So once upon a time, there was this crazy bitch. Who took all the boys to task, on their own terrain, using their own instruments, style & terms, & quite literally; extirpated – them – all – entirely.
It is almost a hidden piece of modern history. Currently kept quiet by a melange of interlocking complexities operating as obstructions to the truth getting out & the score being set straight.
The simple explanation would go something like this – in the mid-80s, a young female graduate & classical violin virtuoso of the illustrious Julliard school of performing arts in New York would – after some kind of unexplained epiphenomena, major metonoia, or special weapons substance freak encounter – decideed to learn the electric guitar & launch into a crossover career/crusade of her own version of extreme Speed Metal with the vehemence of a Valkyrie.
That protagonist was Katherine Thomas, who would be transformed into The Great Kat, simply the baddest motherfucker of them all.
Kat would go on to produce two of the most incontestably original, intense, fast, advanced, defining & standout albums in the genre – Worship Me or Die! In 1987 (aged just twenty) & then Beethoven on Speed in 1990, both of which were issued on Roadrunner.
for manifold reasons, many of which we will discuss, the albums are not generally recognized & renowned for the shocking standard, quality, prestige & indelibility that they so blatantly affirmed.
in fact, far from being familiar as veritable classics of the genre (& beyond it), many people still don’t even know who The Great Kat is & what she has donated to history with such unmatched vigour.
It is a kind of ongoing artistic atrocity & injustice.
The stridency of her persona (we will get there, & in detail), & berserk bellicosity of her self-assertion – backed of course by her outstanding musical abilities & power – will have threatened massive contention in the field, & play a role in the reason for her grossly inaccurate standing the genres history books.
Moving onto the masterpieces in question, you need to deal with the woman responsible first.
Who was the virtuoso virago supremo? & how did she “come across”?
Mad as a meat-axe mate!!!!
Kat exhibits this kind of constant character acting (which may now have become the prevailing psyche).
Do you recall the late 70s & full 80s – often B-movie – portrayals of the archetypal public menace “street punks”?
& the kind of cretinous, overdone, demented, manic, faux-PCP addled melodrama complete with excessively exaggerated dialogue? all rounded off with a dose of pushed-plausibility youthful aggression? Take a classic example of the style with the motley of “punks” from Death Wish 3 (1985). You could very easily imagine Kat slipped into the lead-role here as gang boss of the uncontrolled hoodlums (she would have been absolutely fucking perfect if not unbeatable on such a deployment).
Think of Linda Blair’s iconic “badass boss bitch” from trashy but glorious 80s NY youth gang shocker Savage Streets (1984), albeit Linda being less energetic & “overboard” than the demented Kat.
More likely soaked up as a common component of NY street slang, Kat’s foul-mouthed, turbo-trash-talk & fast-flowing obscenities (Kat regularly call’s people “cunts” & “faggots” with merciless relish) are sprayed out in flurries of withering expletives & gutter insults.
She is the ultimate quintessence of bad-mouthed, acid tongued 80s NY street punk, beating pretty much any other depiction I have seen on film or elsewhere.
The vintage epitomi.
Pick out the best, funniest, most ridiculous enactment from any 80s flick, & she’ll probably outperform it.
Its that good.
This is the very sabre-toothed trash-talk rapidity that she brings into her vocal repertoire on albums, to sublime effect.
It sits along side her clear, siren-styled femme screams, & the more recurrent shouting (a bit like a maxed-out female drill-sergeant, going nuclear).
The formula is incredible, & highly original (I don’t know anyone else that drops it like this?)
But even better is how she styles & varies it, maximising delivery & impact with tremendous creativity, flare & the skills of a professional voice actor.
Her emotiveness & punctuation as a vocalist is also worth stressing. It’s often more like stage acting or screenplay, she is extremely theatrical, & works with highly contrasting delivery & mode acting.
Again referring to cinema, there is a dimension of Kat’s mad genius that reminds me heavily of some of the better female characters from cult director Russ Meyer’s choice 70s flicks. The mesmerising girl gang from Faster Pussycat Kill! Kill! (Tura Satana specifically), or the ball-busting, acerbic maneater super-bitches like Shari Eubank.
