Meliah Rage – “Kill To Survive” (1988)

Meliah RageBoston’s Meliah Rage were lucky/good enough to debut on a major label (Epic Records).  There are only seven songs on Kill To Survive, one of which is an instrumental.  Of the remaining six cuts, I would consider three of them to be excellent – Beginning Of The End, Bates Motel, and Enter The Darkness.  The other three tracks, though not as intoxicating as the aforementioned gems, certainly do not suck in the least.  Very solid.  All in all, Kill Survive is a really worthwhile power/thrash metal album to have in your collection.  Trust me!  By the way, the production is excellent — with a meaty guitar tone driving home the band’s neck-wrecking message.  Meliah Rage wrote heavy and (relatively) straightforward songs that were surprisingly catchy.  Fans of bands such as Sword or Metal Church will lap this up.  I sure did.  Bates Motel is particularly memorable – sashaying its way to a violent climax that’ll leave you thirsty for more.  My score: A-

Destruction – “Eternal Devastation” (1986)

DestructionEternal Devastation was the second album from these mop-topped iron heads.  Destruction was part of the vaunted German thrash triumvirate along with Sodom and Kreator (sort of like Germany’s heinous answer to America’s “Big Four”).  It goes without saying there is no melody whatsoever to be found here.  And that was kind of the point, I suppose.  Destruction was one of those extreme bands attempting to turn ugliness into an art form.  If this was indeed their goal, then I guess these sour Krauts hit their mark.  Heck, the guitar tone is so abrasive I swear I’m hearing a kazoo.  Am I listening to riffs, or is someone turning the dial on a receptionless radio?  The vocals are not as easy to describe, but rest assured, they are terrible.  Nevertheless, Eternal Devastation isn’t entirely unlistenable – especially when the band locks on to a mid-paced groove.  Unfortunately those moments are fleeting.  My score: C-

Bonfire – “Fireworks” (1987)

BonfireSeemingly only to confuse your trusty reviewer, Bonfire’s 1987 album was released with at least three different covers (and as both Fire Works and Fireworks).  This Michael Wagener-produced banquet sauntered down the same well-worn path first blazed by its lusty predecessor Don’t Touch The Light (1986).  Although Fireworks is not as heavy.  Or as good.  It also leans a little more towards American glam than Don’t Touch The Light.  I guess you could say that Bonfire were one of the few German “hair” bands, although their “nice guy” lyrics didn’t really put them in the same company as those “bad boy” poodle-heads outta Hollywood.  Like Don’t Touch The Light, Fireworks is flush with melody — keyboards and big vocal harmonies being key ingredients to Bonfire’s confectionery cooking.  Note: Ken Mary guests on drums — yet another stop on Ken’s quest to be part of every band that ever existed.  (Somewhere, Rudy Sarzo is proudly nodding his head.)  My score: B

Y&T – “Ten” (1990)

Y&TI’ll always have a soft spot for Y&T.  They were one of the few American bands that rocked hard in the very early eighties.  Those were some lean years in the States.  Y&T deserve our respect.  It was during those wasted days that Y&T were at their ballsy best.  Earthshaker (1981), Black Tiger (1982), and Meanstreak (1983) were all “classic” Y&T hardwares.  But luck was never really on Y&T’s side.  Nope, for them Lady Luck was nothing but a disease-ridden whore.  Though Y&T were on the brink of a breakthrough a few times, they never really busted out.  By the time of 1987’s Contagious album, Y&T were desperately trying to hang on.  Their attempt at dumbed-down party rock was a wild swing and a miss.  Contagious was, for all intents and purposes, an embarrassment.  At least 1990’s Ten (Geffen Records) saw them correct the ship (a little).  Ten was certainly no Black Tiger, but at least Y&T could show their faces in public again.  My score: C+

Grim Reaper – “Rock You To Hell” (1987)

Grim ReaperGrim Reaper’s third and final album here.  The cover is another grisly illustration by the late, great metal aficionado Gary Sharpe-Young (look him up).  As for the album, Rock You To Hell was produced by one of the best in the biz, Max Norman.  Max was able to wash off the layer of grime that weighed down Grim Reaper’s two previous albums (in terms of audio quality) — giving Grim Reaper the top-notch production they richly deserved.

