ONSLAUGHT – Live Forces
British thrash metal outfit Onslaught performed at O2 Academy venues in Bristol and London on the dates of July 19th and 20th of 2014, respectively, the resultant concerts recorded in both audio and visual formats. The aforementioned recordings were culled in making February 2016 jaunt Live At The Slaughterhouse, the release a conglomeration of both live performances.
“We filmed the shows in Bristol and London on the O2 tour we did the summer before last, and it was going to be a while between albums,” explains Nige Rockett, rhythm guitarist for Onslaught. “We thought we were playing all of these nice venues, so we came up with the idea of making a new DVD. It was something that we hadn’t done since 2007 (Live Polish Assault 2007, recorded in February and released in May of that year). They were nice stages and nice PAs and stuff, so we decided to film a couple of those shows just to keep things ticking over between albums. Yeah, I’ve not really had a chance to watch it properly or anything yet, but I hear that it’s come out quite well.”
In selecting possible venue locations for recording, Bristol and London seemed obvious choices – Bristol being Onslaught’s hometown, of course. “Obviously, London has always been our second kind of home in England,” the musician reasons. “We always get good, enthusiastic crowds there, and in Bristol obviously, so they were the two obvious shows that we were gonna film. We took lots of fan film footage from some of the other shows which I believe were cut in as well, which was nice for people who had done a bit of filming and got their clips added in as well. So yeah, it went quite well. The audio disc sounds really nice as well, which is cool. People will have to check that. ‘Chuck’ (Charlie Creese) who did the mixing on that did a really good job, I think.”
A major difference in the seven intervening years between the respective recordings of Live Polish Assault 2007 and Live At The Slaughterhouse is the wealth of fresher material being increasingly drawn upon. “When we did the first one, the Polish Assault one, I think we had only been back around a year or so since reforming in 2005,” Nige remembers. “We just looked really rough around the edges. The band’s moved on leaps and bounds since that time, especially in terms of live performance. As you say though, there are several songs on both DVDs that are the same but obviously there’s a lot of newer stuff incorporated. We did a real good cross-section of the band’s career on the latest one, taking stuff from the first album right through up until the new one to give it a real good mix for all the generations of fans.”
In composing a live setlist, Onslaught aims to present a ‘cross-section of the band’s career’, as stated. “The more albums we make, the harder it gets,” the axeman concedes. “We’ve all got our favourite songs from each album but we can only play so much, and obviously fans wanna hear a good cross-section. Not everybody wants to go out and hear the whole of the new album live, especially when it’s a new record that hasn’t really grown on people yet. You’ve gotta be pretty careful to keep the fans a 100% happy with your live stuff. With a new album, we’ll probably go and out and play two or three tracks off of it whenever it comes out and just keep the classics in there, and just mix a few different ones up now and again. Like I said, with the DVD we made it a real good cross-section of stuff from the first album right through to the new one – across all six albums, basically.”
Of Onslaught’s career compositions, personal favourites naturally exist. “‘Killing Peace’ (from the March 2007 album of the same name) is definitely my favourite one,” Nige cites. “‘Rest In Pieces’ (from March 2011’s Sounds Of Violence) I love playing. Just songs where you sort of… ‘Killing Peace’ is just one of those songs that is really kind of simple to play for us, and obviously the crowd love it and join in on the choruses and stuff. It’s just one of those songs that you can sort of really let rip, and not have to think about too much – it’s really programmed in there. It’s just a lot of fun to play. It’s kind of got everything. It’s a great crowd-pleaser, so… A good blast.”
Certain fanatics would expect older material to have been referenced. “‘Let There Be Death’ (from May 1986’s The Force), and stuff,” the performer submits. “That’s always great to play, but definitely ‘Killing Peace’ is my favourite track to play live. I think 50% of the set is from the first two albums, mainly.”
In creating setlists, some ensembles only swap out the odd track here and there. “Yeah, I know what you mean,” Nige replies. “We’ve got to keep it fresh for ourselves as well as the fans, so we always change a good 3-5 songs on each tour we do. Obviously you’ve got to keep certain songs in every time like ‘Power From Hell’ (from February 1985’s Power From Hell), ‘Let There Be Death’, and ‘Killing Peace’, but the rest is kind of flexible. We’ve got a few mid-tempo songs and a few slower songs that we like to swap around and obviously a lot of fast ones that we mix up as well, so yeah.
