Flotsam and Jetsam is an American thrash metal band that was formed in Phoenix, Arizona, in 1981. Before settling on its current name in 1984, the band had existed under three different names, Paradox, Dredlox and Dogz. Their current lineup includes vocalist Eric “A.K” Knutson, guitarists Michael Gilbert and Steve Conley, bassist Bill Bodily, and drummer Ken Mary. Flotsam and Jetsam went through several lineup changes over the years, leaving Knutson as the only constant member. They are also notable for featuring bassist Jason Newsted, who left the band shortly after the release of their debut album to join Metallica as Cliff Burton‘s successor.
Flotsam and Jetsam has released thirteen studio albums in their career, with the latest being 2019’s The End of Chaos. Despite not achieving similar levels of commercial success as some of their thrash metal contemporaries, the band emerged as part of the second wave of the genre in the mid-to-late 1980s, and has enjoyed some moderate success in the United States, with two of their albums (1988’s No Place for Disgrace and 1990’s When the Storm Comes Down) entering the Billboard 200 chart, and their fourth album Cuatro (1992) cracking the top 30 on the Heatseekers chart.
1981–1986: Early days
The group was founded in 1981 under the name Paradox by drummer Kelly David-Smith and guitarists Pete Mello and Dave Goulder, who were later joined by bassist Jason Newsted. Jason had answered an ad that Kelly had placed in the local newspaper looking for a bass player. Jason came to Phoenix with his band Gangster from Michigan on their way to California, but Gangster broke up while in Phoenix. Kelly got a call from a couple of his high school friends, Mark Vasquez and Kevin Horton, looking for some people to jam with playing covers of bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, MSG, and UFO. The band then morphed into Dredlox together with the new recruits, Jason was now the main vocalist.
Kelly saw “A.K.” (Eric A. Knutson) singing “The Goodbye Girl” at his high school talent show. In 1982 they were in the same summer school class and Kelly asked Knutson if he wanted to audition. They put him on 2-week probation and he later joined the band. Due to the provisional nature of his membership, the band referred to Knutson as “the 2 weeker.” Ed Carlson, from another local rival band called Exodus (not to be confused with the California Bay Area thrash metal band of the same name), also joined in 1983 after Kevin’s departure from the band. The name of the band changed into The Dogz, but it didn’t last long. Eventually the band renamed itself “Flotsam and Jetsam” after writing a song inspired by chapter 9 of book three (of the same name) of J. R. R. Tolkien‘s The Lord Of The Rings.
The band made its live debuts in local clubs and in California and had the opportunity to play with bands such as Megadeth, Armored Saint, Alcatrazz, Malice, Exciter, Mercyful Fate, Riot, Autograph and Icon. In 1985 Mark Vasquez stepped out and 17-year-old Michael Gilbert joined the band. Flotsam and Jetsam released two demo tapes Iron Tears and Metal Shock in 1985.
They created their first video “Hammerhead” from the Metal Shock demo: “We taped it in Jason and Ed’s apartment living room. We also made a live video at the infamous Bootlegger in Phoenix”, (owned by Gloria Cavalera, currently married to Max Cavalera) These videos and the band’s demos made a good impression on record labels. After the band contributed to the Speed Metal Hell II and Metal Massacre VII compilations, they then signed a deal with Metal Blade Records.
1986–1989: Doomsday for the Deceiver and No Place for Disgrace
Flotsam and Jetsam recorded their debut album Doomsday for the Deceiver in Los Angeles with producer Brian Slagel and engineer Bill Metoyer. The album was released on the 4th of July in 1986, and was the first in Kerrang!‘s history to achieve the 6K rating.
Bassist Jason Newsted, who was also the band’s main lyric writer, departed soon after to join Metallica, replacing their bassist Cliff Burton, who died in a bus accident. On Halloween night 1986, Jason played his last gig with Flotsam and Jetsam. The band had asked another local bassist Phil Rind of Sacred Reich to fill in Jason’s place for a short time. They then hired Michael Spencer from the Sacramento band Sentinel Beast. Flotsam and Jetsam inked a deal with Metallica’s then-label Elektra Records before opening for Megadeth in 1987 on the Peace Sells tour in Europe and America. After touring with Megadeth, the band played selected shows in America with Slayer, Dark Angel, Possessed, Celtic Frost, Sacred Reich and Excel.
