Category: Album Review


SlayerFans of Slayer’s Reign In Blood (1986) and South Of Heaven (1988) will enjoy Seasons In The Abyss.  However, Seasons In The Abyss was not exactly a step forward for Slayer.  Instead, it was more of a side step — a mash-up of the manic speed of Reign In Blood and the slow bludgeoning of South Of Heaven.  In fact, many of the riffs and most of the vocals aren’t much more than a rehash of past works.  But again, most Slayer fans were happy with the results.  As for me, Dave Lombardo’s drumming is this album’s major highlight.  Producer Rick Rubin was the best in the biz at capturing a thunderous drum sound on tape, and here he helped Lombardo’s beastly playing sound MEGA-BEASTLY!  Slayer were one of the few thrash bands that could actually groove.  They had Rubin and Lombardo to thank for that.  My two favorite songs on this LP are (not surprisingly) War Ensemble and Seasons In The Abyss.  My score: B-

Bon JoviPheeew… this album stinks worse than a cabbie’s armpits!  Here we have Bon Jovi’s second record, the one just before the über-successful Slippery When Wet (1986).  It’s hard to believe this is the same band responsible for that famous album.  Sure, they sound like the same group of guys, but they don’t write like the same group of guys.  I mean, I just farted, and its already a better song than 50% of the songs on this album!  Check out King Of The Mountain.  I liked this song better when it was called The Stroke by Billy Squier.  Ha!  What a rip-off!  Hmmm…. what else?  Silent Night?  Hell no.  Don’t waste your time.  I listened so you don’t have to.  My score: D

SanctuaryI found this baby at a pawn shop a few years back for only a buck, so I just had to scoop it up.  At the time, I already owned Sanctuary’s debut, Refuge Denied (1987).  I thought Refuge Denied was a decent album, but not so much that I felt the need to search for Into The Mirror Black with any sense of urgency.  But for a $1, I just couldn’t pass it up.  Back then, I listened to the CD a few times but wasn’t really impressed, so I shelved it.  However, I recently decided to take another crack at Into The Mirror Black.  To my surprise, the album has started to grow on me.  I still have my misgivings, however, and they almost all have to do with the vocals.  More on that in a moment.  But let me first say that fans of Judas Priest’s Painkiller (1990) will probably LOVE this album, as the two albums are sonically similar.  I will say, however, that Into The Mirror Black has more thrashy riffing than Painkiller.  (Remember, thrash was king at the time.)  Furthermore, the lyrical tone of Into The Mirror Black is ultra-serious, grim, and cynical (mostly concerning society’s shittiness).

As for the vocals, Warrel Dane is just too damn dramatic for my taste.  Their isn’t a syllable uttered that Dane doesn’t over-sell.  His theatrical enunciation is just too much, too often.  It’s almost as if he can’t help but show off every tool in his vocal arsenal in every song.  This guy’s melodrama borders on comical.  If you have ever listened to Jack Black parody heavy metal in some of his Tenacious D bits — it’s almost as if he’s “doing a Warrel Dane”.  Even so, the album gets better with repeated listens.  Dane’s performance starts to feel less and less unsettling.  But still… take it down a notch bro!  My score: B

StormwitchHalloween is right around the corner my friends!  I like to keep myself busy during the Halloween season in a number of ways.  First of all, I like to prepare for the big night by putting razor blades in all the candy I’ll be handing out to the kids.  That’s a given.  But, I also like to get in the mood by watching old eighties horror movies (here’s a choice selection).  And, of course, I like to listen to some old school heavy metal with a scary vibe.  In this case, anything by Stormwitch will suffice.

Stormwitch was a German metal band that released a handful of albums in the eighties.  They wrote songs about spooky stuff like witches, werewolves, and vampires.  They dubbed themselves “The Masters Of Black Romantic”.  I’m not exactly sure what the f*ck that means, but just trust me when I tell you all of Stormwitch’s songs were about creepy stuff.  You could also always count on Stormwitch to have a cheesy (but awesome) album cover, emblazoned with their kick-ass logo.

Sonically, one could consider Stormwitch somewhere betwixt early Iron Maiden and late-eighties Running Wild (but not quite).  Fans of lesser-known German metal bands like Gravestone, Veto, and Attack may find themselves mildly obsessed with Stormwitch after just a few spins.  There’s plenty to love — twin leads, crisp vocals, and catchy hooks galore.

