In 1990 the mainstream music world had become over-saturated with glam hard rock. All the labels were flush with hair bands. As a result, a lot of very talented bands went unnoticed because there was only so much room at the top. Eventually the whole bubble burst in the early nineties and even the platinum sellers were dropped by their labels. Almost overnight, an entire genre was gone from the airwaves. Ultimately, all but a relative few of the hair bands were forgotten.
Cry Wolf was one of many quality hair bands that didn’t get a real chance to shine. In 1990 Cry Wolf’s Crunch was released by Grand Slamm/I.R.S. Records. Much of the album was comprised of songs previously heard on their 1989 Japan-only release Cry Wolf. The Crunch album was their American debut. Like many of rock’s great bands, Cry Wolf was bolstered by a top-notch singer/guitarist duo. Singer Timmy Hall had a great voice and charisma that translated well to tape. Guitarist Steve McKnight was another in a long list of expert axe-men vying for attention in a crowded market. McKnight was a tasteful player who could unfurl a melodic solo with the best of ’em. I like his guitar tone on the rhythm tracks — it has a little bit of fuzz but a real sharp bite, too. A fine example of the dynamic duo of Hall and McKnight at their best can be heard on a gem called Pretender — the video single from the album and my personal fave of the lot. Other highlights include Face Down In The Wishing Well, West Wind Blows, and one of the new songs exclusive to the American debut, Road To Ruin. My score: A-
The story of Cold Sweat is similar to a couple of other bands — Badlands and Lynch Mob. In all cases, a veteran guitarist from a well-established act ventured out on his own, partnered with a relatively unknown singer, and made a strong hair metal album. Jake E. Lee (ex-Ozzy Osbourne) formed Badlands, George Lynch (ex-Dokken) formed Lynch Mob, and Marc Ferrari (ex-Keel) formed Cold Sweat. Of the three, the band you probably haven’t heard of is Cold Sweat. That might be because Cold Sweat’s one and only album Break Out was released by MCA Records — the label where hard rock bands went to die. MCA signed some really talented bands during the hair band heyday, but unfortunately their promotional department couldn’t sell them to the buying public.
Marc Ferrari found himself a great singer by the name of Rory Cathey to make this very solid and very professional bluesy hair metal record. The band sounds great. Certainly, there’s no denying the talent present here. The one partial complaint I have is that Break Out is very much a by-the-numbers album for its time. That’s not a complete knock because I think that the so-called “hair” genre was a good formula. I’ll take a by-the-numbers album any day because I’m a junkie for the stuff. But what Break Out is missing are those two or three standout songs that transcend above and beyond the realm of the “very good”. Both Badlands and Lynch Mob had some really killer songs on their respective debuts — the kind of songs that keep me coming back to those albums time and again. Break Out falls a little short in that regard. My score: B
This is as underground as it gets! The very strange Brocas Helm album comes to us by way of San Francisco. Black Death was a low-budget demo that ended up getting a proper release in 1988 (Gargoyle Records). Black Death opens with the title track — an ode to the bubonic plague. This is by far the best song on the album. Here we are introduced to Brocas Helm’s unique style — a not-too-serious take on medieval sounding metal with an almost psychedelic weirdness. After track one, Black Death devolves fairly quickly — hampered by various obtrusive sound effects and a garbage mix that often makes the vocals inaudible (witness Satan’s Prophets). This album sounds like it was recorded in rush hour traffic. With some of the lyrics and the singer’s faux English accent, you get the feeling that Brocas Helm were partially joking with this Black Death collection. It’s definitely a head trip. Whether you find it to be a good trip or a bad trip may very well depend on the drugs you’re taking. My score: C
The second Death Angel was not the same rabid thrash attack as their 1987 debut The Ultra-Violence. Rather than return to the mosh madness of their first record, the young Bay Area band (all of whom were related) chose a more measured approach. While The Ultra-Violence has its place, I personally prefer the more consistent and far-reaching Frolic Through The Park. Improvements come on multiple fronts with this album. This includes (slightly) better production, more melody, and catchier songs. I also think vocalist Mark Osegueda made noticeable strides as a singer. I’m not saying that his performance was perfect, but his clean singing voice was still well above the average by thrash standards. While The Ultra-Violence started off strong on side one but slipped on side two, Frolic Through The Park picks up steam on its second half. This includes one of best Death Angel songs in Open Up as well as the potent Shores Of Sin. There’s even a pretty cool cover of the KISS classic Cold Gin. Another fave is the slower, grinding Confused. My score: B
Even though The Sane Asylum included performances by future Primus members Les Claypool (bass) and Larry LaLonde (guitar), the true driving force behind the band Blind Illusion was Marc Biedermann. Marc wrote the songs, performed the vocals, and shared lead guitar duties with LaLonde.