“With the upcoming tours we’ve got this year, it’s going to be completely different. It’s going to be predominantly an old school set with the whole of The Force album, about three tracks off of Power From Hell and I think one or two off of Killing Peace, so it’s going to be an older style Onslaught on this tour. It’s a set that we’ve never played before, so it’s going to be completely fresh for everyone.”
Causing freshness is the inclusion of material which hasn’t been performed in quite some time. “I think we’ve just brought the track ‘Death Metal’ off of the Power From Hell album, the first album, into the set for the first time late in 2015,” the composer lists. “That’s something we’ve not played I think since 1984 maybe, early 1985. It sounded really good; it fitted in with the rest of the material. It’s kind of refreshing to bring something really old into the set, but it sounded really new at the same time. It’s kind of strange, but it has a lot of energy in it and it went down a real storm in South America in particular.
“I don’t know. I think that’s probably the last of the tracks from the early days that we looked at bringing in, because the rest of it isn’t quite suitable to fit in with the way things are nowadays. I think we’re playing four or five tracks off of Power From Hell, which is pretty much half the album, and we generally play virtually all of the tracks from The Force on different shows. We’ve got it pretty much covered in terms of what we want to do. It’s just a case of finding the right balance between everything now and making it all gel when we actually change the sets around.”
That freshness includes the performance of material lifted off of September 2013 effort VI. “Like I said, we’ve only been playing sometimes two, maybe three tracks off of the album,” Nige reiterates. “We’ve been playing ‘Chaos Is King’, ‘Children Of The Sand’ – which has been going down really, really well, and has a little bit of a different feel to the traditional ones – and obviously ‘66 ‘Fucking’ 6’.
“‘66 ‘Fucking’ 6’ is actually going amazingly well with the crowds; it’s got the sing-alongs, and stuff. We get lots of requests to play that. We’re off to south east Asia in a few weeks time and it’s an old school set that we’re playing, but we’re getting a lot of mails ‘Can you please play ‘66 ’Fucking’ 6’ for us just this once?’ We’re looking at maybe adding that one in as well, just to keep the people happy who want to listen to some new stuff.”
‘Children Of The Sand’ happens to be this interviewer’s favourite off of the VI opus. “I think it’s one of my favourites as well, just because it’s a little bit different for us as well,” the axe-slinger seconds. “‘Chaos Is King’ or ‘Children Of The Sand’ is my favourite.”
The trio of cuts emerged on Live At The Slaughterhouse’s track listing, although unused live material recorded from Onslaught’s July 2014 Bristol and London concerts should theoretically exist. “I would say it does, but as far as I know, everything is on there,” Nige muses. “I don’t think we cut anything out. I can’t remember, to be honest. Jeff our bass player was dealing with all of the audio / visual sides of things. I can’t remember, but I don’t think we cut any tracks.
“We had a few problems, because we lost some footage from one of the shows. That was part of the reason why it took so long, because the guy who was doing the film editing had to sort of chop things up quite heavily to make things work where we had lost some bits and pieces here and there. I think pretty much everything is on there, though. It’d be nice to have something to keep back for other things, but I think pretty much the whole show went out.”
Despite the lyricist’s response, given that live audio exists from both performances and each respective track only makes a solitary appearance on Live At The Slaughterhouse, a second live rendition of each and every track theoretically lie in the vaults. “I guess they do, actually,” he admits. “Our sound tech recorded everything on his laptop through the console, so I guess there is. Obviously at this stage though, only the actual tracks on the DVD and the live CD were the only ones that were mixed.
“So yeah, there may be some stuff to sort of check out. I don’t know. I’ll have to look into it. It’s not something I’ve really thought about before, but it could be interesting. One of our licensees is looking at doing some special editions of The Force this year for the 30th anniversary and they were looking at some bonus stuff, so that could be a good idea. You might’ve raised a good point there, so thanks.”
A bonus DVD accompanies Live At The Slaughterhouse, inaugurated by a 20-minute documentary. “It’s something I’ve not seen, actually,” Nige chuckles. “I’ve not actually seen the full final edits on the live DVD as yet. I managed to listen to some of the audio just to check out the mixes and all that, but things have been so manic over the past couple of months that I’ve not really had time to sit down and take it all in. I’ve had a few reports back on it. People say they are really enjoying it and stuff, but I’ve actually not had that chance to take a look yet. I think I’ll take it on the tour bus, sit down, and get a look at it (laughs).”
