Category: Album Review

SavatageSavatage released six records in the 80′s.  If you can only have one, make it Hall Of The Mountain King.  The album features some of Savatage’s best songs including 24 Hrs. Ago, Strange Wings, Hall Of The Mountain King, and my personal fave… Legions!  The brothers Oliva were at the top of their game for Hall Of The Mountain King.  Jon’s mouth of madness unleashed a vocal performance straight from hell, while Criss’ heavy riffing cut through the air like napalm.  Criss was always a master riffsmith, and had one of the best guitar tones in metal.  He used a lot of drop tuning to get a dark, bottom heavy sound out of his axe.  Add to that the perfect blend of overdrive and delay, and you’ve got yourself a legendary crunch.

Hall Of The Mountain King marked the first time Savatage worked with producer and collaborator Paul O’Neil.  Eventually, the partnership took Savatage’s sound into a new direction in the 90′s.  But never you mind, because back on Hall Of The Mountain King, the ‘Tage was still pouring hot metal into a bubbling cauldron of awesome.

Note: The late, great Ray Gillen contributed backing vocals on Strange Wings.  He was rewarded for his service by having his name misspelled in the liner notes.  My score: A

Fifth AngelWith a new lead guitarist in tow, Fifth Angel returned in 1989 with the follow-up to their stellar eponymous debut (1986).  But it pains me to say that I can’t get behind Time Will Tell with the same enthusiasm I had for Fifth Angel.  Though the guitar playing is excellent, the songs themselves suffer from generic, weak choruses.  These choruses go nowhere, no matter how many times they are repeated (re: Broken Promises).  The songwriting is just not on point.  Time Will Tell (Epic Records) wasn’t exactly a timely follow-up to Fifth Angel, and I wonder if the wind was knocked out of Fifth Angel’s sails by the time Time Will Tell came around.  I’m just not feeling the same hunger in these songs.  Take for example the song Seven Hours.  To me, it almost seems that vocalist Ted Pilot hadn’t adequately rehearsed the song.  On the verses, he sounds unsure in his delivery.  To be honest, it sounds like Pilot is reading the lyrics from a piece of paper for the first time!  (Of course, I could be WAY off here.)  The most disappointing song on the album is Feel The Heat — a catchy song absolutely RUINED by terrible lyrics.

Note: Ken Mary, who played drums on the debut, is not billed as an official member of Fifth Angel for Time Will Tell.  Though he does play drums on the album, he was actually an official member of House Of Lords at the time.  My score: C+

John NorumGuitarist John Norum was a founding member of Europe, but he left the band at their commercial peak (on the heels of The Final Countdown album and tour) to venture out on his own.  For his first solo album, Total Control, John appears on the cover looking about fifteen years old.  The music itself, unsurprisingly, features lots of frenetic soloing.  But John also sings on most of the tracks, and his voice doesn’t suck at all.  Three of the songs feature ex-Madison singer Göran Edman on vocals, and as a Madison fan it’s good to hear ol’ Göran again.  On the whole, Norum’s stuff isn’t a far cry from Europe’s late eighties sound.  A little heavier, yes, but still melodic and still flush with keyboards.  The mix, however, has about as much finesse as a kick to the nut sack.  Everything is loud.  The snare drum sound is particularly obnoxious.  Two cover tunes appear on Total Control.  There’s Back On The Streets (a Vinnie Vincent Invasion cover), and Thin Lizzy’s Wild One.  Favorite tracks: Wild One, Law of Life, and Someone Else Here.  My score: B-

WarlockTriumph And Agony was Warlock’s fourth album.  The “powers that be” were pushing Doro as the face of the band — she appears on the front and back cover of the LP (an understandable marketing decision given the blonde beauty’s sex appeal).  But fear not, for a photo of the entire band appears in the liner notes.  There you’ll find all five members in all their poodle-headed glory, ensconced in stone-washed denim.  Triumph And Agony was the band’s only album to chart in the States.  The sound is mainstream metal — a mix of anthems, ballads, and fast metal numbers.  I’ve always contended that Doro was not the greatest singer in the world, but she made up for it with the palpable passion in her voice.  However, even her passion can’t excuse the excruciating screams she uncorks on the over-the-top barnstormer Touch Of Evil.  Truly awful — but high in comedy!  My favorite track is I Rule The Ruins.  My score: B

MegadethWhile there were flashes of brilliance on the first three Megadeth albums, it wasn’t until the band’s fourth album, Rust In Peace, that Dave Mustaine and Megadeth realized their full potential.  There are few, if any, thrash records that can rival Rust In Peace.  Personally, I place Rust In Peace comfortably in the top three thrash records of all time!