Its this kind of dramatism & almost “cartoon like” quality of both exaggeration & histrionics, mixed with real extremes, that give you the unique, fraying Kat experience.
She is also, very, very funny.
Mixed with her typical ultra-violent megalomanic egomania are all these hilarious & flippant phrases & risible descriptive twists.
again, like some fucked up cartoon script or loaded B-movie cook-out, the woman is a force of her own.
There was an amazing old video of her walking around the streets of NY (not the Good Day New York feature episode) talking shit to people in her overly ostentatious & hyper-disarming Katakism style, but I have unfortunately not been able to locate it to share here (I will drop the link in later should I re-find the video).
As an entirely separate observation, there is the subject of Kat as a style icon.
Her wardrobe & gear, attentively caught & bombed with a multiplicity of high quality photography, as well as stage performance & presence, was a veritable extravaganza of the rock chick phenomenon gone turbo. In a nova of exemplar 80s biker bitch meets girl gang street punk, she would rock the bullet belts, the chains, the chrome, the dog-tags, the spiked wrist swathes, wads of lurid purple 80s eye-shadow, & the most insane hair I have ever seen on a Metaller (another record then?)
The whack-job-genius’s hair had some kind of specialized extensions, & a two-tone dye contrast that cranked the “hair metal” extravagance to a record rug …. just fuckin’ nuts man!
She would also flaunt fishnets to great effect, often destroying it on stage in nothing more than her draws, boots & a fuckin’ bra!
Her supreme confidence, totalitarian self-assurance & excellent grasp of posture, not to mention all the mid-scream, teeth-gritting, grimacing mad-dogging nut-fuckery were the stuff of an alpha-showboater.
Kat had yet to stray into the more overtly sexualized territory (not that this shit is exactly lacking) that would unfortunately mar the later part of her career, to the detriment of her image & standing as an artist in my opinion.
All this energy & individuality goes direct & centre-point into both albums.
How do they hold up sonically? It’s just the most murderous & energised Speed Metal you will hear in your fucking life!
Another major & notable element of these two albums, particularly Worship Me or Die! Is how extreme, fast & progressive it is.
Worship was issued in 1987 for fucks sakes!
The girl was just twenty-years-old.
It is way, way ahead of its time in terms of extremity, sounding (classic 80s production aside) much more like a mid-90s – if not even later – “extreme metal” record.
Irrespective of Kat’s ridiculous shredding/fast-picking, you also have to factor in the album’s overall aggression or “brutality”, & the drums, which actually even occasionally break into blastbeats (strangely, no credits are given to the other musicians involved).
Historically, this is a huge, huge deal.
Tape trading aside, this is really pre-Death Metal (at least in its earliest easily available form), with Napalm Death (Grindcore) & Death releasing their debut albums in the same year (87), & Morbid Angel, Terrorizer & Deicide’s debuts materialising a full three-to-four-years later in 1989 & 1990.
again, this is identifiable chiefly as a Thrash/Speed Metal record with the novelty of Kat’s intensely personalised amalgam of orchestral metal/classical shred.
But it is equally an early & pioneering form of exceedingly precocious & formidable “Extreme Metal” & has – in my judgement – just as much claim to “Death Metal”, at least from a speed, shred & “extremity” perspective/classification.
I also, categorically, do not know of a single “Thrash Metal” record that can fuck with this one in a speed, aggression or intensity metric, & I believe that is factually accurate & overt, not just my personal opinion.
Like it or loathe it, hate her or love her, I don’t think this can be accurately denied.
It is what it is bro & it is very apparent.
To my knowledge, from a guitar argument, the only partial contender/threat would be Dave Mustaine’s Megadeth.
Mustaine was a maniac, & his classic 1985 LP – Killing Is My Business …. And Business Is Goodmassively pushed the envelope.
Mustaine was capable of phenomenal speed/fast pick, but he was more sparing with it, & his intensity on his instrument was not mirrored by the rest of the band.
He also featured a variety of reprieve/slower tracks, where almost every track on Worship spare the opening title track is hyper-fast.