The aforementioned documentary contains various content. “We did an interview on there, quite a long, in-depth interview,” the co-founder describes. “I think there’s some stuff on the tour bus. I think Sy (Keeler, vocals) is doing a guided tour around the bus, introducing people and things like that as well as addressing things that people sometimes don’t see and maybe would find quite interesting. It’s just sort of a bit more down to earth look at the band I guess, but a lot of people I know who’ve seen it have said that it’s quite cool. That works for me.”
Additional bonus DVD content includes the music video for the track ‘66 ‘Fucking’ 6’. “It is obviously kind of tongue-in-cheek, but at the same time it has got a serious edge as well,” Nige notes of the composition. “It was all intentional. We deliberately wanted to write another kind of ‘Metal Forces’-type anthem for Onslaught, really. It had been a long time since ‘Metal Forces’ was released, and fans always considered that as our main anthem I guess. We felt that it was time to do something new, and yeah, we just wanted to get a lot of hooks in there and a lot of sing-along bits and stuff. It works with the crowd.
“The video came out with the live show, and it’s still unbelievable in terms of the power of the video and what it does. We’ve done a few videos and lyric videos and when you play those songs live, everybody knows the words, so the music video still has a lot of power. It’s done incredibly well for us on that particular song. It’s amazing when you’re playing it, and you can actually hear the whole audience right over the top of the band. It’s a great feeling.”
Live At The Slaughterhouse doesn’t feature Andy Rosser-Davies in the lead guitar position, whose departure following a long-term absence was confirmed on September 14th, 2015. “He’s got a lot of commitments, and was finding it difficult to tour long-term,” the guitarist reveals. “He runs a music business in Swansea, basically teaching and stuff like that. It was getting increasingly difficult for him to sort of maintain his work while we were away for long tours. He pulled out of one tour, and said ‘I can’t do this – it’s too long. Let’s see what happens when you get back.’
“We then did the next one, and it was the same situation. It was a little bit awkward. As much as we wanted Andy there obviously because he was such a great guy and a great guitarist and fitted into the band so well, we couldn’t move ahead with him not doing the tours. So, we got stand-ins for a few tours.
“Leigh Chambers joined us for a couple of years, but it was only recently when me and Andy sat down and sort of discussed it that he said ‘We need to draw some closure on it now.’ We decided to announce that he wasn’t going to tour with us any more, and was actually stepping aside as a full-time member of the band. He’s gonna be working with me on new songs though, because we do love working together and we like to think that we make some cool music together. He’s definitely gonna be involved in writing some stuff on the new album, which is nice, along with our new guitarist Iain as well. It’s gonna be kind of the three of us working together on that, which should be quite interesting.”
Handling lead guitars in the Onslaught fold is the aforementioned Iain GT Davies, whose appointment was announced the same day as Andy’s exit. “It was quite strange, actually,” Nige recalls. “We obviously had Leigh Chambers in the band to sort of step in for Andy for a couple of years, but things weren’t really working out. Leigh lived up in Derby, and he had commitments also. Things were kind of getting a bit strained again, so when we came back from South America I think it was – which was 18 months ago, a year ago, or something like that – we decided we may need to look a little closer to home for a guitar player. Sy sent me over a link one day. He said ‘Take a look at this.’ He just came across it on YouTube, and it was Iain playing guitar along to ‘66 ‘Fuckin’ 6’.
“It was incredible. He played it note for note perfect, and absolutely nailed it. I think Sy had gone and seen his band a couple of times. We gave him a call, and said ‘Would you be interested?’ He said ‘Yeah, for sure.’ We got him out to rehearsal, and it all went from there really. He had a couple of rehearsals, and off we went. I think he played to something like 20,000 people, and played six shows, so he was sort of thrown in the deep end (laughs). A baptism of fire, if you like. He loved it, and has gone from strength to strength.”