I have always preferred to play Rust In Peace from start to finish in one sitting, rather than cherry pick a tune here and there.  While classic albums like Back In Black or Appetite For Destruction lend themselves to the “jukebox” approach (cherry picking), Rust In Peace is not a jukebox type album.  That is to say, there aren’t really any “singles” to speak of on Rust In Peace.  That is because almost all of the songs are unconventional in structure.  In fact, many of the songs lack a true chorus.  That is not to say there aren’t any catchy vocal or guitar parts on Rust In Peace.  On the contrary, there are many.  It’s just that these catchy parts aren’t repeated ad nauseam.  Often a catchy hook will come and go, never to be repeated again!  This is an odd approach to songwriting, but it makes for greater enjoyment on repeated album listens.  This “progressive” nature is one of the qualities that makes Rust In Peace a classic.  The album flows in a linear fashion — it should be listened to from start to finish.

Of Rust In Peace, Dave Mustaine said: I had no idea that it would be a success or I would have paid more attention as we went along.”  But I think Mustaine did a damn fine job.  Adding Marty Friedman (a Jerry Seinfeld look-alike) on guitar, and Nick Menza on drums gave Megadeth their first stable lineup ever.  The band channeled their energy, both positive and negative, into a cohesive work of art that still holds up today in terms of technical chops, lyrics, aggression, intelligence, and flow.  There is only one thing I would change about Rust In Peace.  I would drop the silly filler track Dawn Patrol.

At the end of the day we are left to reflect back on a time when tight jeans, sneakers, long hair, wristbands, Jackson guitars, sick riffs, and shredding solos ruled the metal landscape.  I hold in my hand a CD that is a relic from the Golden Age… a time capsule to Cold War paranoia.  I look upon that classic band logo stretched across the album cover, and the blue and yellow color scheme — a call for retreat to the fallout shelter before the warheads touch home.  I look upon Vic Rattlehead flashing that apocalyptic grin, and Gorbachev’s birthmark — a shining beacon from his forehead — a reminder of an era gone by.  Oh, where have you gone, 1990?  My score: A+




Y&T – “Contagious” (1987)

Y&TY&T were one of the premiere American hard rock acts in the early 80s.  Unfortunately, not a whole lot of fans seemed to take notice, and the band’s albums underperformed.  Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, Y&T looked to Geffen Records to help them break through with the American record buying public (Y&T had previously been signed to A&M Records).  But Y&T’s first album with Geffen, 1987′s Contagious, was an egregious over-correction that can only be viewed, in hindsight, as a complete and utter embarrassment for Y&T.  You’ve got to feel bad for Y&T front-man Dave Meniketti here.  As a talented singer, guitarist, and writer, he had to sit idly by and watch less deserving bands make it big while his own band remained a perennial opening act.  But with Contagious, Dave and Y&T bowed to trends, lobotomized their sound, and were played for fools by whoever the f*ck convinced them to make this cheesy, dumbed-down disaster of a record.  Brutally retarded lyrics, annoying choruses, and bad Van Halen impressions make Contagious a disappointment of epic proportions.  If it weren’t so sad, it would be hilarious.  My score: C


Shotgun MessiahShotgun Messiah was a Swedish glam band that came to Hollywood to make it big.  Their first American album, Shotgun Messiah, was a re-mix (or re-recording?) of their Swedish debut Welcome To Bop City (recorded under the name Kingpin and released in 1988).  Shotgun Messiah were heavier than they looked (and they looked gayer than a three dollar bill) — akin to bands like Mötley Crüe or Tigertailz.  Their guitarist (Harry K. Cody) was pretty damn good, and showed off his shred skills judiciously on this LP.  Shotgun Messiah possessed a certain endearing quality, likely due to their foreign upbringing.  They were new to the L.A. scene.  Sometimes cluelessness is a blessing in disguise!  Shotgun Messiah is not a great album, but it does have three good tunes.  My favorite is Nowhere Fast — a lost gem, and a perfect anthem for the wasted!.  Bop City and Don’t Care ‘Bout Nothing are also recommended.  My score: B