This is no dis to Dave, I consider Killing Is My Business as one of the greatest Metal records of all time, along with sections of his later work from Peace Sells & So Far So Good.
But extremity wise, remorseless speed wise, it is nowhere on the level of Worship Me Or Die! or it’s sequel.
We then arrive at 1990’s Beethoven on Speed, of which – I believe – the public consensus holds as the superior album (I am not so sure overall).
This recording greatly expands on the “classical metal/shred” theme – totally running away with it.
It is incredibly innovative & conceptually daring, not to mention the absurd virtuosity engaged to pull it off (with the drummer often struggling like fuck to keep up).
As bold & artistically intrepid as this LP is, the tracks that really, really stand out for me are two very short run-away conflagrations: Revenge Mongrel & Kat Abuse.
They are insane.
Absolutely ridiculous, conceptually & compositionally immaculate, uber-octane, stupendously fast, berserk, amok – with Kat vocally at the peak of her powers.
If only – there could have been a full album consisting strictly of these short, stupendously energetic styled tracks.
It is just these two songs, but they are perfect, almost another genre entirely.
For me personally, these two tracks probably encompass the best Kat material ever.
“Ultra Dead” is another favourite, complete with a terrific, vintage Thrash riff.
Much of the rest of the album consists of epic, inescapably incredible Classical-Metal crossover in the distinguished Kat style.
It is utterly amazing, and, a profound & singular achievement.
As for my own personal opinion on the better of the two albums, I have to go “overall” with Worship. It’s much more consistent, much rawer, & more “straight ahead” (with Kat’s unique styling) plus it has that classic 80s vibe & production.
Beethoven on Speed has for me the best tracks of her career, Revenge Mongrel & Kat Abuse, but the rest of the album, although artistically hysterical, just does not give me the same kick as the more consecutive Worship, as astounding as it so clearly is.
I also prefer Kat when she is doing Thrash/Speed Metal, mixed with her furious & frenzied classical-conflag trade mark, with the first album containing more material of this manner.
It is impossible not to admire her more direct classical approach & compositions on the second album, but I prefer it when her compositions & arrangements lean more on her more aggressive & more Metal dosed material & dispensation.
In simplistic terms, these are two of the best, most original, most technically astonishing, most extreme & standout “Metal” albums of the era and of all time.
Shit is just fantastical.
Now, the big question is: how did The Great Kat compare against her peers? How did she perform when measured against the best of the time (& after) with a neutral & non-partisan judgement?
There is a very strong argument that she exceeded, if not destroyed them all.
Breaking it down is difficult, but to start with let’s clarify “speed”.
Inevitably we have the “shredding”, or “fast picking” which was rife in Thrash & Speed Metal & would go on to be even more of a staple later in Death Metal.
On top of this, very importantly, you have the all sacred tempo, which will generally vary (& we also have to consider “speed jumps” depending on the artist).
So even if playing a really fast rotation of constant shred, it could be played at a slow or mid-range tempo – or – the tempo could be pushed, leading to an even faster result.
Kat’s tempos are frequently insane, & I stress frequently.
Her shredding is also ferocious & obsessive, highly-dextrous & agile, &, crucially, she can shred out at fast tempos.
She also plays these reeling, outstandingly intricate, melodic & classical-themed guitar solos & tap-outs (excessive tapping) …. & she often plays them – once again – at insane speeds/tempos.
They are very distinctive, hyperactive & powerful, another signature Katism.
Kat will also regularly “bounce the victim” between the two styles of extremity – ultra-fast shred & then careening melodic classical sprint-outs, often with no recovery time between them.
Basically boys, this woman is seriously, seriously out-of-control, & she is very literally throwing down for the crown, with the chops, virtuosity & fanaticism to back it all up, solid as a rock.
So, at this stage, who can fuck with it?
Wee need to pick out the fastest, most aggressive & most advanced bands of the era (recall that Worship was released in 1987).
to my knowledge, there are really only three established challengers (with albums actually out, confirming their pedigree & presenting contest) that can get in the ring with The Great Kat for a title shot (the fastest) at this stage … Slayer, Dark Angel, Kreator & – from a purely guitars perspective – Megadeth’s Dave Mustaine (more on him later).