Among Iain’s initial touring commitments will be live treks organised to commemorate the 30th anniversary of sophomore full-length The Force. Originally issued in May 1986, Nige has memories aplenty of making the opus. “Quite a lot actually, because it was quite eventful,” he laughs. “I think we had only been in the studio in London for two days. We had arrived in the morning – I don’t think we had even put any drum tracks down. The studio had been broken into; everything was smashed up and we had had lots of equipment stolen, so it didn’t really get off to the best of starts. Yeah, there were lots of weird things going in the studio. There was a little bit of possession going on in the studio, we think.
“It was a big learning curve for us. We were working with a young producer who was learning himself, and he was keen to put a lot of ideas in and make a great sounding record. They sort of came out far better than we could have ever imagined. The guy who mixed it – Roy Rowland – did a great job on the mix at the time. Yeah, it was just a massive step up from the previous album for us. It was a nice time.”
The Force boasts some notable tracks. “It’s got some great songs on there, I think,” the musician endorses. “Maybe it’s a little bit overly long in places, as bands did back then I suppose, but you could hear that we were still raw musicians – kids still learning to play. We had only been actually playing for three years when we made that second album. It’s a bit rough around the edges I guess, but that’s its appeal in some ways. We’ve been listening back to it a lot while we’ve been rehearsing for The Force set, and yeah, I’m really enjoying playing all of the songs. It’s nice. It’s giving me some inspiration for some new material. You go back, and say ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ There are some ideas we can work on, and make ideas from for the next record. So yeah, it’s been good.”
The Force was arguably a breakthrough record for Onslaught. “Yeah, definitely, because there were a couple of things that happened with it,” Nige shares. “We obviously signed to a new label, which was Music For Nations. They were a massive label at the time in Europe, obviously with Metallica, Anthrax, and stuff like that, so that was a massive step up from the first album straight away. Obviously using better studios and having better people to work with made it a better sounding record. I think the record had only been out six to eight weeks, and we were getting lots of press, and lots of people are saying good things about us. Then we landed a full European tour with Motörhead for a month in Europe, and things just snowballed from there.”
Sadly, Motörhead frontman ‘Lemmy’ Kilmister died on December 28th, 2015 at the age of 70 following a short battle with an extremely aggressive cancer. The axeman has memories of Lemmy from that early 1987 European tour. “(Laughs) Yeah, there’s lots,” he begins. “He was such a funny, great guy. I remember one night we were sat in a bar, in Copenhagen I think it was. There was me and a couple other of the Onslaught guys. Phil and Wurzel (Michael Burston, guitars) I think were down in the bar – I think it was about four in the morning. The lift door opens, and out comes Lemmy in a pair of Paisley pyjamas and a dressing gown, but I don’t think he realised anybody would still be up at this time of night (laughs). Everybody was a bit drunk, and started giggling away and that. He gives us a dirty look, muttered something, and off he disappeared again.
“My greatest memory is the first time actually when we joined them in Switzerland, though. We met up for the first show, and we arrived just as they were about to soundcheck. I had never seen Motörhead live before. We walked into the hall, and all of the guys were onstage – Lemmy was nowhere to be seen. After a couple of minutes, he walked out across the stage, stamped on the floor four times, and then they just burst into ‘Iron Fist’ (from the April 1982 album of the same name). It was like ‘Wow, this is the most incredible thing I’ve ever heard.’ It just fucking blew you away. Amazing. They were just fantastic guys all tour. Like I said, we were only young kids, and they just took us under their wing. They gave us everything we wanted, just gave us full use, and were such great, helpful guys all the time. It was an absolutely amazing tour.”
Motörhead seemed to enjoy taking out younger bands and breaking them to their audience. “Yeah,” Nige agrees. “It was fantastic. The record had just sold, and flown out. Everywhere we were going, everybody knew the songs and stuff, and we just learnt so much. Every night, Phil Taylor would come out and introduce the band, which was a really nice touch. Obviously then, it immediately got their fans to warm to us a little bit because Phil was coming out and introducing us. We just couldn’t ask for more. They were so helpful. It was just incredible.”
Many would be shocked if the Onslaught fold had been able to rival Motörhead’s alcohol consumption. “(Laughs) I don’t know about that,” the performer wonders. “We had a good go, but they were drinking a bit harder stuff than we were used to.”