The Sane Asylum was released in 1988 on Combat Records. Often described as thrash, I find The Sane Asylum to be more of a progressive metal record with some thrash elements. There are a lot of moving parts here, and Blind Illusion keeps things well-lubricated throughout. The tunes are very unconventional. The closest we get to a standard “song” (in terms of structure) would be Smash The Crystal. The highlights of the album usually come by way of Biedermann and LaLonde’s stirring lead guitar work as well as the inclusion of some interesting melodic passages. Despite the band’s obvious chops, The Sane Asylum is let down by the underdeveloped vocals. As is often the case on certain thrash albums of the eighties, the vocals seem to be nothing more than an afterthought — which is unfortunate. Biedermann had a limited range and his lyrics were ill-fitting. The dark, quasi-Satanic lyrics seem almost immature in comparison to the cerebral compositions lying beneath. My score: C+
More howls from the depths of oblivion from Mr. Danzig. Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire was to be the last Samhain album before Glenn signed with Rick Rubin’s Def American label and launched the band Danzig (with Rubin producing) for a self-titled album in 1988. Indeed, Samhain III: November-Coming-Fire inches closer to what would become the Danzig sound. Glenn wrote some of his best Samhain material on this final album, though the execution was somewhat lacking. The band sounds a bit sloppy and the production leaves something to be desired. I can’t help but be distracted by the slap-dash backing vocals. I wonder what quality tunes like Mother Of Mercy, Novembers Fire, and even Halloween II (previously recorded by Misfits) would have sounded like if they had been performed by the original Danzig band with Rubin producing. John Christ’s guitar playing and Chuck Biscuit’s drumming would have been most welcome here, though I don’t think anybody could have rescued Human Pony Girl from the shitter. My score: B-
Of all the Anthrax albums from the “classic” Belladonna years, I have always found Persistence Of Time to be the hardest one to get in to. Had all the riffs there were to riff already been riffed? That tongue-twisting question was a fair one to ask of Anthrax, who were now five albums into their career. Unfortunately, I don’t think they answered with a definitive “no” on Persistence Of Time. At first, I didn’t like this album at all. I felt I had been here before, and Anthrax were not offering up anything new. But I have warmed up to Persistence Of Time a little over the years. (The persistence of time indeed!) But still, I feel this album is a lot to digest. At times, Persistence Of Time is almost suffocating. It is by far the most serious and weighty album of the classic Anthrax era. One of my prime issues with Persistence Of Time is song length. For example, the first three songs on the album are all about seven minutes in duration. Time, Blood, and Keep It In The Family are all quality cuts, but they wear themselves out with their excessive length. By contrast, my favorite moment of the album is the sub-three minute Got The Time (a Joe Jackson cover). This tune is concise, catchy, and actually breathes a little. It injects a bit of levity into an otherwise overly-serious Anthrax album. More cuts like Got The Time would have been a nice way to keep the walls from completely closing in on Persistence Of Time. My score: B
Managing a heavy metal record collection is a lot like managing a baseball team. You’ll need a deep bench. In baseball, you can’t start the same players every single day. Eventually they’ll need a day off to rest. It’s the same with your metal music. You can’t keep the same forty or fifty albums in rotation non-stop without delving into the back-ups for something fresh to listen to. In baseball, the best bench players are the “utility” players. These are guys that can play multiple positions. They may not be as good as the starters but they’re adequate when called upon. Blacksmith’s Fire From Within is kind of like a utility metal album. It tackles a lot of different metal styles on one record. It doesn’t do any of them exceedingly well, but it provides a serviceable reprieve from the same old same old.
