You probably all know that Chicago is famous for its basketball team, since Bulls’ Michael Jordan-era, it has one of the greatest teams in NBA history. But Chicago isn’t so famous for its metal bands, even though we are dealing with the 3rd largest city in the States. The doom master of Trouble is probably the most famous band coming from the windy city, but the most underrated group is definitely Znöwhite.
In the year 1982, the speed/thrash metal band Znowhite or Znöwhite was founded by two African American brothers, guitarist Ian Tafoya and drummer Sparks Tafoya (real names Greg Fulton and Tony Heath), along with cousin Nicky Tafoya (real name Curtis Fulton) on bass, while Nicole Lee (real name Sue Sharp) joined the group soon after, as the lead vocalist. The band started under the moniker Snowhite, but later replaced the S with a Z. They self-released a single entitled “Live for the Weekend”, before a 4-song demo in May 1983, which featured the song “Hellbent”. This caught the attention of Metal Blade Records founder, Brian Slagel, who added this song to the famous Metal Massacre compilation volume 3. But to be honest the band wasn’t something extraordinary. But after four years on the road, a self- released six track Demo in 1984, two EP’s (“All Hail to Thee” in 1984 & “Kick ’em When They’re Down” in 1985 via Enigma Records) and a live recording via Erika Records entitled “Live Suicide” in 1986, Znöwhite seemed to be ready for something bigger. We have to mention that bassist Nicky Tafoya was replaced in 1984 by Amp Dawg, which in 1985 was also replaced by Scott Schafer and finally in 1988 Alex Olvera became the bassist of the band for just one year!
On April Fools’ Day 1988, “Act of God” got out via Roadracer Records. Many fools didn’t pay attention to the record back then, but even 26 years later only few seem to appreciate this underrated gem. In terms of musicianship the album has two aces on its sleeve. A killer guitarist Ian Tafoya, performing his fast paced chugging and razor sharp guitar work alongside with the imposing punk influenced -and a sad touch- vocalist Nicole Lee. The drumming, without being awful, still sounds a bit mediocre, while the bass is a bit buried due to not so good/clear production. Please notice that all bass guitars were recorded by Scott Schafer and Ian Tafoya, even though Alex Olvera is mentioned as the bass player in the album. Nice lyrics dealing with War (“War Machine”), Injustice, cult movie Mad Max (“Thunderdome”), Society and Anti-nazi (“Pure Blood”) themes, that suit perfectly with the offensive, impetuous and furious music Znöwhite created.
“To The Last Breath” is an thrash anthem with many rhythm changes and characteristic nice bridge and chorus that sticks in your mind,
“Baptised by Fire”, is raw thrash with crunchy guitars and frenzy soloing,
“Pure Blood” has an intro with chugging guitars and mid tempo rhythm while the velocity is lifted, and the sad vocals dominate the song,
“War Machine”, is probably one of the album’s highlights and one of the reasons is Lee’s excellent performance, “Thunderdome”, silly intro, but the rest of the song is really great,
“Rest in Peace”, another hymn with great chorus and solid rhythm section, another excellent performance from this magnificent frontwoman. The pummeling drumming here is actually perfect, by far the best moment of Sparks Tafoya on the album,
“Disease Bigotry”, nothing extra ordinary but it has a well worked chorus (as all 9 songs) and combines melody and aggression perfectly,
“A Soldier’s Creed”, full attack from the first second, great chorus that lifts the composition,
“Something Wicked (This Way Comes)”, is 9-minutes long and has a dark/doomy intro and a touch of Metallica-like guitars from the middle of the song ‘till the end of it. A perfect closer.
Surely there were quite some other thrash metal bands in the ‘80s, featuring female vocalists like Détente, Sentinel Beast and of course Holy Moses. But, two black guys and a female vocalist wasn’t something ordinary or something you bump into every day and certainly not in the ‘80s, but I don’t want to believe that this was the main reason why Znöwhite didn’t have the attention they ought to have by metal audience. At least I hope so… After all, towards the end of the recording sessions of “Act Of God”, Nicole Lee made the decision to leave the band. So in the extensive American tour, that followed the album’s release and featured Sentinel Beast vocalist Debbie Gunn (real name Debbie Gunderson) and drummer John Slattery, formerly of the band Tools Of Ignorance, no one seemed to care about these unsung heroes of speed/thrash. Aftermath result, the band split up, as vocalist Debbie Gunn left to return to her former band.