Michael Spencer left Flotsam and Jetsam shortly after a U.S. tour in the fall of 1987; his replacement was Troy Gregory. Their second studio album, No Place for Disgrace, was released in May 1988, and includes a cover of Elton John‘s hit “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” for which a music video was shot. The band toured heavily behind No Place for Disgrace throughout 1988 and 1989. They opened for King Diamond in America, and supported Megadeth, Testament and Sanctuary in Europe on the So Far, So Good… So What! tour. The band also toured or played shows with Testament, The Crumbsuckers, Fates Warning, Destruction, Metal Church, Death Angel, D.R.I., Acid Reign and Kreator, and landed a billing for festivals, such as Milwaukee Metalfest, and played at Aardschokdag twice (in May 1988 and April 1989).
1989–1995: MCA era
In 1989, Flotsam and Jetsam were signed to MCA Records and began work on their third album When the Storm Comes Down, released in May 1990. The band expected to gain recognition with this album, but it suffered from a variety of mixed reviews. A video made for “Suffer the Masses” did however receive heavy rotation on MTV‘s Headbangers Ball. Musically and lyrically, When the Storm Comes Down marked the beginning of at least two changes for Flotsam and Jetsam: it mirrored much of the occult and dark themes evidenced in the lyrical content of their previous two albums, instead focusing on politics and society in general, and saw the band expanding their thrash roots and using elements of the progressive and technical style of their later albums. The band toured for about a year and a half in support of When the Storm Comes Down; they co-headlined a U.S. tour with Prong, and subsequently toured or played selected shows with bands such as Testament, Savatage, Exodus, Vio-Lence, Sacred Reich, Wrathchild America and then-unknown Pantera.
Shortly after the When the Storm Comes Down tour ended, bassist Troy Gregory departed to join Prong. Holding auditions in Phoenix, the band hired Jason Ward to fill the role. With Ward as their new bassist, Flotsam and Jetsam released their fourth album Cuatro in October 1992. It marked an evolution in style and songwriting, moving from thrash to a slower, slightly more, melodic sound, while also continuing the progressive and technical song structures used on When the Storm Comes Down. The band released four singles this time, two of which (“Swatting at Flies” and “Wading Through the Darkness”) were shot as music videos and both received regular rotation on Headbangers Ball. Flotsam and Jetsam promoted Cuatro with a year-long tour, playing with bands like Body Count, Sepultura, Testament, White Zombie, Nudeswirl and Damn the Machine, as well as doing a US tour with Mercyful Fate, Cathedral and Anacrusis.
Slowing down after the moderate success of their previous albums, it took nearly three years until Flotsam and Jetsam released their fifth album Drift in April 1995, which was dedicated to Jason’s older brother Jeff Ward, former drummer of such bands as Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Revolting Cocks and Lard, who died in 1993. Three singles were released off of the record, and one of them (“Smoked Out”) had a music video. However, with Headbangers Ball already off the air in the U.S. and many heavy metal radio stations changing formats, Drift didn’t sell as well as the band’s previous albums, and about the same time they toured the U.S. with Megadeth and Korn during the summer of 1995, MCA’s six-year relationship with Flotsam and Jetsam had ended.
1996–2001: Return to Metal Blade
After taking a break in most of 1996 and resigning from MCA to Metal Blade, Flotsam and Jetsam resurfaced in 1997 with their sixth album High. The album’s song titles were designed with the font types/logos of famous bands like Iron Maiden, Metallica, Kiss, Van Halen, AC/DC, Judas Priest, Misfits, etc. to pay homage to those whom came before and inspired the band while it was coming up the ranks. The music was more experimental than before, and the album also featured the Lard cover song Fork Boy. Music video was released, Monster to follow-up.
Michael Gilbert and Kelly Smith left the band after the release and were replaced by guitarist Mark Simpson and drummer Craig Nielsen (at the suggestion of then-Megadeth drummer Nick Menza). With the new line-up Flotsam and Jetsam toured in Europe together with Anvil and Exciter.