New York’s Blacksmith released Fire From Within on Tropical Records in 1989. You get a little thrash, some power metal, one fist-pumping anthem, and even a (pretty bad) power ballad. It’s acceptable on all counts (except the ballad) and just good enough for the occasional spin. Sure, Fire From Within was a little dated for 1989 — it would have sounded much fresher about 1985 or so. But all these decades later, why split hairs? My score: B-
Short in stature but long on ambition, Glenn Danzig had a do-it-yourself attitude and a unique artistic vision. With his unstoppable will and twisted creative mind, Danzig made the Misfits an iconic band — even if their “success” wasn’t fully realized until years after their (initial) demise. The Misfits legend has grown with time while Glenn’s other famous band, simply called Danzig, achieved success in real time (peaking in popularity with 1993’s Thrall-Demonsweatlive EP). Between the two iconic periods in Glenn Danzig’s career he fronted the lesser-known Samhain. As you might expect, Samhain’s sound was somewhere between the band Glenn left behind (Misfits) and the band that Samhain would eventually evolve in to (Danzig).
Initium was released in 1984 on Glenn Danzig’s Plan 9 record label. The cover features the infamous skull logo (lifted from a Marvel comic) — one that Glenn would carry forward through his Danzig years. Initium retains some Misfits residue with songs such as All Murder, All Guts, All Fun and Horror Biz (a re-working of the old Misfits tune Horror Business). But on whole, Initium finds Danzig in a less campy mood as he travails into darker and more “gothic” territory. The recording itself is rather murky. While the low production values seemed to have complimented the B-grade horror lyrics of the Misfits, I think we should expect a little more from the more “serious” Samhain. But during this transitional phase in his career, Danzig didn’t have the financial means nor backing band capable of making a totally convincing go of the Samhain concept. Faves include Horror Biz and Archangel. My score: B-
In 1985 I watched a film called Rocky IV in which an American boxer by the name of Rocky Balboa defeated a Soviet boxer named Ivan Drago. I left the theater that day with the knowledge that the Russians had been soundly defeated and the Cold War was finally over! But shortly thereafter it was brought to my attention that this so-called “film” was actually fictitious. Would you believe that the parts of Rocky and Drago were played by actors? It’s true. The Cold War was not over at all! Plans to re-purpose our bomb shelter into a game room had to be put on hold.
Fast forward to 1989 and though the Iron Curtain was still very much a thing, the winds of change were-a-blowing. Mikhail Gorbachev “glasnost” policy was loosening the reigns on censorship in the U.S.S.R. — just a enough for a hair band by the name of Gorky Park to travel to the U.S.A. and make an album. Released on Mercury Records, the album was called Gorky Park (or Парк Горького in Russian). Gorbachev was the first person thanked in the liner notes.
Gorky Park were a benevolent bunch of guys making a seemingly sincere attempt to bring together Americans and Russians in peaceful brotherhood using the universal language of rock n’ roll. The well-polished Gorky Park album was a fairly typical late eighties hair/AOR hybrid. There are highlights and low lights. As for the lows, the cover of The Who’s My Generation is an interesting take — though I think it’s ultimately a failure. There’s also a song written by Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora called Peace In Our Time. This song kind of sounds like something Jon and Richie stole from John Mellencamp’s garbage can.
My favorite songs on Gorky Park are the first two. Song number one is a rousing anthem called Bang that has a sort of bombastic Def Leppard sound. Bang is instantly catchy — though a bit repetitive. I kind of got sick of this song after a few listens. The second song on the album is a wonderful ballad called Try To Find Me. I am a known sucker for a good power ballad and this song hits me right in the cockles! Try To Find Me has very plain lyrics — but we can excuse Gorky Park for this because English was not their first language. Try To Find Me has a simple elegance that, in my opinion, puts it in the same class as the exquisite Love Is On The Way by Saigon Kick. I really love this song! I feel like it really comes from the heart. (I told you these guys were benevolent!) Gorky Park did a very nice live version of this song at the famous Moscow Music Peace Festival in late 1989 (here’s a link). From Russia with love! My score: B