Stormwitch’s third album was 1986’s Stronger Than Heaven (Scratch Records).  Nice production by the folks at Scratch, as per usual.  Stronger Than Heaven features one of Stormwitch’s best songs, Ravenlord.  This little gem was covered splendidly by Hammerfall many years later.  Another killer tune is the epic, 7 minute plus, Jonathan’s Diary (based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula).  Pretty much a classic chunk of traditional eighties metal right there.

So come on, get in the Halloween spirit!  Throw some candy corn in your slovenly suck hole, inhale that olden rubber Halloween mask smell, and crank a little Stormwitch on the ol’ stereo.  ‘Tis the season!  My score: B

 

LP

LP

ExtremeNuno Bettencourt!  Extreme’s debut album may sport a shitty-ass cover (nice shirt Gary!) but the music inside is a roller coaster ride of axe pyrotechnics and sing-along hooks.  Bettencourt was one of the best guitar talents to arrive on the scene in the late eighties (maybe THE best).  Like Eddie Van Halen or Vito Bratta, Nuno’s rhythm guitar tracks alone were enough to electrify the ears.  Tons of tasty flourishes, nasty squeals, and creative licks peppered his rhythm tracks.  And the solos?  Perfection of course.  Nuno also provided backing vocals and harmony vocals to beef up the excellent work of lead vocalist Gary Cherone.  My favorite track is probably Mutha (Don’t Wanna Go To School Today) which features some mammoth riffing (in the Eddie Van Halen style) and an unforgettable chorus.  Other highlights include Teacher’s Pet, Big Boys Don’t Cry, and Play With Me (a song famously used in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure).  Lyrically, the Extreme album is a bit curious.  Perhaps Extreme is a loose concept album of sorts, because almost all the songs are centered around being a kid, or more specifically, growing up as a boy in America.  The song Little Girls is a little creepy though, because as far as I can tell it is about statutory rape!  (And that’s the very first song on their very first album — what a strange way to start off a career!)  Anywayz, this album is a really strong beginning for Extreme, one of the very best bands to come out of the late eighties.  Of course, Extreme’s second album, Pornograffitti (1990), was even better!  As for Nuno, these days he can be found touring with… of all people… Rihanna!  WTF!  Why is he slumming with that no-talent hack?  I don’t think I want to live in this world anymore.  My score: A

House Of LordsSahara may sound a little more scrubbed and corporate than one would typically prefer, but this album is not without merit.  I would put this album on par with House Of Lords’ previous eponymous release (1988), but with the added bonus that Sahara contains the exquisite cover of Blind Faith’s Can’t Find My Way Home.  This song is probably one of my favorite covers EVER, and although it did get some radio airplay at the time, I think it should have been a SMASH hit.  House Of Lords’ best weapon was their powerhouse vocalist James Christian.  With just the right amount of rasp, he possessed a voice tailor-made for melodic hard rock.  His performance on Can’t Find My Way Home is absolutely stellar.  Another solid cut is Chains Of Love.  However, Sahara does suffer from some of the typical pitfalls of the hair band era.  That is, the glossy production and overuse of keyboards (by Gregg Giuffria) give the album a certain vanilla quality that softens the impact of the heavier rockers (like Kiss Of Fire) and relegates the balladry to drippy soap opera status.  But for one shining moment, with Can’t Find My Way Home, House Of Lords reached the highest of highs.  Salute!  My score: B

SacrificePure grain, golden era… THRASH!  This is that ugly brand of old school thrash that permeated the underground in the mid to late eighties.  These guys were Canadian, and sort of early on the scene (Forward To Termination was Sacrifice’s second album).  Melody was a four letter word to ol’ Sacrifice.  They prided themselves on chaotic thrash breaks, punishing riffs, and acid reflux vocals.  A little too extreme for my taste, but I can’t deny it’s kind of fun (in a B-level horror movie kind of way).  Nevertheless, I would prefer to keep my dosages of Forward To Termination to a minimum, thank you very much.  No need for a headache today.  If you are currently wearing sleeveless denim, however, you may want to get your ass in here.  My score: C