Touring with Motörhead among others in support of The Force, there were both similarities and contrasts in comparison to touring nowadays. “It’s not really much different to what it is now, to be honest,” the songwriter judges. “I wouldn’t say it was really different in any way. I guess looking back, things were a little bit more rock ’n’ roll in that respect – if you want to use that term. With the stories that people hear about tours and stuff, I guess it was a little bit more that way inclined, especially with Motörhead of course. There were a lot of excesses and that, but apart from that, it was the same systems of touring on buses with trucks, trailers and stuff. We still play the same venues nowadays. A great deal hasn’t changed, to be honest, which is nice in a way. It reminds you of all that, and brings it all back.”
August 1989 successor In Search Of Sanity boasted a markedly different line-up to that of The Force, suggesting strained relationships within the Onslaught band. “It was kind of a bit of a weird period, because again, things were sort of snowballing,” Nige divulges. “The band was getting bigger, and obviously major labels wanted to get involved in the thrash scene. I think we had about four or five labels in the UK wanting to sign the band, but unfortunately we chose the wrong one (laughs). I think we kind of got swayed. The label were basically a pop label, were London Records, but they had just released a Faith No More album (The Real Thing, June 1989) and Reign In Blood by Slayer (October 1986). I think we kind of got swayed by that, that they appeared to be doing a good job with those two albums.
“When it came to us though, they wanted a lot more control over what we were doing. They were trying to make us look a certain way and sound a certain way, and it really took our character away a bit if you like. Then were was all the stuff with the singers and what you have you, and it just… I don’t know. It kind of diluted what we were all about and the overall attitude in the camp had changed, so things went downhill from there really. I think the day we signed to them was the beginning of the end, and it should have been the beginning of a much brighter future.”
In retrospect, jettisoning vocalist Sy Keeler in favour of Grim Reaper frontman Steve Grimmett was an erroneous decision. “It wasn’t a very popular decision, but I think what the label were intending to do was they were looking at us and immediately wanting to try to make us sell a million albums straight away without giving us time to build steadily,” the songwriter figures. “I think they wanted us to be the next Metallica, but without giving us time to be the next whatever. They wanted a quick fit. They signed us as a thrash band – a hardcore thrash band – and then they wanted to get rid of the singer, which I find rather strange, to change the identity of the band that dramatically straight away. Also, I think there was some kind of scheme going on between our management and the label at the time.
“The next thing, Steve Grimmett appeared on the scene, and it was like ‘We want this guy to be your singer, basically. We’re holding all the purse strings. You basically have to do what we say, or it goes no farther.’ We were kind of in a catch-22 situation, basically. Admittedly the album sold very, very well, but the old school fans really didn’t take to Steve Grimmett, and I think his style of vocals changed the sound of Onslaught too drastically. Needless to say, within a year he quit and had gone his own way (laughs). That kind of tells the story that it wasn’t working, and that was all part of the demise really.”
The In Search Of Sanity saga is one of many tales Nige could recount in a potential autobiography, the man seeming to have plenty to tell. “People are always saying that,” he observes. “Maybe one day it would be quite interesting to do. Without being egotistical about it, there are a lot of stories to tell. It would be quite fun I think, but at the moment, it’s just too busy to concentrate on doing something like that. I think you’d need a lot of time to do it justice, but at the moment, we’re so heavily involved with touring and writing the next record that there’s really not time at the moment. Yeah though, I think it’d be quite nice to do something like that some day, one day.”
In addition, the creation of The Force could be explained in greater detail in a potential tome, its 30th anniversary reissue impending. “Our old label, which is Candlelight, are gonna do something in America, and we’re still discussing what it is at the moment,” the axe-slinger discloses. “As you mentioned earlier, we’re looking for extras and bonus stuff for what’s gonna go out on that. That’s something we’re working on pretty quickly, because we’ve got a lot of touring coming up. We’ve not really get anything a 100% definite on that, but we know that there’s gonna be something coming up special. Hopefully the sooner, the better.”
Onslaught fans will inevitably be interested in potential bonus material. “That’s what we’re trying to find out, to see if we have any demos or anything, or live stuff that we’ve got recorded,” Nige acknowledges. “We’re just scouting about at the moment. Sy tends to stock a lot of stuff like that, so he’s having a look to see what we can find, and see who else has got stuff lying about – pictures, and live tracks, and stuff. I think we’ve got a recording from Bristol’s Colston Hall maybe, so we’re gonna check that out, and see what we’ve got from the Dynamo festival recordings as well maybe.”