We also need to cite the exact album’s for speeds sake, Reign In Blood from Slayer (1986), Darkness Descends by Dark Angel (1986), Pleasure To Kill via Kreator(1986) & Killing Is My Business from Megadeth/Mustaine (1985).
I have no proof, but my suspicion is that all these bands were a direct influence/reference for Kat (as well as others), whom she will probably have perceived as competitors.
Whether she consciously set out to outdo these guys, I don’t know? but I am calling it – she “outruns” them all.
It is not about personal preference or allegiance, whether simply neutral, or you can hate Kat’s album & heap all your approval & favour on the others (or elsewhere), but you simply cannot deny the facts on the ground, & the incontestable achievements in speed that are clear to all that witness.
Speed wise, in multiple facets of the application, she’s nailed it, whether you like it or not.
& this, in some ways, is where part of Katherine Thomas’s problems start …. this lone mad bitch came along from nowhere, on her own, & put the fuckin’ whip on all the boys, or at the very, very least; sat as an equal at their elite table.
beside speed, what about brutality, viciousness, consistent aggression & dynamic extremity when compared to the other four contenders?
Once again, there is a special argument to be made in Kat’s favour.
As previously mentioned, the song writing structures & hyper-dynamics of Worship sound much, much more like an accomplished mid 90’s Extreme Metal album from a frontrunner. It has a rare & marked precipitous precocity & is quite clearly way ahead of its time (Kreator would majorly advance the technical element with a release in the same year – Terrible Certainty & Canada’s Voïvod where also busy expanding on the formula).
The combination of speed, psychotic pugnacity, hyper dynamics & manic fixation with speeding up/speeding off, all in abundance, created a different condition … a kind of “full attack” style that shattered the standard.
Although there is slower, classic thrash work & mid-paced moments, so much of the album is forced into the red, often with the fleeting cessations just a recouperation for the other musicians whilst Kat will just launch into more fast pick or flailing tap-out frenzy.
The level of “intensity” conjured fits more with future Death Metal from an extremity perspective (remember that this is still firmly pre-Death Metal, unless Kat was hard on her tape trading), it is just alien & standout for a Thrash/Speed Metal album from 1987.
then you have her vocals.
Again, she just had to go further, had to take it to such extremes, had to cut all the safety gear.
I guess it is really the “hysterics”, & sheer relentlessness of it that just blasts it into a new echelon? Or the “hyper-active-disorder” she either has, or projects, via the whole unstoppable avenging psycho-bitch characterisation. It is far crazier, less-controlled & more extreme than anything else offered in the idiom.
And so, you can imagine the propensity for animosity, when this nut-fuck chick shows up, with a skill set this exponential. In an arena & movement absolutely & completely dominated by men (as the players), with barley even another female musician to compete with in the field (the few present were nowhere even slightly close or comparable), Kat was accelerating beyond them all.
Can you imagine?
To make matters worse, she came in swinging the axe for every dude’s bollocks with her notoriously street hood trash-mouth whilst announcing her superiority & intentions to takeover in typical Kat verbal mayhem. When she says “Get eaten by maggots! – Faggots!” on opener Metal Messiah (no lack in self-confidence then), she is probably aiming wildly at established stalwarts.
If it was just a bullshitting broad, it would not be so bad, but the fact was that the crazy motherfucker was actually that bad-ass on her instrument too.
This must have really upset/pissed-off & terrified some of those guys.
You can almost imagine a convene between “the big four” & concerned parties to hash out a combined strategy to deal with this new threat.
Who knows how seriously it was taken? what collusion was rallied? & what powers put into action?
I can’t imagine Kat not going on to some kind of black list, or some other form of effort not being activated incognito against her.
But Kat did things that would make her career even more prone to suppression in all her psychotic war goddess vengeful Valkyrie attitude.
Then there was the Made In Japan track from Beethoven on Speed.
Ohhhhh man. So it contains one of the shittest racial stereotyping tropes excretable.
GODAMN! Really? Guess so.