AerosmithOnce on the brink of extinction in the early eighties, Aerosmith were back in the saddle by 1989.  Aerosmith surpassed the blockbuster success of 1987’s Permanent Vacation with the 1989 album Pump.  You would think that would put a smile on Joe Perry’s perpetual “bitchy resting face”, but nay.  Bruce Fairbairn oversaw the production, which is brimming with meticulous detail.  There’s lots of extra instruments, vocal tracks, and special effects piled on.  (Can they pull this off live?)  Pump is best remembered for the hits Love In An Elevator, Janie’s Got A Gun, The Other Side, and What It Takes.  Stephen Tyler litters the place with an endless barrage of double (and single) entendres.  He seems a bit enamored with himself — he thinks he’s more clever than he actually is — but I never decry AC/DC for the same juvenile behavior, so I won’t do it here to the man with the gaping pie hole.  It is, after all, rock ‘n roll.  (But he’s kind of exhausting, ain’t he?)  Honestly, I like Permanent Vacation a bit more than Pump.  Aside from the aforementioned singles, the remaining songs seem somewhat underdeveloped in comparison.  Aerosmith has never been one of my pet bands, but I can appreciate a good tune (or four) when I hear ‘em.  My score: B+

Turn the clock back to 1988, and you’ll find another stellar year for “hair” metal.  Hysteria and Appetite For Destruction, both released in ’87, were still burning up the charts.  Meanwhile, a plethora of new releases became big sellers, including albums by Winger, Lita Ford, David Lee Roth, Van Halen, Poison, Cinderella, Bon Jovi, and Guns N’ Roses.

Here’s a list of my personal favorite hair metal albums from 1988…

10. Cinderella – Long Cold Winter

CinderellaThere are a few really good tunes on Long Cold WinterGypsy Road and Don’t Know What You Got (Till It’s Gone) bring back some great memories.  Coming Home and Fallin’ Apart At The Seams are also winners.  The rest I could take it or leave (to be honest).  Cinderella went for a definite blues-rock twist on this album that didn’t really match up with their mega-glam appearance.  With that in mind, one can’t help but feel a lack of authenticity with Cinderella.  If they wanted to be taken seriously as heavy blues musicians, why dress up like drag queens?  The faux-raspy croaks of Tom Keifer are particularly distracting.  Listening to a whole album’s worth of Keifer faking it can become very tiresome.  This is a band best taken in small doses.  Certified triple platinum.  My score: B

9. House Of Lords – House Of Lords

House Of LordsThis is a very solid album of AOR-tinged hair metal.  House Of Lords was formed by members of the band Giuffra.  They changed their name upon signing with Gene Simmon’s imprint, Simmons Records.  A new singer was recruited (James Christian) and House Of Lords was released in 1988.  Keyboards abound, and the production is very glossy, but the songs are pretty strong on House Of Lords.  Though there are a few hard rockers in the vein of bands like Whitesnake, it is the AOR oriented tunes that seem to grab my attention most.  Tracks like Hearts Of The World and Call My Name soar like prime Survivor.  Most of the songs on House Of Lords would fit perfectly into any number of those classic eighties movies montages.  That’s a good thing.  It’s also worth mentioning here that House Of Lords’ second album, Sahara (1990), featured one of the best cover songs I have ever heard — Can’t Find My Way Home (originally by Blind Faith).  My score: B

8. Van Halen – OU812

Van HalenIf you don’t like 5150, then there’s little chance you will enjoy OU812.  Personally I love 5150, but I will concede that OU812 is a step down from that record.

Sandwiched between the exquisite 5150 (1986) and the very good For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (1991), OU812 seems to be the odd man out in the “Van Hagar” catalog.  Truth is, Van Halen didn’t change much approach-wise with OU812 relative to 5150, but while 5150 consisted entirely of songs I would classify as very good to perfect, OU812 was much more of a hit and miss affair.  The album’s opener is Mine All Mine, a curious choice for an opener, given the bounty of keyboards on display (and we learn right away that Alex’s questionable electronic drums have returned for another album).  Nevertheless Mine All Mine is a good song, though it would not necessarily be my first choice for track #1.  Other notable cuts include Finish What Ya Started (a tasty acoustic retreat) and the pounding Black And Blue.  And of course, Sammy Hagar began his journey to Jimmy Buffet land with the sunny Cabo Wabo, my favorite track on the album.  However, tracks like A Apolitical Blues, When It’s Love, and Source Of Infection can’t exactly be classified as top-shelf Van Halen material.  My score: B+