Blue MurderGuitarist John Sykes had quite an impressive resume in the 1980s.  He was a veteran of the NWOBHM from his years with Tygers Of Pan Tang, and a member of Thin Lizzy for their final studio album, the excellent Thunder And Lightning LP.  Most famously, he was a member of Whitesnake — helping make 1987′s Whitesnake album a blockbuster smash.  After Sykes was unceremoniously canned from Whitesnake, he formed Blue Murder with Carmine Appice (drums) and Tony Franklin (bass).  Sykes was the vocalist as well as the guitarist for the band.  Though Sykes didn’t sing in any of his previous groups, he was actually a quite capable singer for Blue Murder.  (A pleasant surprise!)  The album itself was a guitar-centric blend of Zep swagger and aristocratic bombast.  Faves here include the epic, grandiose Valley Of The Kings and the hard-edged Blue Murder.  Also, Jelly Roll is a tasty jam that starts as an acoustic stomp, and ends in full-on power ballad mode.  However, the album does slip in quality on side two (save for the aforementioned title track).  The made-for-radio ballad Out Of Love is the biggest letdown — coming off as nothing more than weak sauce.  My score: B

Album Reviews (Nov 3, 2014)

Here’s a few short reviews…

Whiplash – Insult To Injury (1989)

WhiplashOne of the better thrash albums to come out in 1989 was Whiplash’s Insult To Injury.  The band’s third release was their first as a four-piece — with Glenn Hansen coming on board to relieve Tony Portaro of vocal duties (Portaro had previously handled both guitar and vocals).  Switching from the harsh barking of Portaro to the clean singing of Hansen was a HUGE upgrade for Whiplash.  This new addition added a much needed melodic element to Whiplash’s mayhemic mosh madness.  All the while Whiplash continued to thrash away at high velocity, showing a tremendous amount of technical prowess in the process.  There isn’t as single bum track on this whole album!  My score: A-

Stormwitch – Eye Of The Storm (1989)

StormwitchWhen Stormwitch first debuted in 1984 they dressed like Judas Priest and sounded like Iron Maiden.  By the end of the decade their leather n’ bullet gear had given way to baroque period digs.  Their sound had changed drastically, too.  Unfortunately, much of Eye Of The Storm barely qualifies as heavy metal.  Stormwitch softened their sound considerably, and also abandoned their trademark horror/fantasy lyrics (something that had made them relatively unique).  As Stormwitch went into this much more melodic, commercial direction — so too went their charm.  My score: C

McAuley Schenker Group – Perfect Timing (1987)

MSGWhat happened when rock vets Michael Schenker and Robin McAuley joined forces?  Not much, actually.  This album is surprisingly… blah.  It’s not a bad album by any means, it’s just that, in this case, the whole is NOT greater than the sum of its parts.  I am a big fan of The Michael Schenker Group.  The stuff MSG put out between ’81 and ’83 was outstanding.  As for McAuley, I loved his performance on Grand Prix’s Samurai album (1983).  But when the two got together for Perfect Timing, my expectations were not met.  Schenker’s guitars inexplicably took a back seat in the mix.  Instead, those stiff, echo-y ’80s drums dominated.  MSG could have rocked harder.  The songs themselves were a little too commercial, a little too bland.  My score: B-

Cirith Ungol – One Foot In Hell (1986)

Cirith UngolWeird band, this Cirith Ungol.  One Foot In Hell was the band’s third album, and my third attempt to try to like Cirith Ungol.  The conclusion?  I do not like Cirith Ungol.  The best thing about the Cirith Ungol albums?  The covers were always kick-ass.  The music?  Negatron.  They have their fans, yes they do.  But don’t believe the hype.  Unless you like shabby recordings with lousy singing and groove-less drumming?  If so, step right up.  Sonic description?  Kind of doomy.  Vaguely psychedelic.  Not good.  My score: C-

 Saraya – Saraya (1989)

SarayaSaraya was a female-fronted AOR/hard rock band that debuted in 1989 with this self-titled album.  The album was over-produced to the point of rigor mortis in that unfortunate late eighties style (see also House Of Lords).  Saraya were in search of the lucrative Bon Jovi niche that eluded pretty much every band that tried.  The wrinkle here was Sandi Saraya, one of only a few female vocalists in the hair/AOR market place.  Two singles charted from Saraya — Love Has Taken Its Toll (easily the best song on here) and Back To The Bullet (the second best).  Otherwise, the album is fairly average, and somewhat forgettable.  Again, the glossy production severely neutering the album’s impact.  Saraya limps to a finish with a lousy cut called Drop The Bomb.  My score: C+

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-


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