A bunch of reviews. All from 1983…
Black Sabbath – Born Again
Dio flew the coop (and not acrimoniously I might add) after two studio albums and one live document. Black Sabbath brought in Ian Gillan (of all people) to sing on this ’83 LP. (Gillan, of course, of the ex-Deep Purple Ian Gillans). The resulting ball o’ wax has since been unceremoniously shat upon (many complaining of a botched mix), and conversely, touted as a heavy metal “classic”. The latter opinion seems to be picking up steam as time goes on. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in between. Gillan gave a yeoman’s effort, but frankly he didn’t have too much to work with. The song writing here just didn’t live up to that of the Dio years. A couple of good moments surface here and there, but all-in-all misfires like Disturbing The Priest and Digital Bitch kind of languish in the air like the scent of an unclaimed fart. Frankly, these songs seem to be composed of just too few ideas. Trashed is my favorite of the lot, and I am even a bit soft on Keep It Warm, but this whole Purple/Sabbath experiment was kind of a bust. This album really hurt Black Sabbath’s career at the time. At least Gillan had a Deep Purple Mark II reunion awaiting him in the near future. Meanwhile, Ronnie James Dio had one helluva 1983 with his band’s Holy Diver LP. Ouch! My score: B-
Vandenberg – Heading For A Storm
Ah yes, the great Adrian Vandenberg returns for another kick at the can with his band’s second album Heading For A Storm (Atco Records). This album continues in the fine tradition of Vandenberg’s stunning debut a year earlier. Adrian’s virtuosic finesse on guitar and Bert Heerinks shining vocals make for a rockin’ good time. Overall, the album has a bit more of an AOR sheen than the debut, Vandenberg. The most notable difference being the drum sound. The organic drum sound of the debut was unfortunately traded in for an obnoxious, blocky, quasi-mechanical abomination. Interesting indeed, since Jos Zoomer returns on drums, and Heading For A Storm has the same producers as the debut (Adrian Vandenberg and Stuart Epps). Furthermore, Zoomer’s timely double bass barrages have unfortunately been minimized. Though the production on Heading For A Storm was a bit of a blunder, it’s not enough reason to keep the album from regular rotation on my stereo.
Incidentally, the cover art is a painting by none other than Adrian Vandenberg himself. The Dutchman was an accomplished artist specializing in super-realism. My score: B+
Culprit – Guilty As Charged
Seattle’s Culprit released their one and only album on Shrapnel Records. Guilty As Charged is a complicated, nervous record that takes a lot of patience on the listener’s part before it begins to sink in. The drummer is like the anti-Phil Rudd. He never really lets the songs get into any kind of groove because he is constantly playing fills and showing off. This, to me, is what makes Guilty As Charged seem a little jumpy and wild.
Though flawed, I have a soft spot for Guilty As Charged. I think it is because the excitement level of the band is palpable. Here we have a young band throwing their all into this debut recording. If that means trying to stuff as many notes and drum fills into each song, I can understand their (over) enthusiasm. There are indeed some good songs buried in here. My personal favorite is track four, the highly addictive I Am. (The production blows though.) My score: B+
The Michael Schenker Group – Built To Destroy
The Michael Schenker Group was quite prolific in the early ’80s. Built To Destroy was MSG’s fourth studio album in four years. This time, Gary Barden was back on vocals. He was also the singer for MSG’s first and second albums (but not their third).
Built To Destroy was released on Chrysalis Records. Two versions of the album were released. The original mix was released in Europe. Shortly thereafter, a remixed version was released in the United States. The U.S. mix was the version that Schenker intended to release worldwide, but Chrysalis released the original mix in Europe much to Schenker’s displeasure. Indeed, to these ears, the U.S. mix is superior. You can judge for yourself, as both versions were released on a single CD in 2009 on EMI Records. The whole tale is sorted out in the liner notes of this highly recommended CD re-issue.