7. Poison – Open Up And Say… Ahh!

PoisonPoison’s best songs were almost exclusively the ones they released as singles.  That is to say, Poison’s albums weren’t exactly overflowing with deep tracks.  Open Up And Say… Ahh!, Poison’s second LP, contained four legitimate hits in Every Rose Has Its Thorn, Fallen Angel, Nothin’ But A Good Time, and Your Mama Don’t Dance.  These are four of the best five tracks on the album.  The fifth, in my opinion, would be Love On The Rocks.  The worst?  Look But You Can’t Touch.  Yikes!  Yes, Poison were easy to hate.  But their music was fun, stupid, and unapologetically glam.  My score: A-

6. Bon Jovi – New Jersey

Bon JoviThis is a pretty decent album… if you can forget for a moment the overwhelming fraudulence on display.  To be clear, I’m not saying  Bon Jovi wasn’t talented, it’s just that they had about as much credence, as much soul… as a bastard ginger baby.  Jon Bon Jovi was a shrewd businessman, that’s undeniable, and the Bon Jovi enterprise was a money printing machine.  Jon sure knew where to go to butter his bread.  Teenage girls.  They bought into the Bon Jovi enterprise in full force.  Sparkling (over) production and outside writers (Desmond Child alert!) helped feed the machine.  But a good song is a good song, and Lay Your Hands On Me and Bad Medicine are two damn good songs.  (Though I could do without Jon going full retard at the end of Bad Medicine when he asks for another repeat of the chorus).  A Bon Jovi album is like the facts of life; you take the good and you take the bad.  The good being big, juicy hooks and a fair bit of rockin’.  The bad being fake cowboys, second rate Springsteen-isms, and scripted studio banter (re: Love For Sale).  My score: A-

5. Ratt – Reach For The Sky

RattSure, Stephen Pearcy had the emotional range of a cigar store Indian.  But hey, slippery tracks like City To City and What I’m After astutely combine infectious hooks with sleazy ‘tude.  You gotta tip your cap to the boyz.  Incidentally, this album marked the beginning of Ratt’s decline in popularity (though Reach For The Sky did go platinum), so maybe some fans out there never gave Reach For The Sky a fair shake.  Time to revisit, I say.  With all the crap passing as music these days, old Ratt is sounding sweeter than ever!  My score: A-

4. Dirty Looks – Cool From The Wire

Dirty LooksAfter a handful of indie releases, Dirty Looks finally appeared on a major label when Atlantic Records released Cool From The Wire in 1988.  I consider this album, and Dirty Looks’ 1989 follow-up Turn Of The Screw to be two sorely overlooked sleaze metal triumphs.  The heart and soul of Dirty Looks was Danish born Henrik Ostergaard.  He formed the band in the mid-eighties and continued to record music under the Dirty Looks banner up until his early demise in 2011.  The formula was a simple one; greasy blues-based riffing and palm-muted chugging over palatable, pulse-pounding beats.  Henrik’s raspy voice was tinged with a bit of that Bon Scott magic, and the result was sleaze city.  The incomparable Max Norman (best in the biz) produced Cool From The Wire.  Norman was a genius producer, and this record sounds perfect, as it grooves like a son-of-a-bitch.  Ostergaard’s lyrics of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll were delivered with a conviction that only a man who lived and breathed the lifestyle could do.  And it seems Henrick was the genuine article, hence his unfortunate death at an early age.  Check out Ostergaard’s spot-on Bon Scott impression during the middle part of Oh Ruby.  Highlights of the album include Cool From The Wire, Tokyo, and (my favorite) It’s A Bitch.  R.I.P. Henrik Ostergaard.  Thanks for the awesome tunes.  My score:

