That group is Thrust, and its radio-friendly "Smack" gave the titular treatment to its opponent in KQRC's New Rock Rumble, leaving throbbing scarlet handprints across the faces of Republic recording artists Flaw. The next night, Thrust crushed One Side Zero (a group poised to follow in the multiplatinum footsteps of Warner Bros. labelmates Linkin Park) by a margin that made a mockery of that band's name -- one side had virtually zero support, while Thrust's side garnered 93 percent of the votes.
Opening with eerie distorted guitar reminiscent of Marilyn Manson's "Sweet Dreams" remake, "Smack" strikes suddenly with a shouted declaration of its title and a few massive riffs, then settles back into psychedelia for the verses. Its chorus blends the arena-ready bombast of latter-day Metallica with the vulnerable self-reflection of Staind and other still-chained-to-Alice tortured neogrunge souls, as singer Greg Divine growls I feel that I'm addicted/Does that make me a loser? The backup vocals echo Loser, playing the part of an accusatory Greek chorus. Not the cheeriest sentiments, perhaps, but gloom sells when it comes to hard rockers and old-school metalheads. Factor in gruffly melodic hooks and transitional guitar solos as well as professional-quality production, engineering and mixing courtesy of Wes West (son of Shooting Star's Gary West and heir to a top-notch studio), and Thrust's most accessible offering became impossible for even The Rock to ignore.
"They're not there because they're a local band," says Neal Mirsky, 98.9's program director since September 2001. "It's the quality of the band that earned it a place on the New Rock Rumble." Mirsky admits he hasn't seen or heard many local bands yet (he relocated to Kansas City from Philadelphia to take the 98.9 job), but from what he's encountered, "Thrust seems to clearly be the leading local band within the genre of The Rock's music."
Mirsky's first contact with the group came at last year's 98.9-sponsored Freaker's Ball, where Thrust, by virtue of its controversial (more on that later) victory at America's Pub's Battle of the Bands, earned an opening slot in support of Soil, Sevendust and Alice Cooper. "I was pretty impressed with their live performance, and even more impressed with the crowd's reaction," Mirsky recalls. "So I thought I'd throw 'em in the rumble and see what happened."
That marks one of the first tangible benefits from Thrust's big-venue shows, guitarist Mike Scott says. In addition to last year's Freaker's Ball, Thrust's Battle rewards included a warm-up gig for Mötley Crüe at Memorial Hall in 1998 and a show with Megadeth and Static X in 1999. "We've had a lot of offers from people who say, 'I want so much from your first album and so much of your second album,' and it's like, fuck that."