The Force’s 30th anniversary reissue will arrive through different labels in different territories. “Candlelight have been sold now,” the wordsmith augments. “The guys who ran Candlelight have started up a new label in the US and the UK, so it’s going to be going out through that in the US and Canada I think. We’ve got different licensees in Europe, but we’ve yet to discuss this with them. They did a special edition of The Force a few years back, when they reissued it. I think it’d be nice if they could put that out again as an anniversary thing, because they did a really good job. The tracks were remastered, and it sounded really, really cool. They did some nice, special digipak sleeves, so it’d be nice if they could put out some kind of limited edition of that again this year.”
Originally surfacing on a November 2012 AFM reissue of The Force, Jacob Hansen’s remaster will likely be used once more. “On the US ones, I think it’ll be Jacob’s remaster because I really like what he did on that,” Nige commends. “It sounded really cool.”
In addition to a forthcoming reissue of The Force, also in the works is a seventh full-length studio album. “We’re just putting the skeletons together, really,” the co-founder reports. “We’ve had a couple of meetings, discussing ideas. I’ve got all of the track titles in place, which is how I like to work. I like to get all of the titles, and sort of paint the pictures of the songs from the titles. I think for me, the title kind of gives it the attitude of the song. ‘Chaos Is King’, you know that it’s gonna be a fast song, or ‘Killing Peace’, or something like that. You can tell the vibe of the song by the title.
“‘Children Of The Sand’ maybe sounds like something a little bit more intricate and interesting. That’s the way we like to work, to get all of the pieces together and then start putting the jigsaw together. Yeah, we’ve got a lot of little bits recorded, but nothing actually strung together as a complete song yet.”
A 2017 issue seems likely. “That’s the plan,” Nige confirms. “It’s whether we can get it done in time, because we’ve got so much touring coming up this year. That’s the only thing that’s gonna get in our way. I think we’ve got about four tours coming up, so it’s a pretty hectic schedule. We’re sort of back and forth writing, and then live, and then writing again. So yeah, a bit of a mix and match year this year.”
It isn’t every year a key effort such as The Force reaches its 30th anniversary. “We’ve had so much interest that we could’ve booked a year’s touring,” the guitarist enthuses. “Yeah, it’s nice that we’ve got that interest there. It’s really great that people wanna pay their respects towards that album – it’s nice.”
As referenced, Nige, Iain and Andy will all contribute towards the songwriting process for album number seven. “Like I said, we had a meeting a few weeks ago where we just went through ideas for songs and the direction of the songs,” he repeats. “Iain’s got loads of stuff recorded already – just riffs and ideas – as has Andy as well. Yeah, once we get it all put together, it should be good.”
Andy will also likely make a recording appearance. “I think he will do something on the record, for sure,” the musician ponders. “He’s gonna wanna play a little bit, I guess (laughs). Naturally, which is only fair. Iain’s gonna be predominantly doing all of the solos and stuff, but I think Andy will be making a little guest appearance on there. It’d be nice to have him on there, of course, with his own unique style which I really love. I think he’s gonna be a big part of writing, so I think he’s gonna at least play something on the album.”
A more familiar musical style might be apparent on future material. “I think we’re gonna go a little more old school maybe on this next one,” Nige considers. “That’s the direction Andy’s sort of nudging at, taking some ideas back to the early days. Obviously with Iain coming in from his background though, there’s gonna be a little bit more technical stuff too, so it’s definitely gonna be a different direction to the VI album for sure.”
What ‘old school’ entails in the context of Onslaught might be pondered by those less familiar with the catalogue. “I think what Andy is sort of hinting at is we should get some of the more punkier vibes back into some of the stuff, and try to mix that up a little bit with the more modern slant of Onslaught,” the axeman clarifies. “I can kind of see where he’s coming from. I think it’s quite interesting – it could be quite good. We never wanna make the same album twice; I think if you look at the whole catalogue of Onslaught, every album’s been sort of radically different to the next one, and that’s something I’d like to continue with this one really. We don’t wanna make VI Two, or Sounds Of Violence Two. It just needs to be totally unique again.”
Live At The Slaughterhouse was released on February 26th, 2016 via AFM Records.
Interview published in March 2016.
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