Unnatural Selection was released in 1999 and Mark Simpson took a short break. He joined the band again in 2000 to record a new album, My God released in May 2001. At that time Eric A.K. had founded a country band, the A.K. Corral. He left the band for a short time to take a break from Metal and pursue his side project. (AK) “I had given Metal my life for a solid 15 years, I took some time to explore other musical flavors.” Though Flotsam and Jetsam did not disband, there was a long break at that time. They found a new singer, James Rivera, who took over vocal duties live. Later the band felt that no one other than Eric A.K. could be their singer and Rivera left the band soon after.
2002–2010: Live In Phoenix, Dreams of Death and The Cold
During 2002 and 2003 the band were active only sporadically, but Eric A.K. rejoined for live dates in the Phoenix and Los Angeles areas in 2003. Tory Edwards was a guest for this tour. A live recording of these shows was released in 2004 as a live concert DVD under the title Live in Phoenix. Signed to the Crash Music label in May 2004 and with Eric A.K. joining the band again officially, they hit the road with Overkill and Death Angel for a series of sold-out concerts in Japan.
Spring 2005 Flotsam and Jetsam returned to the studio to work on their new album. The lyrics were mostly inspired by Eric’s nightmares. This resulted into a concept album entitled Dreams of Death – like track 2 of No Place for Disgrace. The album was released July 2005.
The live DVD Live in Japan was released in February 2006 and shows their concert in front of hundreds of screaming Japanese fans at the Citta Club in Tokyo 2004.
Doomsday for the Deceiver was re-released in November 2006 by Metal Blade Records to celebrate the album’s twentieth anniversary. This set (2 CD and DVD) includes the original recording of Doomsday and a re-mixed and re-mastered(Digitized)version and also the two Flotsam and Jetsam demos. The bonus DVD includes rare live material, an interview filmed at Kelly’s High School and a photo slide-show.
In March 2008 Flotsam and Jetsam toured in Europe and played at the Metalmania Festival in Poland. This show was filmed and released as DVD Once in a Deathtime in July. Midyear 2008 the band were signed to Driven Music Group, founded by former KORN guitarist Brian “Head” Welch.
After a tour in Europe with support act Neurasthenia in April 2010 Flotsam and Jetsam finished their album The Cold. It was released on September 14, 2010. It was the last album with Mark Simpson on guitar. He left the band in friendship and was replaced by returning guitarist Ed Carlson, who had quit the band in March 2010, to be replaced by Michael Gilbert.
2011–2013: Ugly Noise
On September 19, 2011, Flotsam and Jetsam announced they had parted ways with Craig Nielson and reunited with founding drummer Kelly David Smith. The band also announced a crowdfunding campaign on PledgeMusic to fund the recording of their next studio album.
On June 13, 2012, the band announced Ugly Noise as the title of the next album. In July, guitarist Michael Gilbert said the album would feature songwriting contributions from former bassist Jason Newsted. The album was released on December 21, 2012.
After tracking, Jason Ward was no longer able to commit to touring with the band any further due to his current personal commitments. He was replaced by Michael Spencer, who had previously replaced Jason Newsted in 1986.
During the tour, Edward Carlson started to have extreme physical pain in his lower back and numbness in his right arm. After the tour, an MRI revealed that he had bulging disks in his upper and lower back causing the dysfunction to occur. Flotsam and Jetsam then recruited guitarist Steve Conley of F5 to step in while they finished out their live commitments.
2013–2014: No Place For Disgrace 2014
No Place For Disgrace featured guest musicians Mark Simpson, Chris Poland and Tory Edwards. In June 2013, the band headlined at the Warriors of Metal Festival in Columbus Ohio.
Flotsam toured Europe 4 times in 2014 with a total of 40 shows in all. Returning home from Europe on August 11, the band planned to start writing for a new release in 2015. Michael Spencer and Steve Conley would be involved this time in the process. Spencer had written some material previously in 1987 that he took with him after his departure. Flotsam used at some of the archive material from Spencer.
