know as an important evolutionary entity in the intersection of traditional heavy metal, the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, and the more melodically minded classic rock influenced bands on the Sunset Strip. This is one of the first thrash metal bands – responsible for the much sought after classic ‘80s album, ‘Scratch and Scream’ in 1984 (reissued in 2013) featuring killer cuts like “The Day All Hell Broke Loose” and “Lay Low.” Three decades passed before the reconfigured band reemerged in support of a re-mastered edition of their debut and delivered ‘Rapture and Wrath’ in 2015, ‘As the World Dies’ in 2018, and ‘Awakening’ in 2022. Soaring melodies and fierce riffs collide in songs that are equal parts sharp, fierce, grandiose, and theatrical. Since their formation, they’ve assembled the strongest elements of seemingly disparate strains of metal, with passion and proficiency.
TRAUMA was born in California’s Bay Area in 1980, a crucial year for metal music. It was within that fertile musical climate that TRAUMA developed a sound evoking the electric energy in the air around them. Singer Donny Hillier consumed a steady diet of Zeppelin and Sabbath and shared a love of Priest and Maiden with guitarist Mike Overton. And of course there was Trauma’s legendary early bassist, Cliff Burton. In 2013’s ‘Birth School Metallica Death: The Inside Story of Metallica,’ legendary Bay Area thrash singer Steve “Zetro” Souza of Exodus recalled seeing Trauma as a music-hungry teenager. As Zetro remembered it, several voices in the Northern California scene heralded Trauma as “the next big thing” to emerge from the Bay.
As a thrash metal band of the ‘80s, Trauma built a strong reputation in places like The Stone, late music impresario Bill Graham’s Wolfgang’s venue, and Hollywood landmarks The Troubadour and Whiskey-A-Go-Go, a launching pad for The Doors, Van Halen, and Guns N’ Roses. Much like Metallica, Trauma’s first recorded appearance was as part of the compilation series curated by Metal Blade Records. ‘Metal Massacre II’ (1982) featured “Such a Shame.” The band shot a video for the song “The Warlock” in Santa Ana, California, not long before Burton left the group to join Metallica. New members entered the fold, including powerhouse double kick drummer Gustofson. The highly-skilled-musicianship-centric Shrapnel Records, the label formed by record producer and Guitar Player columnist Mike Varney, issued Trauma’s debut. ‘Scratch and Scream’ arrived to enthusiastically positive reviews from the worldwide metal press, including tastemaker publications Kerrang!, Circus, and Metal Forces.
As fate would have it, TRAUMA did not survive the era, but much like the Misfits and other important bands who accomplished so much in such a short time while flying under the radar, the story of the band grew for generations of fans; enough that demand continued for their seminal debut, the follow-up album, and the group’s first ever appearances overseas, most notably at Germany’s Headbangers Open Air. The Big 4 of Thrash Metal continue to deliver the goods. Iron Maiden concerts are cross-cultural events for legions of fans around the world. Judas Priest churns out incredible albums. New generations of fans form vintage sounding thrash bands every day. And the Bay Area’s prodigal sons, TRAUMA, are ready as ever to attack (and the numbers don’t lie – as evidenced by a modern track of theirs, “From Here to Hell,” enjoying over 250k streams on Spotify).
The modern day TRAUMA line-up features singer Brian Allen (who replaced Hillier, who sadly passed away in 2020), Steve Robello (guitar), Joe Fraulob (guitar), Greg Christian (bass), and Kris Gustofson (drums). August 2022 will see the release of the new music release (and fourth album overall), ‘Awakening,’ via Massacre Records. Produced by Juan Urteaga, and the album features artwork by Ioannis (who has previously worked with the likes of Fates Warning, Sepultura, and Deep Purple, among countless others).
“I’m really happy with how this record turned out,” says Robello. “Juan did an amazing job with the production and mix. This is a much heavier Trauma record than anything the band has done in the past and a lot of that is due to the addition of Brian Allen. His voice has so much versatility that I was able to write much heavier riffs than ever before, but still have a lot of melodies and harmonies. My favorite track by far is ‘Death of the Angels,’ the lyrics written by my wife Rochelle, the lead guitar tracks and the performance by Brian make this a solid contender to be a commercial success. Also the video produced by Mike Sloat is amazing.”
The first video from ‘Awakening’ is for the track “Walk Away.” “‘Walk Away,’ was written specifically about the Middle East struggle,” explains Robello. “But as we see from recent events, never ending violence and warfare isn’t monopolized by that region of the world. Musically, the song has a lot of different melodic and dynamic elements, and the drum tracks are just crushing.”
Other standout tracks include “Death of Angels” and “Meat” (both will receive the video treatment, as well). Robello described each as: “For ‘Death of the Angels,’ we delved into the worst of human nature with this one – getting directly in the mind of one of history’s most notorious serial killers. This song is written and sung as Ted Bundy first person with some of the actual acts of violence incorporated into the lyrics. Serious brutality. ‘Meat,’ is super fun to play and is going to be a great live song. A little more punk/thrash and I think people will really dig it. The lyrics are brutal, almost to the point of disturbing.”
“I am very excited that we are at a point of new music coming out to the metal fans,” says Gustofson. “This album was recorded during a very strange time and was almost off the table. We were lucky to have Brian Allen join the band and make the new album possible. Am hopeful the fans of thrash metal will sink their teeth into the AWAKENING! it is a feast for all!”
Now several decades into their career, TRAUMA continues to offer inspired, focused, and hard-hitting metal.