3. Seduce – Too Much, Ain’t Enough

SeduceSeduce!  Those searching for the holy grails of American glam/sleaze metal, here’s one for ya!  Seduce was a Motor City trio that never broke through to mainstream success despite kicking some serious ass.  Too Much, Ain’t Enough (I.R.S. ) was a gritty, heavy offering that flew in the face of conventional glam metal at the time by forgoing the typical over-polished approach for a raw, loose n’ lethal sound.  Too Much, Ain’t Enough features down-tuned, heavy riffing courtesy of David Black, erratic drumming from Chuck Burns, and excellent vocals by Mark Andrews (also bass).  Side one of this album is damn near perfection!  Seduce painted a picture of a somewhat sad Detroit existence in a world of junkies and fast-fading dreams.  Check out Watchin’, and No Use if you want your tits toasted.  If I had one complaint about Too Much, Ain’t Enough (besides the weak cover art), I would say that Chuck Burns made some really unorthodox choices with his drumming.  At times his drumming can be a bit distracting, and he doesn’t always keep time.  Then again, I much prefer this wild style to the boring and over-produced drum sound found on so many late eighties glam/sleaze banquets.  Side two drops off just a hair from the insane awesomeness of side one.  Accusations is probably the least godly track on the album.  The finale of Too Much, Ain’t Enough is The Slider, a T. Rex cover.  My score: A

2. Guns N’ Roses – G N’ R Lies

G N' R LiesEight songs graced this Guns N’ Roses platter.  G N’ R Lies was released in 1988 while Appetite For Destruction was still selling like hot cakes.  The first four songs were from the 1986 Live ?!*@ Like A Suicide EP, which was a pretty rare release (so most fans hadn’t heard the songs).  These cuts were studio tracks with crowd noise dubbed in to make them sound as if they were “live” recordings.  Reckless Life is the highlight of side one.

The last four songs (side two) are the real reason that G N’ R Lies is an essential album.  Patience is probably the best known (as it was a hit single).  This beauty features one of the best uses of whistling I can remember in a rock song (Scorpions’ Wind Of Change came out two years later to challenge the title).  The acoustic version of You’re Crazy included here trumps the faster, electric version on Appetite For Destruction (IMO).  As for the controversial One In A Million?  What can I say?  Axl had humongous balls of steel, that’s for sure.  There is no way in hell that Geffen would ever release a song with such incendiary lyrics today.  No way.  Times have changed.  We live in a world where everyone is just waiting to be offended.  The G ‘N R Lies album shows that, in 1988, Guns N’ Roses were so insanely popular that they could do whatever the f*ck they wanted.  That’s rock ‘n’ roll!  My score:

1. Kix – Blow My Fuse

KixThe high point of Kix’s catalog is also (IMO) one of the greatest hair band albums ever made!  Blow My Fuse is loaded with great party metal from start to finish.  Cold Blood has to go down as one of the best songs of the hair-era!  It was a “classic” in our house back in the day, as it was repeatedly broadcast loudly from the stereo in my older brother’s room.  There’s so much to love about Blow My Fuse.  For example, the lyrics on this album are really quite clever.  I particularly like She Dropped Me The Bomb (which compares getting dumped to getting shot down in an aerial dogfight) and Red Lite, Green Lite, TNT (about a street-walker; “she has to water all the flowers in our town”).  Of course, Steve Whiteman’s vocals were sleaze-city awesome, and chief songwriter (and bassist) Donnie Purnell shat out an awesome set of tunes with AC/DC-esque riffs and killer hooks.  Often, the verse sections were just as catchy (if not more so) than the actual choruses (examples include Piece Of The Pie and She Dropped Me The Bomb).  The album’s biggest hit was the superb ballad Don’t Close Your Eyes, a song I love to sing along to, although I can’t hit any of Whiteman’s high notes.  No Ring Around Rosie is another fave o’ mine.  My score: A+

The CultThe Cult reached their apex with 1989’s Sonic Temple.  This album was the follow-up to the successful Electric album of 1987.  Electric consisted of skeletal hard rock designed to appeal to the commercial masses.  Electric was produced by Rick Rubin.  Personally, I found Electric to be a rather weak and derivative album (with a couple of good songs).  Rubin always had a fondness for AC/DC’s bare bones approach and I think he pushed The Cult too far in that direction, resulting in a record that was little more than a second-rate AC/DC rip-off.  Sonic Temple, by contrast, was more original, more varied, and more powerful.  Bob Rock took care of production duties this time around.  The album spawned a handful of rock radio singles including album opener Sun King, the mighty Fire Woman, the elegant Edie (Ciao Baby), and the soaring Sweet Soul Sister.  Fine deep tracks like American Horse and Soldier Blue helped to make Sonic Temple a well-balanced album.  This disc can be played from start to finish without any need for the skip button.  If you don’t have it, GO GET IT!  My score: A

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