2014–present: Flotsam and Jetsam, The End of Chaos and Blood in the Water
In December 2014, drummer and founding member, Kelly Smith decided to leave the band due to unexpected family matters that required him to be home with his family. Handpicked by Smith to replace him on drums, was longtime friend and Shadows Fall drummer Jason Bittner. Bittner was present on Flotsam and Jetsam’s self-titled twelfth studio album, which was released on May 20, 2016. The band did a world tour to support this album, including Europe with Destruction, Enforcer and Nervosa, North America with Helstar and Hatchet, and then back to Europe with Dew-Scented and Izegrim. They also opened for HammerFall on their spring/summer 2018 North American tour.
On July 6, 2017, it was announced that Flotsam and Jetsam were replacing Bittner (who had just joined Overkill) with Ken Mary (Fifth Angel, Alice Cooper, House of Lords, TKO, Chastain, Impellitteri), and that they had begun working on their thirteenth studio album The End of Chaos, which was initially reported to be released in November 2018; however, the album’s release date was pushed back to January 18, 2019. In support of The End of Chaos, Flotsam and Jetsam (along with Destruction and Meshiaak) opened for Overkill on the European Killfest Tour in March 2019. A headlining US tour, titled Demolition of North America, was scheduled to take place in the spring of 2021 after a year of cancellation and postponement, due to the coronavirus pandemic; the tour has since been postponed again at a later date.
Less than a month after the release of The End of Chaos, frontman Eric “A.K.” Knutson stated in an interview with Jesse Capps of Loudist that Flotsam and Jetsam would “probably start writing and recording” a follow-up album in November 2019.
On November 13, 2020, the band announced Bill Bodily had replaced Michael Spencer as their new bassist, and that the final mixes for their upcoming album were almost finished.
On April 1, 2021, Flotsam and Jetsam announced Blood in the Water as the title of their fourteenth studio album and June 4 as its release date. A week later, the band released a music video for the album’s first single, “Burn the Sky”. Flotsam and Jetsam will promote Blood in the Water by supporting Accept on their European Too Mean to Die tour in January and February 2022, along with Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons.
New Video 2021.
|Jason Newsted||Bass (1984-1986)|
|See also: ex-IR8, ex-Newsted, ex-Sexoturica, ex-WhoCares, Jason Newsted and the Chophouse Band, Would & Steal, ex-Metallica, ex-Ozzy Osbourne, ex-Voivod, ex-Dogz, ex-Dredlox, ex-Echobrain, ex-Gangster, ex-Papa Wheelie, ex-Paradox, ex-Quarteto de Pinga, ex-Rock Star Supernova, ex-Spastik Children|
|Kelly David-Smith||Drums (1984-1997, 2011-2014)|
|See also: ex-Dogz, ex-Dredlox, ex-Paradox|
|Edward Carlson||Guitars (1984-2010, 2010-2014)|
|See also: ex-Dogz, ex-Dredlox, ex-Exodus|
|Mark Vazquez||Guitars (1984-1985)|
|See also: ex-Dogz, ex-Dredlox, ex-Paradox|
|Phil Rind||Bass (1986)|
|See also: Sacred Reich|
|Michael Spencer||Bass (1987-1988, 2014-2020)|
|See also: ex-Sentinel Beast|
|Troy Gregory||Bass (1988-1991)|
|See also: The Witches, ex-Prong, ex-Crime & the City Solution, ex-Criminal, ex-Gallery of Suicide, ex-Killing Joke, ex-Swans, ex-The Dirtbombs|
|Jason Ward||Bass (1991-2013)|
|See also: ex-Halford, ex-Widows Rose, ex-Angry Chair (Alice in Chains tribute)|
|Craig Nielsen||Drums (1997-2011)|
|Mark Simpson||Guitars (1997-1999, 2000-2010)|
|See also: ex-Alowicious Toole, ex-Adler’s Appetite, ex-Beautiful Creatures, ex-Denim and Leather, ex-The AK Corral|
|Jason Bittner||Drums (2014-2017)|
|See also: Burning Human, Overkill, Shadows Fall, ex-China White, ex-Ever Dark, ex-Hellspeak, ex-Toxik, ex-Anthrax (live), ex-Stigmata, ex-Crisis, ex-Lynch’s Mr. Scary (live)|