A gesture of sore-loser, simpering right-wing garbage TV wank about being outperformed by the productive & technical proficiency of a foreign country (Japan) after your own one failed to invest, compete, & underfunded & outsourced it’s own production abroad to the detriment of the nation.
Let’s blame somebody else that’s doing better rather than up our fucking game, & have a pop at them racially whilst we are at it via low-level caricature?
Well, the “geniuses” plan did not work out so favourably for her record sales & audience extension, & I assume she the album were embargoed to the outer swamps in one of the best Metal markets around?
This also hinted at another semi-hidden ugly paradox in the Kat psyche, the idiot jingoist, military bootlicker, which would go fully-cyclic later down the road on Wagner’s War (we are getting there).
It is another of Kat’s radical paradoxes.
She seems to have the horn for elements of hyper right-wing American tox culture. The kind of early Fox News retard -syndrome sprayed out by Roger Ailes that buys into the reductive scapegoat themes shat at the viewer.
Genius don’t fail me now!
Of course, the same “conservative?” ideology she seems to be fostering some favour-fetish towards is exactly the kind of ideology that would have Kat lose her instruments, “immodest clothing”, hairstyle, & have her roasting turkeys in the kitchen for the family unit as an ever-deferent housewife, whilst probably getting sexually abused by a church elder under some kind of sect obedience clause.
Perhaps nothing demonstrates this peculiar contradiction more than Kat’s infamous appearance on a 1989 episode of The Morton Downey Jr. Show. Morton was the John Wayne befouled every-man moral crusader shit-show host that was probably groping evangelical male interns on the side whilst preaching reactionary good book blather to the masses.
Kat, “The Loud Mouth”, is brought up to defend Metal’s honour in a cross examination that quickly goes awry. After a cheap shot sucker punch from Mort loaded with sexist connotation, Kat quickly goes “full douche bag” on the wastrel, then – among a baying audience of rowdy witch-burners who seem to have-it-in-for her just because she’s a bird – tells him to “suck my cunt!” before the host, fully secure within his in-studio authority over the set, delivers his best John Wayne styled death blow to Kat whilst half the audience go into seizure – “Get her ass outta’ here!”.
Kat is then escorted off set by a giant black security guard whilst they cut to commercials so Downey can expels his enveloped testicles.
Further animus with Dave Mustaine.
For me, to this very day, Mustaine made & played some of the best Metal guitar work of all time. The first three tracks from Killing Is My Business are sensational. His speed, attack, compositional acumen & quality of Thrash riffage are legendary & I consider him one of the absolute best from the era & in continuum.
It’s also crucial to note that the opening intro – “Last Rites” – is a clearly defined “classical adaption” in theme & style, so although it is just a brief intro, Dave was here first with a finished publication on the style in 1985 (Kat was perhaps still at Julliard).
But in terms of the overall extremity of output/end of result recordings, Kat is way, way, way more intense, hands & even feat down.
So the rumour is that Kat had a major confrontation with Mustaine at a Metal convention back in the day, where Dave was left so enraged at Kat that he had to be physically restrained from attempting violence on her.
It is not a difficult scenario to imagine by any standards.
I think Kat clearly pissed off a lot of powerful men, who had a shared interest in relegating her to obscurity & exclusion.
Again, it is not the only issue here, & Kat definitely does not make it … “easy” for herself in many capacities.
I think Kat, whom I have never seen play a victim thread, has had a hard time.
This was 100% down to her own “irregular flamboyance”, which is both her rising star & her lead albatross. But yes!, unquestionably, being a woman, & being that much of a bad-arse musician,
she must of absolutely petrified the paradigm.
Her redaction, or reduction to a kind of “novelty” candidate misrepresentation in Metal royalty & extreme metal history is seriously, seriously fucked. It is incorrect. I would say even that it is corrupt.
After Beethoven on Speed, which did not secure the degree of merit/attention/impact/recognition that it so clearly warranted (we have discussed some of the factors that will of induced this result), Kat splits with Roadrunner Records.
Two accounts – Kat disengages due to the label not being effective/proactive enough (her take), & an alternative explanation that Kat was “too difficult/nuts” & was thus dropped.
Whatever the truth is, she went on to found her own label, TPR, & go it alone.