Built To Destroy contains what I think is The Michael Schenker Group’s best song, Walk The Stage (a.k.a. Rock Will Never Die). This song has a mellow verse in which Barden shines, and a truly rockin’ chorus. Other favorites are Time Waits (For No One) and Rock My Nights Away. Throw these great MSG records into a pot with the ol’ Vandenberg albums and you’ve got yourself a real tasty Euro-rock stew. My score: B+
Savage Grace – The Dominatress
The Dominatress was a five song EP released by Metal Blade Records. The record contains a pair of speed metal jaunts in Fight For Your Life and The Dominatress. Curse The Night is a mid-paced chugger. Live To Burn brandishes an opening riff that brings to mind Vivian Campbell’s work with Dio. The record’s finale is Too Young To Die, a nod to the NWOBHM. In the end, we have an album that throws a few different heavy metal styles at the wall, but unfortunately nothing really sticks. Young vocalist John Birk, though possessing a fierce scream, sounds far too inexperienced as a singer, and the song writing is simply ordinary. I find The Dominatress to be a rather lackluster debut from Savage Grace. The band, led by guitarist/songwriter Christian Logue, had yet to find their sea legs on this amateurish first strike. With their full-length follow-up Master Of Disguise (1985), Logue and Savage Grace locked-in on a tight power/speed formula that worked quite well (and with a new singer to boot). My score: C+
Picture – Eternal Dark
Picture’s fourth album was their best effort yet (in my opinion). This Dutch band seems to be fairly unknown in the heavy metal annals, probably due to their geographic position outside of metal’s stomping grounds. Their ever-changing line-up may have also been a factor. Here, on Eternal Dark (awesome cover art, by the way), Picture features their third singer in just four albums. That kind of inconsistency surely effects a band’s following, no? Pete Lovell took the vocal helm on Eternal Dark, and the boys delivered another traditional metal feast, packed with tight, driving riffs and memorable refrains. To me, the Eternal Dark album is a tale of two sides, with side one being the awesome side, containing the five best tracks on the album. Side two is okay, but I feel it is a drop-off from the power-packed first half. Faves include the title track (possibly Picture’s finest moment, covered with reverence by Hammerfall many years later), Griffons Guard The Gold (huh?), and the menacing ballcrusher The Blade. Top notch Euro-metal. My score: B+
220 Volt – 220 Volt
This is the eponymous debut by 220 Volt, a young Swedish band that went on to release a pair of great albums in ’84 (Power Games) and ’85 (Mind Over Muscle). This debut, however, is a bit shaky. That being said, the guitar work absolutely smokes! Not necessarily the solos as much, but the riff work blazes a fiery path to the gods in Valhalla. Pour a tall one for Thomas Drevin and Mats Karlsson! Talk about a pair of lethal pick hands! As for the vocalist Peter Hermansson, he was a little bit behind the curve. Not bad, but not outstanding. Chalk it up to being young and inexperienced. As for the individual tracks, the clear highlights for me are No Return and Lonely Nights, while the low light has to be Nightwinds, which features some incredibly annoying, ear molesting vocals from a guest female performer. My score: B
Axewitch – The Lord Of Flies
The Lord Of Flies was the second release by Sweden’s Axewitch (their first was the Pray For Metal EP in ’82). It is a record I really want to love, but the abysmal production really urinates on my parade. Beneath the muddy mess is a collection of tunes that call to mind the sizzling chug n’ groove metal of the Dutch band Picture, and the amateur charm of the rocks-for-brains Witchfinder General. For technical dexterity, look elsewhere. One need only listen to the god-awful guitar solo Let The Strings Cry Out for evidence of Axewitch’s lack of world-class chops. But forged-in-fire cuts like Axe Victim and Just Another Lunatic pretty much crush, despite the sloppy mix. The Lord Of Flies is a more-than-adequate collection of no-frills beer swills. Then again, its Swedish, so you already know to expect quality. Shame about the low-budget, demo-quality production of the whole shebang. (The good news is that Axewitch’s next album, Visions Of The Past, was an absolute beast!) My score: B-
Acid – Maniac
Acid were Belgian speed-baggers with a one-dimensional style rendered powerless by their vocalist’s no-dimensional style. Though backed by a competent band of speed-metal merchants, female vocalist Kate De Lombaert offered little of merit o’er the top of these high velocity head bangers. Though I’m sure Kate could drink me under the table, and probably even kick my ass, she was not an interesting vocalist in any way, shape or form. My only real interest in Acid has to do with the fact that they were so damn early to the speed game. As such, they certainly deserve some respect. But times changed quickly once thrash took the torch and ran with it, leaving an album like Acid’s Maniac just a tad obsolete by decade’s end. My score: C
Rainbow – Bent Out Of Shape
Bent Out Of Shape was to be the last Rainbow album before Ritchie Blackmore returned to Deep Purple for that band’s 1984 reunion album Perfect Strangers. Bent Out Of Shape, for the most part, was a fairly conventional and radio-friendly foray. The likeable voice of Joe Lynn Turner returned for a third album. The album was produced in fine fashion by Roger Glover. I think this is a very solid, though rarely spectacular album. I do, however, like Bent Out Of Shape a bit more than Perfect Strangers. While that album contained the incredible track Perfect Strangers, it didn’t contain much else to back up that singular highlight. Bent Out Of Shape actually has a handful of pretty good tunes, and two very good/excellent numbers in Can’t Let You Go (JLT’s best vocal), and Street Of Dreams. On the downside, Bent Out Of Shape contains two instrumentals (which I almost never appreciate). But when all was said and done, Bent Out Of Shape turned out to be a pretty respectable end to Rainbow’s original run. My score: B
Bronz – Taken By Storm
I find that I have a bit of a soft spot for the harder edged AOR of the eighties that brings with it a whiff of aristocracy. That’s not say Taken By Storm is as good as my precious Samurai by Grand Prix, but this pomp rock showcase is definitely a notch above the typical AOR bore fest. Above all else, Bronz had a fine singer in Max Bacon. My favorite cut is the majestic Harder Than Diamond. Taken By Storm was released by Bronze Records in the U.K. with the cover shown on the left. Here in the U.S., Bronze issued the album through Island Records in 1984, with this cover. My score: B
Highway Chile – Fever
In 1983 the Dutch band Highway Chile released their debut LP Storybook Heroes on Lark Records. They also put out a four song EP called Fever (on Lark as well). The EP featured the catchy title track, which is one of Highway Chile’s best songs. Also included was Headbangers (a song previously heard on Storybook Heroes) and two rather pedestrian non-album cuts in Handing You Over (previously released as a B-side to Highway Chile’s Endless Trail single) and Bite In Anger (live).
Later in 1983, Highway Chile signed with 21 Records. The label released their own version of Storybook Heroes and added the song Fever to the track list. Yet another version of Storybook Heroes was released by Mirus Music Inc. (also in 1983). Both Fever and Handing You Over were included on the Mirus version. My score: B-