Okay, can we talk for a minute about Steve Grimmett?  I mean, this guy is so underrated that it hurts!  It literally causes me pain.  Sure, Grimmett was a strange looking dude.  He was a bit on the heavy side, with one of the most BOSS mullets of all time.  (It HAD to be wig or extensions.)  And Steve had a space between his front teeth you could drive a truck through.  But DAMN, he could sing like a mother f*cker.  He may very well have had the most powerful set of pipes in all metal, period.

A toast.  To Steve.  Shine on, you crazy diamond!

Anyhoo… Rock You To Hell is a really great, really FUN album.  Every song is brimming with unbridled energy.  I must confess I have been guilty of overlooking Grim Reaper in the past… but no longer.  Recently I stumbled across this old video of Grim Reaper absolutely SLAYING a live performance in Minneapolis (1987).  It originally aired on Halloween night on MTV, I do believe.  I was forever converted to a Grim Reaper fan when I saw the video.  DAMN, they sounded great live!  Check out guitarist Nick Bowcott’s tasty guitar work!  And believe you me, Grimmett delivered the goods in person.  He wasn’t one these guys who sounded great in the studio, but sucked live.  Nope.  Check out his scream at the end of See You In Hell at the 31:00 minute mark.  It nearly kills him.  That’s metal folks… that’s metal.  My score: A

Obsession – “Methods Of Madness” (1987)

ObsessionI’m not sure about that cover, boyz.  Nothing says “metal” like an 8th grade science teacher!  Anyway… Obsession (like Liege Lord and Fates Warning) were a metal band out of Connecticut (my neck of the woods).  They were one of the numerous American bands churning out convincing “traditional” metal circa 1987.  It’s hard to turn your nose up at this stuff because it adheres so faithfully to the metal tenements we’ve all come to know and love — razor-sharp riffs, twin leads, and screaming vocals.  It’s a time-worn formula that Judas Priest perfected in the late seventies, and Obsession was carrying that torch with pride in ’87.  In particular, the golden pipes of vocalist Mike Vescera really helped Obsession standout from the fray.  Sure, Vescera isn’t exactly a household name, but he has amassed quite a resume over the years — a testament to his talents.  One of the things I really like about his work on Methods Of Madness is his effective use of two-part harmonies on certain vocal parts.  These overdubbed, high harmonies really give the songs that extra punch.  Choice cuts: For The Love Of Money and Killer Elite.  My score: B

Pantera – “Cowboys From Hell” (1990)

PanteraWhen you listen to as much 80’s metal as I do, you really can appreciate just how different Cowboys From Hell was from all the other metal out there at the time.  Though Pantera had experimented with different styles on 1988’s Power Metal LP, they didn’t really find their sonic identity until Cowboys From Hell.  “Diamond” Darrell Abbott’s syncopated, percussive riffing style carved out the blueprint for what has come to be known as “groove metal”.  Pantera were definitely pioneers in this genre (though some site Exhorder’s Slaughter In The Vatican as the first true groove metal album).  Darrell’s brazen, chromatic soloing and Phil Anselmo’s rebellious, belligerent singing style were also key to Pantera’s trademark, abrasive new sound.

Side note: Though Darrell became a bona fide guitar hero for his inventive playing style, it is ironic that he and Pantera (unknowingly) helped launch the metal movement that almost killed the “guitar hero”.  Pantera’s style was at least partially responsible for the flood of “nu metal” bands that became popular in the late nineties.  Bands like Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Disturbed used syncopated riff styles similar to those which Pantera used.  Nu metal bands also relied heavily on drop tunings (often allowing riffs to be played with one finger).  Needless to say, some viewed this guitar style as a crutch for “inferior” guitarists.  The downplaying (or complete omission) of solos by nu metal guitarists didn’t help matters.  For many, nu metal is viewed as a black mark on metal’s good name.  I just find it weird that one of metal’s most creative guitarists helped influence one of metal’s least creative metal sub-genres!  (By the way, it should be noted that almost all the songs on Cowboys From Hell are in standard tuning, though subsequent Pantera albums incorporated a lot of drop tuning.)