Never one short of ambition or recherché ideas, the next episode would be 1996’s Digital Beethoven on Cyberspeed, an interactive CD-Rom curio in the technological interregnum that preceded the internet, complete with six audio tracks.
I never heard it.
My next encounter with her work was a batch of CD EPs I got from her direct – Wagner’s War (2002), Rossini’s Rape (2000) & Bloody Vivaldi (1998).
For such an acolyte of her previous work, i find this shit pretty disappointing.
It’s not actually that it is bad in itself at all, or even mediocre (it ain’t), but after the supreme scintillating shit-kick that I know from her first two albums, this feels like a gigantic diminution of sorts.
For a start – the production is awful, like so much Metal during the period, solvent-sprayed dry rot with none of the sweat, physicality & aura of analogue/real sound….it’s like listening to a band through layers of perspex screens under an air-dryer.
All the Thrash has gone & we are now left only with, what to me, sounds like a sanitized version of the classical metal strand backed up by a fucking drum machine & keyboards.
The unique phantasm has gone & we are left with something akin to the orchestral black metal side-project experiments by gimps that were influenced by old fantasy movie film scores.
It’s so far from the previous splendour.
Listening to it now, for probably only the fourth time since buying them ten years back …
It is not that it is awful, or that great skill is not displayed, but it just feels/sounds completely standard, uneventful & insignificant for her.
Its like a Great Kat demo … clearly she still has it.
Further deterioration arises in the piss-poor artwork & photography.
The jumped-up street hood girl gang harlequin is gone, & we have some kind of S&M webcam worker who’s keen to show as much as possible … is this “maturity”?
Whatever … my only positive conclusion to draw from this is that she can clearly still play.
For certain, having delivered such utter brilliance on her first two records, the disappointment is far more chronic.
Wagner’s War is rife with dodgy & gauche military veneration, in response to 9/11. Kat opines the death of “innocent people” … which is a bit rich coming from the mass murdering, violence glorifying, “slaughtering indiscriminate killer” & Satanic “total tyrant”, but hey! Hey! Heeeeeey! …. nuance. Right?
Kat’s back again now, with a less cohesive social media spray job. Unfortunately, she has gone even further into the sexualized deportment, now embracing sex-cubicle, Euro-trash cos-play feish chic in post after post.
Who the fuck cares what I think? – but I do believe that it is really tragic.
Such behavioural measures are not a dissimilar phenomenon to what other great radical artists have undergone when they are maltreated or artificially denied the merit or agency they have acquired by way of their ability or creativity.
We mentioned Russ Meyer, who also went off the rails & became increasingly pornographic in his films after being “rejected” by the Hollywood establishment (& it really did a huge disservice to the quality of his films & art).
Perhaps Kat can still make it work with this new degraded persona/style? Even with such an … altered standard?
I am sure she still plays to an incredible degree.
As always with Kat, when the personality or prejudice or competing loyalties are set-aside or discounted, you have one of the most fantastical & enthralling musicians alive.
In a direct or conflicting contradiction to that very statement, Kat is also acutely fascinating as a character, enigma & artist herself, along with her richly divigating & highly unorthodox career path & prevailing isolation.
It astounds me that she has not received more attention from what – for want of a better word – could be very loosely described as a “feminist” quarter. Other historians, in & outside of Metal/Extreme Music, should also really be showing greater intrigue to this definitive super anomaly. But then again, certain interests, & egos, have an advantage in keeping the ball-chopping gutter-mouthed heiress off the podium due to her immense historical significance & the failure of “the genre” to treat this nutter in accordance with her achievements & calibre.
Its all to easy to depict Kat as a nutcase, or a kind of circus novelty due to her “larger than life” character & energy. This easy misrepresentation has been very useful to her detractors, competitors, peers or anyone else wishing to deceptively deny her outstanding contribution, example & status in the true muniments of extreme metal history & instrumental virtuosity.
This one – beyond-batshit – chick outperformed all the guys! All of em’! & in multiple applications.
It is set in cement & sitting in front of you. Like it or not.
You don’t have to like it, but to not accept it is to sit with bullshitters.