All that being said, I must confess I do not think Cowboys From Hell is a great album.  Yes, I think Pantera found their sound and their ‘tude on Cowboys From Hell, but they were still lacking when it came to song craft.  It wasn’t until 1992’s Vulgar Display Of Power that Pantera had the songs to really blow people away.  Side two of Cowboys From Hell is particularly weak.  There are a two very important exceptions however.  First, album opener Cowboys From Hell is a boot in the ass — a statement of purpose that has become a Pantera “classic”.  Justly so, as Cowboys From Hell will rip ya from tits to taint!  My personal fave, however, is another Pantera “classic” — Cemetery Gates.  This really is a perfect song.  The soft-to-heavy dynamics, the lyrics, and the vocal performance are all spot on.  Amazing tune!  My score: B-

Helix – “Wild In The Streets” (1987)

HelixHelix is like that cheap beer your Dad used to drink.  It may not be the most carefully crafted brew around, but it’ll get you drunk just the same.  So let Helix be your case of Schlitz tonight.  At least you know what to expect when you tear into a Helix record — flop sweat and raunch n’ roll.  1987’s Wild In The Streets may not be Helix’s best album (I prefer 1983’s No Rest For The Wicked and 1984’s Walkin’ The Razor’s Edge for my Helix fix), but it’ll do in a pinch.  Plus, you’ve just got to love charismatic Helix front man Brian Vollmer.  Brian is like that crazy uncle your Mom told you to stay away from when you were a kid.  A “bad influence”, she said.  You know the one.  He would tell dirty jokes and let you drink some of his beer on the sly.  Of course, years later you found out your favorite uncle wasn’t so much funny as he was a hopeless alcoholic with a gambling problem.  But I digress…

Heck, it isn’t all that complicated.  Simply put, Brain and Helix just wanted to rock you.  So let ‘em rock you.  It’s not like you have anything better to do.  My score: B

Chastain – “The 7th Of Never” (1987)

ChastainThis is the third album from Chastain (Leviathan Records).  The band took its name from guitarist and principal songwriter David T. Chastain.  This was really more of a studio project than a true band.  In fact, the guitars, the drums, and the vocals weren’t even recorded in the same zip code.  Vocals were provided (in savage fashion) by a lioness named Leather Leone.  One can’t question Leone’s intensity, that’s for sure.  Ol’ Leather may have been partaking in a little bit of that booger sugar in the studio, because she sounds sufficiently coked-up.  Who knows, and who cares.  Unfortunately, poor production hasn’t helped The 7th Of Never to age well.  Ken Mary’s drums are way too loud in the mix, and worse yet, they sound like someone jiggling a bag of cutlery.  I’m pretty sure his snare drum was actually a pie tin.  As for David T. Chastain, he was the typical Shrapnel-style shredder.  (In fact, Chastain’s first two albums came out on Shrapnel Records.  The band was actually built around David by Shrapnel head Mike Varney.)  Anywayz, David unloads a fair share of fast flourishes here, sometimes in the neo-classical style of Yngwie.  But like Yngwie, his solos don’t have much to say.  Just lots and lots of notes.  My favorite song on The 7th Of Never is We Must Carry On.  My score: C+

New Look!

“PLAY IT LOUD!” is well into its 6th year!  We’ve got a brand-spanking-new look thanks to Eric “Malt Thrower” Marshall.  Eric is the artist responsible for the SICK new header/logo that now greets your ugly face at “PLAY IT LOUD!”.  Check out more of Eric’s stuff over at Malt Thrower Art!

Yours in metal,